SHERIDAN — A status conference is set for April 17 with 4th Judicial District Court Judge William Edelman to discuss The Sheridan Press case against Sheridan County School District 2.
The lawsuit, brought by The Sheridan Press, asks that the court declare that any executive session in which a proposed multi-purpose recreational facility was discussed violated the Wyoming Public Meetings Act. It also asks that meeting minutes from those executive sessions be released.
Superintendent Craig Dougherty said in a Feb. 5 interview with The Press that the board discussed the project only to the extent of the building’s potential footprint.
He said discussion fell under the exemption in state law that allows government bodies to discuss real estate matters in closed session.
The Press believes that in order to get to the point in which a footprint could be discussed, the project as a whole would need to be discussed first. Such a discussion would not fall under any exemptions in state statutes that allow for a closed session.
SCSD2 has spent more than $17,000 on a market study, bond proposals and cost estimates for the project the district considered putting out as a bond initiative in May 2014, but has not discussed the project in open meetings.
In the same Feb. 5 interview, SCSD2 Board President Richard Bridger noted that the project was discussed by the district’s capital construction committee as well.
“… All these different things run through them and of course then it goes to the full board for discussion,” Bridger said.
But the project does not appear in SCSD2 board meeting minutes for the last two years.
The April 17 status conference will the judge will establish the procedure the judge would like to follow moving forward. For example, does Edelman want to see all of the executive session meeting minutes for the last couple of years to determine if the law was violated? Or does he want to receive oral or written arguments?
Since the lawsuit with The Press has begun, newspaper staff has continued to request public documents be released by the school district per Wyoming state statutes regarding public documents. Most recently, The Press requested the list of administrators whose contracts were recently approved for extension by the school board. The Press requested the old and new contracts in order to compare pay rates and benefits outlined in those contracts.
In response, SCSD2 attorney Kendal Hoopes initially emailed Press attorney Bruce Moats requesting that formal document requests be run through the respective attorneys.
Moats responded with case law showing that whether or not a public entity is involved in litigation with a specific party, that public entity is still required to comply with state public record laws.
“I am sure you would agree that the newspaper’s responsibility to report the news regarding the school district does not stop because a lawsuit has been filed on one narrow issue,” Moats wrote in an email to Hoopes.
Hoopes clarified in a responding email by saying it was not clear what specific document was being requested and he would be happy to communicate directly with The Press.
The Press has since received the list of administrator’s whose contracts have been renewed, but has yet to receive copies of the current or extended contracts. SCSD2 has said it won’t release the new contracts until they are officially approved as part of the budget process in June.
The administrators whose contracts were renewed are Superintendent Craig Dougherty, Assistant Superintendent Terry Burgess, Assistant Superintendent Tom Sachse, Director of Elementary Education Scott Stults, Business Manager Roxie Taft, Special Education Director Traci Turk, Transportation Director Steve Schlicting, Facilities Director Julie Carroll and Activities Director Don Julian.
Sheridan County Attorney Matt Redle is also reviewing documents and deciding whether to pursue a case against SCSD2 for violation of the open meetings law as well as violation of open records law for withholding public documents.
“If the county attorney decides it has authority and an action is warranted, then we may ask the court to stay our proceedings pending the outcome of that action,” Moats said.