Some people, particularly those working to carve out a good spin for their interests amid controversy, contend there are two sides to every story.
We believe there are three — one side, the other side, and the truth.
It’s that third side we’ve been working to pry loose from Traverse City Area Public Schools.
Forty days have elapsed since Ann Cardon, a superintendent hired with unanimous support from the district’s trustees, inked a deal to walk away from her new job with $180,000 in severance cash. Yet, during the weeks since the split — a period more than half the length of Cardon’s 78-day tenure with TCAPS — district officials and trustees have done little to tip the truth into public view.
Board President Sue Kelly has said the fracture centered around differences of opinion between trustees and Cardon over school funding. Then she and others blamed the split on fellow trustee Erica Moon Mohr’s public denouncement of what she characterized as her fellow trustees’ efforts to oust their superintendent. That last one seems farfetched since bits of text conversations between Kelly and Cardon released in response to Record-Eagle Freedom of Information Act requests include an Oct. 9 message from Cardon to Kelly explaining that she asked Moon Mohr to “respect my decision and let this happen.”
Cardon sent that dispatch to her soon-to-be-former boss two full days before the Record-Eagle published the first documents that brought the infighting into public view and triggered communitywide concern over management of the school district that serves 40 percent of the region’s students.
So far we have heard much from the two sides, and little of what we’re really seeking: the truth.
That’s what our community, TCAPS employees and the district’s families deserve. It’s also what they’re demanding.
We didn’t ask for anything extraordinary, just the communications and documents that preceded Cardon’s departure. Record-Eagle reporters and editors spent hours honing nearly a dozen FOIA requests seeking everything from text messages to lawyers’ invoices. We hope those documents will shed light on the events that precipitated trustees’ decision to prematurely jettison the leader who they so enthusiastically supported just a few months earlier.
District executives have responded to nearly all of those requests. But we have been continuously disappointed by the murkiness of the returns. Some were met with flat-out denials — decisions we appealed, asking TCAPS trustees to publicly justify their choice to obscure their actions from public view. Others excised important conversations, illegitimately claiming attorney-client privilege extends to a board president’s text messages to a superintendent with whom she appears to be negotiating a separation agreement.
The latest disappointment arrived Friday in the form of a 211-page response to a request for a boatload of communications between district executives and trustees. The letdown isn’t what’s included in the stack of public documents for which the Record-Eagle paid $221.76. The communications returned provide a number of new glimpses of the discussions public officials carried on outside of public view as they worked to negotiate the costly split with their new superintendent.
Nope, our angst originates from the obvious omissions in the conversations released in response to our requests. Some trustees provided screenshots of their text conversations with one another while others, elected officials whose discussions are exposed by those glimpses, provided none of their correspondence.
We wondered where those messages and emails went? What discussions occurred, but weren’t deemed important enough to preserve for public review? Who contributed to the decision to send Cardon away?
Fortunately, trustees soon will have a chance to choose a more transparent path. Next week they are expected to discuss whether to overrule misguided decisions to withhold some requested records, including a oft-referenced written complaint against Cardon delivered by Kelly in closed session.
We hope, in this three-sided conversation, our elected representatives decide to let truth speak for itself.
Editor's note: 11/29/19 A previous version of this editorial incorrectly stated the status of a FOIA request to TCAPS. The district has responded to 12 R-E records requests so far.