DPSCD board meeting canceled by Open Meetings Act suit

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

Detroit — A school board meeting planned Thursday to provide updates on the district’s superintendent search was canceled at the last minute after a community activist filed an emergency motion claiming non-compliance with the state’s Open Meetings Act.

Robert Davis said in his complaint that he learned about the meeting Thursday through media reports. He claimed the gathering was not properly posted to the Detroit Public Schools Community District website and called for it to be canceled.

“During a conference call with all attorneys from both sides, (Wayne County Circuit) Judge (Brian) Sullivan advised (district) attorneys that they were not in compliance with the Open Meetings Act and thus, tonight’s meeting could not be held,” Davis said Thursday afternoon.

District officials confirmed the meeting was canceled at 5:10 p.m., shortly before the meeting’s 5:30 p.m. scheduled start time.

“Today’s special meeting ... has been canceled in compliance with the Open Meetings Act,” spokeswoman Chrystal Wilson said. “Although the meeting was posted well in advance on both the website and social media because of a technicality the posting was not readily accessible.”

Board member LaMar Lemmons said the cancellation was unfortunate because it would have given board members the holiday weekend to reflect on the facts of the search.

“The irony was that there was going to be no action taken today, it was just going to be open deliberation,” board member LaMar Lemmons said.

The meeting will instead be held 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Iris Taylor, president of the school board, added Thursday: “We have to see how the meeting goes and how the process goes” before determining whether the board would be ready for a decision.

Davis specified that all future notices must be posted “in a prominent location” at least 18 hours prior to a meeting.

“It’s important for them to post prominently so that citizens know when they’re holding a meeting. (Citizens) need to know so they can be actively involved in the process of selecting the superintendent,” Davis said. “They can’t be involved if they don’t know when the meeting is.”

Davis is known for filing numerous lawsuits against government agencies over issues of public transparency. He previously filed a separate Open Meetings Act lawsuit against the Detroit school board last month, claiming the group’s search for superintendent candidates should not have been conducted behind closed doors.

“We have a hearing May 5 for whether or not (the judge) is going to prevent them from selecting a superintendent until the legal process unfolds,” Davis said.

Further action could include ordering the board to restart the search in the public eye, Davis said.

Both lawsuits target the district’s search for a candidate to replace interim Superintendent Alycia Meriweather, who was appointed last year by the district’s then-Emergency Manager Judge Steven Rhodes.

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.

Meriweather was not selected as a finalist, prompting criticisms within the district as well as from billionaire businessman Dan Gilbert.

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Twitter: @HollyPFournier