A new court filing from attorneys for the Douglas County School Board argues that directors didn’t ask former superintendent Corey Wise to resign and maintains one-on-one conversations do not violate the Colorado Open Meetings Law.
An Aug. 8 response to a request for a judge’s permanent ruling in favor of plaintiff Robert Marshall continues to assert that board directors Mike Peterson, Becky Myers, Christy Williams and Kaylee Winegar did not behave illegally.
Marshall sued the four directors following the firing of Wise, alleging the decision to terminate Wise took place outside of public meetings. In a preliminary injunction, Douglas County Judge Jeffrey Holmes found the director’s one-on-one meetings with Wise and each other did break the state’s open meetings law and ordered the board to abide by rules doing public business in a public setting.
Since then, Marshall and his attorney have argued a recording of a conversation Peterson and Williams had with Wise before his termination at a Feb. 4 special meeting proves Peterson asked Wise to resign, indicating the decision had been made outside of public meetings.
The latest filing from attorneys representing the board of directors disputes this and claims the tape actually shows that though Peterson was “committed to a new direction,” he only asked Wise to “consider his future.”
Additionally, the board’s attorneys argue that one-on-one conversations are allowed under the Colorado Open Meetings Law, which requires meetings of three or more members to be public and limits elected officials from taking public action outside of the meetings.
“While debating the issue may conceivably violate the COML, as that would be something a court may want to be in public, merely learning two or more directors’ position on a public issue could be treated differently than having multiple lengthy debates on an issue, and should be permitted,” the filing reads. “As noted above, learning the positions of multiple members of a local public body helps that person to understand where people are coming from as the member prepares for a public meeting.”
Ultimately, the filing states that if the judge finds the directors did violate the open meetings law in their conversations with Wise, any violations would have been rectified when the decision was formalized at the Feb. 4 special meeting. Wise was fired on a 4-3 vote, with board directors Elizabeth Hanson, Susan Meek and David Ray dissenting.
“Just because the majority did not change their minds does not mean the meeting did not cure the issue,” the filing said. “A cure occurs when the local public body holds properly noticed meeting, debates the issue at hand and comes to a decision through a proper vote. All three of those things happened.”
Judge Holmes will decide the next step of the lawsuit by either granting Marshall’s request for a permanent ruling on the board’s open meetings law violations or by a three-day trial.
Douglas County School District also faces litigation from Wise, who claims the district’s firing was discriminatory.