Rhodes meeting Wednesday with DPS board to be open
In a change of plans, a Wednesday meeting between Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Steven Rhodes and the school board will be open to the public, board members and the district said.
DPS board president Herman Davis said Rhodes called him Monday about the planned meeting, which generated controversy last week when the district said it would be conducted in private.
Last week, Davis had said no more than five of the 11 board members would meet Rhodes at once, one less than needed for a quorum under board policy.
“We talked for a few minutes and he said he decided to make it an open meeting,” Davis said Monday. “So I told him I will bring an agenda and we can talk about some issues.”
In a statement released by the district, Rhodes confirmed the session would be open to the public.
“As a result of my conversation with Board President Davis, I look forward to hearing from all board members their ideas on how to transition DPS back to local control,” Rhodes said. “I am also very interested in hearing their thoughts on how we can work together to create the best possible school district for the students and families of Detroit.”
The meeting will be from 9-10 a.m. Wednesday in the auditorium of the Frederick Douglass Academy for Young Men, 2001 W. Warren.
In an email Friday to Rhodes, attorney Andrew Paterson told the former bankruptcy judge that “your scheduled ‘private meeting’ with members of the Detroit Board of Education ... is in direct violations of Michigan’s OMA.”
Paterson, who said he read about the planned meeting in The Detroit News, said he was representing Robert Davis, a former Highland Park school board member and union activist known for filing lawsuits against public agencies. Davis recently completed a 10-month prison term for embezzling $200,000 from the Highland Park district.
In his email to Rhodes, Paterson warned that unless the emergency manager agreed to make the meeting public, Robert Davis “would be forced to file legal action” to block the session.
In a response Monday morning, Rhodes wrote that “(Herman) Davis, the president of the school board, has advised me that he intends to comply with the Open Meetings Act in regard to its meeting on Wednesday.” In a later email, Rhodes confirmed, “We will be at Douglass school.”
Board member Elena Herrada said Rhodes was “really out of line to ask for a private meeting in the first place.”
“We were publicly elected and not privately appointed,” she said. “And even though we have no authority, we are bound by the Open Meetings Act.”
The DPS board has been largely sidelined from decision-making in the state’s largest school district, which has been run by a series of state-appointed emergency managers since March 2009.
Thursday, when the session was announced, DPS spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski said the meeting between Rhodes and board members would be private “so that they may have an open and frank discussion.” At the time, she said the session could be closed under the state’s Open Meetings Act because no decisions were going to be made.
School board member Tawanna Simpson described the switch to an open meeting as “a good thing.” She said she was the board member who initially asked Rhodes to meet with the board during a public hearing last week at King High School.
“Many people don’t understand that the board still is not in control," she said. "Some may think we still make decisions when we do not.”
She said it is a “step in the right direction.”
Board member Ida Short said “it’s better late than never.”
“We’re happy he’s respecting the Open Meeting Act, as well as respecting the board,” she said. “He’s not governed by the OMA — none of the emergency managers are — but we, as a board, are.”
DPS is projected to accumulate general obligation debts totaling $515 million by June. The state House and Senate have passed competing plans to pay off the debt, with the more generous Senate plan providing $200 million in startup costs.