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Judge tells Dougco's conservative school board majority to follow open meetings statute

A judge issued a preliminary injunction against the board's conservative majority, saying evidence suggests they decided privately to fire the superintendent.

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. — A district court judge in Douglas County on Wednesday issued a preliminary injunction against the school board's conservative majority, ordering them to conduct business publicly.

Robert Marshall, a resident of Douglas County, filed a lawsuit in February that asserted these board members violated Colorado's Open Meetings Law (COML) when they decided to fire now former Superintendent Corey Wise. The law states, in part: "All meetings of a quorum or three or more members of any local public body, whichever is fewer, at which any public business is discussed or at which any formal action may be taken are declared to be public meetings open to the public at all times."

The lawsuit said the four majority members – Michael Peterson, Kaylee Winegar, Rebecca Myers and Christy Williams – decided on and discussed Wise's termination amongst themselves, two people at a time, on multiple occasions. 

Judge Jeffrey Holmes found these members "collectively committed" to fire Wise outside of the public purview.

"... meetings regarding public business must be public not only when decisions are made, but also in situations where 'public business is discussed.' Statutes such as the COML are to be interpreted most favorably to protect the ultimate beneficiary, the public," Holmes' ruling said.

"Circumventing the statute by a series of private one-on-one meetings at which public business is discussed and/or decisions reached is a violation of the purpose of the statute, not just its spirit."

The four majority members have contended they did not violate Colorado law with one-on-one meetings. Holmes cited relevant rulings from other states in his analysis.

The injunction does not affect the board's ability to hold executive sessions.

The school board fired Wise in a school board meeting on Feb. 4. The Jefferson County School District has since hired him as a community superintendent.

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