Filing: DPSCD search violated Opening Meetings Act

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

A community activist filed a lawsuit Tuesday over the Detroit school district’s superintendent search, arguing it violated the state Opening Meetings Act.

“First and foremost, they created a superintendent search committee that met in secret and ultimately selected the search firm who conducted the search (for candidates) on behalf of the board,” said Robert Davis, who has filed numerous lawsuits against government agencies over issues of public transparency.

“And the act that the board undertook to review the interviews in private as well as making the decision as to who the finalists were also violated the Opening Meetings Act.”

Davis said he is seeking to have the process restarted in the public eye.

“One of the remedies I’m seeking is to invalidate the decisions that they made with respect to the selection of the finalists and the decision they made with the search firm,” he said.

Davis added that he plans to file a motion for a temporary restraining order to halt the hiring process, pending the outcome of his case.

Chrystal Wilson, a spokeswoman with the Detroit Public Schools Community District, said the district would not be commenting on the pending litigation.

The district retained Ray and Associates for the superintendent search in late January after community input through surveys and focus groups. Seventy-five applicants from around the country sought the job.

The search firm narrowed the field to 10 applicants and the board reviewed their application packages, including videos, in closed session. Officials assigned each candidate a number and brought the process to open session, during which applicants were discussed without revealing names.

The members further narrowed the selection to three finalists: Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Florida; Derrick R. Coleman, superintendent of the River Rouge district; and Orlando Ramos, regional superintendent for Milwaukee Public Schools. Ramos later withdrew his name from consideration.

Critics of the process have called for the board to include interim Superintendent Alycia Meriweather in the list of finalists. Officials considered Meriweather, who was appointed last year by the district’s then-emergency manager Judge Steven Rhodes, as part of the initial priority list but later eliminated her from the running.

Others have asked the state to allow the district to extend and widen its search beyond the 90-day window set by legislation signed last summer.

Davis in his lawsuit argued that all steps of the search process, including the selection of Ray and Associations, should have been open to the public.

Transparency also would better educate the public on the qualifications and background of each applicant, Davis said.

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Twitter: @HollyPFournier