TCAPS Set To Release Ann Cardon Memo
A confidential memo centered on the controversy over the sudden departure of former Superintendent Ann Cardon of the Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) is likely to be released shortly. TCAPS Board President Scott Newman-Bale told The Ticker that he believes the trustees will vote tonight (Monday) to release the document, rather than continuing to fight a court ruling ordering its release.
The memo was written by former TCAPS board chairman and current trustee Sue Kelly, who reportedly outlined personal and professional criticism of Cardon in the document, which was discussed in a closed board meeting in October 2019. Shortly after that closed session, Cardon (pictured) – who had only been in office for 70 days and had been unanimously set by the board – resigned from office. She received a lump sum payment of $ 180,000 under a TCAPS trustee-approved separation agreement, an amount just below her total starting salary of $ 184,000.
The details of Cardon’s abrupt, controversial departure were never fully disclosed to the public. Cardon agreed not to make any written or oral statements disparaging TCAPS as part of their separation agreement and declined numerous media requests to speak about their resignation. Just prior to the controversy, Cardon had made positive comments about the School Finance Research Collaborative, an organization that Kelly heavily criticized for promoting a funding formula in Michigan that she believes puts TCAPS at a disadvantage. The disagreement over the organization has reportedly created a rift between the two officials. Following the closed-door meeting in which Kelly expressed her concerns about Cardon and Cardon’s subsequent resignation, the TCAPS board members – with the exception of Erica Moon Mohr – repeatedly refused to discuss what happened at that meeting or the circumstances surrounding Cardon’s departure Appeal to the confidential nature of the closed meeting.
TCAPS also denied Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to publish Kelly’s memo on Cardon, including a motion and subsequent appeal from The Ticker. In January 2020, the Traverse City Record-Eagle filed a lawsuit to fight for the document to be published. 13th District Court judge Kevin Elsenheimer ruled in favor of the newspaper last summer, but TCAPS lawyers appealed the decision. Last month, the Michigan appeals court ruled again in favor of the Record-Eagle, saying government agencies cannot bring documents normally subject to the FOIA into a closed session and claim that they are confidential and protected from disclosure.
Newman-Bale says the Michigan Court of Appeal’s decision was a “fairly straightforward decision” and that he believes the TCAPS trustees will vote tonight to comply and order publication of the document. The Trustees will go to a closed session prior to the public vote, which Newman-Bale says is necessary to discuss legal advice on how and when to publish the memo. For example, it is not yet clear whether personal information will be blacked out and whether the memo can be freely shared with the public immediately by board members and TCAPS, or whether it will only be published upon FOIA request. “There were only a few procedural issues that we needed to resolve,” says Newman-Bale. “It has more to do with technical details than wanting to get the memo out. I have never heard of a single board member who did not support its publication. “
According to Newman-Bale, this also includes Kelly (Kelly could not be reached for comment). She won’t be in tonight – Newman-Bale says Kelly has had an excused vacation absence since January and that the missed meeting is accidental – but Newman-Bale said she “fully supports” the release, he says . Newman-Bale says that while it may appear from a public perspective that board members challenged the disclosure of the document by appealing the Thirteenth District Court’s decision, the appeal was primarily due to insurance considerations by the provider of TCAPS, SET SEG.
“Whenever you have an insurance policy and you do something to make a claim, you consent within the policy for them to process the claim,” says Newman-Bale. “They’ll pay for it, but they want to minimize the claim. You get input for what you need to do. We could have (released) it without (complaint), but then at some point we would have been legally financially liable for the damage. That goes for every insurance carrier, so I don’t think that was fundamentally wrong. ”With the Michigan appeals court ruling, Newman-Bale says he thinks“ everyone ”- the trustees of TCAPS, the insurance provider, and the opposing attorney – are now on the “same page” as to publishing the memo.
Regarding the impact of the release of the document on the school district and the TCAPS board of directors, Newman-Bale – who recently had the opportunity to review the memo – does not believe it will generate any major shock waves. He says the newest incarnation of the TCAPS board has worked hard to maintain a “productive and professional relationship” and to help the school district move in a positive direction after a prolonged period of negative publicity.
“I’m sure there will be some things people want to learn, a few names and mentions in it,” he says. “But there is nothing crazy, nothing shocking. It’s built up a lot, but if it had been released from the start it probably wouldn’t have gotten too much attention. It’s not worth the show it got. “