SHERIDAN — Sheridan County School District 2 attorneys have until the end of the day Friday to submit a document to the court outlining when executive sessions to discuss a proposed large multi-purpose recreational facility were held.
The school district’s counsel must also outline under what provision of Wyoming law they believe they were entitled to hold those discussions behind closed doors.
The court filings are in response to the February case brought by The Sheridan Press against the school district, alleging that discussions regarding a proposed recreational facility were illegally held in executive sessions.
In a Feb. 5 interview, SCSD2 Superintendent Craig Dougherty said the discussions only pertained to the potential footprint of the facility and therefore fell under the real estate exemption provided for in Wyoming law.
The real estate exemption listed in statute reads that governing bodies may only discuss such items privately, “to consider the selection of a site or the purchase of real estate when the publicity regarding the consideration would cause a likelihood of an increase in price.”
The school board and Dougherty have maintained that the proposed project was 10-20 years out. The Press argues that if the project was that far out, public discussions likely wouldn’t have impacted the cost of any property being considered for purchase and therefore discussions should have been held publicly.
In addition, the Press could find no record of discussion of the facility in school district board meeting minutes dating back to 2012. Yet, SCSD2 has had an executive session on every agenda dating back to Feb. 6, 2012, including special meetings and board retreats, for a total of 30 executive sessions in that timeframe.
The proposed facility had been discussed in meetings with area interest groups and members of the school district’s capital facilities committee.
SCSD2 has spent more than $17,000 on a market analysis, cost estimates for the building and explorations of a bond initiative. Documents obtained by The Press indicate the project could cost up to $45 million and operate at a $700,000 to $1.7 million annual deficit.
Emails from Dougherty indicate consideration of a May 2014 bond initiative election.
Once SCSD2 attorneys file their explanation with the court, Press attorney Bruce Moats will have until May 30 to respond. Fourth Judicial District Court Judge William Edelman will then consider the two submissions and either rule on the case or request further explanation from SCSD2 and The Press.
Moats said he hopes Edelman will rule that the school district did, in fact, violate Wyoming open meetings laws and require that the minutes from those meetings be released.
The Sheridan County Attorney’s Office is also still reviewing documents for a potential case against SCSD2 regarding violations of the Wyoming Public Records Act in relation to the withholding of certain documents pertaining to the proposed recreational facility.