School board to discuss appealing judge's ruling March 22

Insurance will not pay legal fees for lawsuit

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After a more than 90-minute discussion and slew of 4-3 votes on the proper way to move forward, the Douglas County School Board opted to make an official decision on how to respond to a judge’s injunction order at the regular March 22 meeting.

With the discussion originally slated to last for 30 minutes, the special meeting on the morning of March 11 lasted a lot longer as several board members said they did not understand what the March 9 injunction order from Douglas County District Court Judge Jeffrey Holmes means.

Board member David Ray said he thinks the order means the board needs to follow open meeting laws and move forward accordingly.

Majority board members, consisting of President Mike Peterson, Becky Myers, Christy Williams and Kaylee Winegar, said they would like to possibly appeal the judge’s ruling and get better clarification as to what it means.

In the March 9 ruling, Holmes granted a  preliminary injunction requested by Douglas County resident Robert Marshall, who sued the school board and its majority members in February, alleging the majority violated the state’s open meeting laws during discussions regarding the removal of Superintendent Corey Wise.

The board majority fired Wise without cause in a publicly noticed special meeting on Feb. 4.

Holmes wrote in his order that the evidence indicated that in non-public meetings, the majority board members committed to fire Wise.

Myers said she does not believe majority board members did anything wrong in the discussions and events that led up to Wise officially being fired in an open meeting.

Based on discussions during the special meeting, the majority board members are pushing for an appeal, while minority board members said it is time to accept the judge’s ruling and move on.

One issue brought to light by board member Elizabeth Hanson and fellow minority directors David Ray and Susan Meek is that insurance will not cover the costs of the lawsuit, which means any appeals must be paid through school district funds.

Peterson said appealing the judge’s order is about getting more clarification for current and future boards on what the injunction means.

In considering an appeal, Meek asked fellow board members to give it serious consideration before opting to spend tens of thousands of dollars to argue it.

Ray again stressed that the board should accept the judge’s ruling, move forward and conduct public business in the open.

Hanson told majority board members if they want to appeal the ruling, “do it on your own dime and not the school district’s.” The district has a fiduciary responsibility and it would be “absurd” for it to appeal, she said.

Also at issue during the special March 11 meeting was how the district is being served by legal counsel.

While Peterson, Myers, Williams and Winegar are specifically named in Marshall’s lawsuit, Hanson said she is not happy the law firm representing the school district appears to be communicating mostly with Peterson.

The district is being represented by the Hall & Evans law firm, with attorney Matthew Hegarty attending the special meeting virtually.

Peterson stressed that part of the reason for the special meeting was to get organized and decide who the attorneys would address as the process moves forward.

The proposed resolution, which was not approved, called for Peterson to be the point person moving forward. Peterson said he had issues with that plan, proposing at one point to have the entire board part of all communications.

When pressed on why there was a need for a special meeting, Peterson said he had been told there was a 14-day window to appeal the judge’s decision.

Hegarty initially agreed, noting that if a board decision waited until the next regular meeting on March 22, he would not have enough time to meet the March 25 deadline to file the appeal.

However, as discussions continued, Hegarty said he was able to do conduct more research on Colorado appeals rules as the meeting continued, and said the board actually has 49 days to file.

With that, Peterson and the board moved to adjourn the special meeting and hold further discussions on how to proceed at the March 22 meeting.

Editor’s Note: Elliott Wenzler contributed to this story.

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