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Ruling awaited on lawsuit alleging Dougco school board directors violated open meeting laws

A lawsuit says board directors violated open meeting laws by stringing together one-on-one meetings ahead of the decision to fire Corey Wise.

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. — A lawsuit filed by Douglas County resident Robert Marshall was taken up in a courtroom Friday.

It was to determine whether the Douglas County Board of Education directors who make up its conservative majority violated Colorado law by holding a string of one-on-one meetings with one another leading up to the firing of now-former Superintendent Corey Wise.

The lawsuit specifically names board directors Becky Myers, Kaylee Winegar, board vice president Christy Williams and board president Mike Peterson.

As of Saturday morning, a decision from the judge had not yet been made.

If the temporary injunction is granted, the lawsuit asks the judge to make it so that "any discussion of public business by three or more members of the BOE, including through a series of gatherings by less than three Board members at a time, unless such discussion is properly noticed and the public is permitted to attend and observe that discussion in real time," is prohibited for the Douglas County Schools Board of Education.

Conservative board directors who testified were Myers, Williams and Peterson. 

Credit: Alex Castillo
The building where the court hearing took place Friday.

Their testimony collectively showed that the meetings between board members leading up to Williams and Peterson sitting down with Wise ahead of his firing happened primarily over the phone, rather than email.

Williams specifically testified that they were advised emails would be subject to Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) requests, but she said exchanging information without public knowledge was not the intention of the meetings.

The defense added to that by using Wise's calendar from 2020 as evidence showing a series of "two-on-one" and one-on-one meetings with past school board members.

Peterson testified he would do business differently from now on.

Afterward, he was asked by reporters about why he chose to use phone conversations rather than emails. 

"Did not think about having to preserve a record, didn't see any issues with it at the time, and frankly, it was purely out of convenience, not to circumvent anything," he said.

He added that he doesn't regret his vote Feb. 4 but said he would have done some things differently leading up to it.

Williams and Peterson repeatedly said they did not tell Wise to resign but that they looked over his contract and explained his options after they said they wanted to move in a different direction.

Susan Meek was the only progressive board director in the minority to testify. During that testimony, a phone call was played that she recorded of Peterson telling her about the meeting between him, Wise and Williams.

Meek testified that she recorded the call to prevent the conversation from being misconstrued later.

Board Director Elizabeth Hanson did not testify, but provided a statement on the matter: "I wish the attorneys who represent the entire Board had taken the time to speak with the entire Board before making arguments in court about our past practices.  I would have been happy to clarify for our attorneys and for the court that the past practice of meeting with Superintendent Wise was a time for discussion and never for decision making or a way to circumvent open meeting laws."

Credit: Alex Castillo
Douglas County Board of Education President Mike Peterson speaks to reporters after his court appearance Friday.

Marshall, who filed the lawsuit, told reporters that he stood strong on his stance that a law was violated.

"And again, if this practice is allowed to stand well, there is no Colorado open meeting law anymore – anyone could get around it and figure out how to get around it," he said. "No matter how you slice it. This was not done in public. I don't even know why we need to be talking about the law to make them do the right thing."

Meanwhile, Peterson said that in hindsight, he would have gone back to "look at a whole bunch of options for this," also taking questions on his relationship with the rest of the school board.

"I think if we can pick common ground where things are, where there's a shared consensus, then that that will help bring the board together. Yeah, it's just a matter of identifying those issues," he said.

He also gave an update to the ongoing search for a new superintendent, saying they have around 18 applicants. 

The board recently approved their timeline for hiring a new superintendent. 

RELATED: DougCo board approves amended timeline for superintendent hiring

RELATED: Fired superintendent plans 'future litigation' against Douglas County School Board

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