The Douglas County school board rejected a settlement that would have admitted some board members violated Colorado Open Meetings Laws when deciding to fire former superintendent Corey Wise last year.
During a special meeting on May 8, the board voted 4-3 to turn down a settlement in the lawsuit brought by Rep. Bob Marshall (D-Highlands Ranch) in February 2022, alleging board members Becky Myers, President Mike Peterson, Christy Williams and Kaylee Winegar used a series of one-on-one conversations to discuss Wise’s termination outside of public meetings.
The settlement laid out three terms for the board, including an acknowledgement that Myers, Peterson, Williams and Wineger broke the law when they had non-public discussions about public business.
The other terms were to prevent the board from taking formal action or discussing public business outside of public meetings, except when legally allowed, such as executive sessions or one-on-one conversations not relayed to a third party, and to pay Marshall’s $66,000 legal fees.
After a brief executive session, Williams said she maintains her innocence and doesn’t believe she violated open meetings law, moving to reject the settlement.
“I have maintained for over a year now that I do not believe I did anything illegal,” she said.
Myers, Peterson and Winegar said they didn’t believe they were guilty either. Winegar repeated the argument that since the vote to terminate Wise was public, the group didn’t violate open meetings law.
“I believe there was a vote in public on the decision … and I believe the plaintiff can remove this (term) from the settlement and perhaps then we can get this thing behind us,” Winegar said.
Board members Elizabeth Hanson, Susan Meek and David Ray adamantly opposed rejecting the settlement, arguing the district has sunk enough money into the lawsuit and that going to trial would further divide the community.
Invoices obtained through a records request show the district has paid around $98,000 for legal assistance from May 2022 through March 7, 2023.
Meek called the behavior of Myers, Peterson, Williams and Winegar “indefensible.”
“I don’t know how any board member can defend spending taxpayer resources, money that should be spent in support of students, to try and prove that you had the right to act in the manor that happened,” Meek said. “We should simply agree to adhere to the Colorado Open Meetings Laws, this is what a responsible leadership would look like.”
The board has been operating under a preliminary injunction issued in March 2022 by the Douglas County judge on the case, which found the serial one-on-one conversations violated the law and ordered the board not to discuss public business or take formal action outside of public meeting.
Ray argued that if the board can operate under the injunction, there should be no issues accepting the settlement, but his suggestion fell flat.
Winegar said the cost to the district is on Marshall and suggested if the board wins at trial, he could pay for the expenses.
Peterson agreed, calling out Marshall for continuing the lawsuit as a state representative.
“He’s in a unique position to drop this lawsuit, or at least (part of the settlement) and he could easily raise something in committee or gone to his legislature friends instead of litigating and trying to create new interpretation of the law in the courts," Peterson said.
In a written statement, Marshall urged the board to accept the settlement and cautioned that trust would be further eroded if the board moved forward with a trial.
“Failing to admit these mistakes and moving on has seriously damaged your standing and that of the Douglas County School District,” he said. “
With the settlement rejected, the board will go to trial in June.