In a tense special meeting, Douglas County School Board members are divided over how to handle lawsuit

Douglas County School District
The Douglas County school board met Friday, March 11, 2022, during a deeply divided special board meeting to discuss matters involving a lawsuit and preliminary injunction that ordered the board majority to follow open meetings law.

Confusion and indignation ruled at the Douglas County School Board special meeting Friday morning, the first gathering of the board since a judge issued a preliminary injunction ordering members to follow the state’s open meeting laws.

The meeting was called by President Mike Peterson to discuss a resolution that would name him the sole person to respond to the lawsuit filed against the board. There was no public comment allowed.

Peterson is also individually named in the suit, which alleges Peterson, vice president Christy Williams, Kaylee Winegar and Becky Myers violated state law by a series of meetings that preceded the Feb. 4 firing of Corey Wise as the district superintendent.

The meeting brought to light that the court case could cost the district more money. Minority board member Susan Meek said the district’s insurance carrier has denied coverage of this case. So any costs associated with the lawsuit will come directly out of the district’s operating budget.

“Meaning that public dollars are even more at risk with the decision being made here today. It is even more important that citizens understand the implications of taxpayer dollars being spent to fight this court case,” Meek said. 

Signaling the tension and lasting anger from Wise’s firing, the board took more than 20 minutes to simply approve the agenda — and that vote was split 4-3. A second resolution regarding appealing the injunction had been added after the meeting was called, failing to meet the required 24-hour notice and was removed. And a motion by one of the minority board members to remove the 30-minute time limit set on the discussion was defeated. 

The minority board members took issue that Friday’s special meeting had been called in the first place.

“It is inappropriate to continue the practice of calling a last-minute special meeting and silencing our community by not allowing public comment, and now going one step further and trying to silence my voice by limiting the time that we have available to discuss an issue that is going to impact our public,” said Elizabeth Hanson as she voted against the agenda.

Board member David Ray said that the board has met in more special meetings than regular meetings and that it should stop.

Peterson countered that the lawsuit was the reason he called a meeting.

“We had an order issued in the litigation brought against the board, and we have a timeline associated with actions associated with the order brought against the board. Thus, I thought that a perfectly appropriate reason to have a special meeting — because we have a timeline,” Peterson said.

In reality, the legal counsel informed the board that decisions could be made at the regularly scheduled meeting on March 22. Once that came to light, Peterson moved to adjourn the meeting. That motion passed 7-0. 

This resolution regarding the lawsuit was tabled until the March 22 meeting, where public comment will be available.

Previous coverage of the Douglas County school board: