SHERIDAN — The latest response in a back-and-forth exchange between Whitney Benefits and Sheridan County School District 2 came in the form of a 3.5 page analysis from the Whitney board dated March 19.
In the letter, Whitney board member Roy Garber addressed accusations from the school district that Whitney board President Tom Kinnison was intentionally escalating a conflict.
“The personal accusation near the top of the second page of your letter concerning Mr. Kinnison is incorrect and regrettable,” Garber wrote in response to SCSD2 board President Richard Bridger’s March 7 letter. “In the interests of maintaining a good relationship between Whitney and SCSD2 going forward, Whitney assumes and hopes those comments are simply the product of some mistaken factual assumptions by SCSD2 and that SCSD2 will not send any more letters making these types of unsupported personal accusations against any Whitney board members or personnel.”
The response to Bridger’s accusations regarding Kinnison was one of three specific issues Whitney identified as necessitating a reply. The others were SCSD2’s concerns about Garber’s Feb. 26 interview with The Sheridan Press and “SCSD2’s statement that Whitney has somehow attacked SCSD2’s rec center project concept.”
A look back
The dispute between the school district and the foundation stems from a proposed multi-purpose recreational facility that SCSD2 has explored with several community groups over the past two years.
The district never discussed the project in open meetings but rather made the first public comments on the project at a Whitney education summit earlier this year, though proposals for the rec center have already cost the district more than $17,000.
Under Wyoming open records law, The Sheridan Press requested and examined documents regarding the project including a market analysis related to the building conducted by Ballard*King and Associates, estimates from local architects which project the cost of the facility coming in near $45 million, formal bond proposals, and an email discussion between Northern Wyoming Community College District President Dr. Paul Young and Dougherty identifying a timeline for pursuing a bond.
Additionally, Whitney board members have said Kinnison was approached at least three times by SCSD2 Superintendent Craig Dougherty, who asked for between $10-20 million for the project.
On Feb. 18, representatives of SCSD2’s board and administration presented a general inquiry regarding direct funding for one or more capital improvement projects at a Whitney board meeting, though SCSD2 did not at that time make any direct funding requests.
On Feb. 19, a promised response to the board inquiry was sent by Whitney and included reaction to letters sent Jan. 17 by SCSD2 and Powell-based attorney Tracy Copenhaver, whom the district hired to interpret the Whitney will.
In it, Whitney board members addressed the Copenhaver letter, which they have described as a “thinly veiled threat” by SCSD2 to attain Whitney funding, and expressed concern that the district was attempting to influence those members of the Whitney board appointed by SCSD2 to vote favorably on future matters put forth by the district. Whitney board members, the letter said, should have allegiance only to Whitney’s will.
On March 7, SCSD2 responded to Whitney via a letter from Bridger in which he states “SCSD2 has no intentions of bringing any sort of legal action to ‘threaten’ Mr. Whitney’s Will.” Bridger also questioned whether Kinnison’s letter expressed concerns of the entire board, or only Kinnison and stated publicly that the letter was not sent to the school board for review prior to being published by The Press, which he cited as an example of how Kinnison is trying to escalate a public conflict.
A final Whitney response
In Garber’s March 19 letter, he elaborated on the SCSD2 accusations that Kinnison was attempting to escalate a conflict by sending the most recent letter to The Press before the district received it.
“As you know, Whitney’s February 19, 2014, letter was mailed out to all SCSD2 board members, SCSD2 administration, and to all Whitney Board members (at least 24 people) on February 19, 2014, after Mr. Kinnison was expressly authorized by the Whitney Board on February 18, 2014, to do so,” Garber wrote.
“All Board members from both boards and SCSD2 administration would have received their copies of that letter within a day or so after it was mailed,” he continued.
He further clarified that The Sheridan Press article in which a copy of Whitney’s Feb. 19 letter to SCSD2’s board, the SCSD2’s Jan. 17 letter and the Copenhaver letter was published on Feb. 27.
“At that point, all SCSD2 board members, SCSD2 staff and all Whitney board members would have received and had their respective copies of the Whitney’s February 19, 2014, letter for a week,” Garber said.
Garber also reiterated that the Whitney board does not believe that it has authority under the Whitney will to provide direct funding to SCSD2.
“The fact that Whitney has been politely clear with SCSD2 and its administration in expressing its view that it would not be appropriate for Whitney to directly fund an SCSD2 athletic or arts building project under the terms of Mr. Whitney’s will does not, and was not intended to, imply anything negative towards SCSD2’s investigation or pursuit of various projects,” Garber wrote. “It simply was intended to be a candid written response about Whitney’s view of what it can and cannot fund under the terms of Mr. Whitney’s will in light of the content of Mr. Bridger’s January 14, 2014, letter.”
Garber concludes his March 19 letter with a request for a cease fire.
“Whitney sincerely desires to move past the statements and the unfortunate personal tone of Mr. Bridger’s March 7, 2014, letter,” he wrote, “and, instead, to promote educational excellence in this area as the Mr. Whitney will contemplates. Please join us in this effort.”
Whitney Director Patrick Henderson delivered a copy of the March 19 letter to The Press on Monday.