Oct 02, 2010 Ned Campbell Uncategorized
Judge Donald Greenwood ruled Sue Gorton’s announced appointment as interim superintendent of JE Schools void in State Supreme Court yesterday, citing the district’s violation of the Open Meetings Law. The suit was filed by JE Principle David Zehner, who was later put on paid administrative leave.
“It’s not that she isn’t qualified for the position the issue is that the board didn’t do it legally,” Zehner told the Observer on Thursday.
Zehner said he gave the board the opportunity to hire Gorton the right way before he took the board and Gorton to court. He first notified the board that they were in violation of the Open Meeting Law in an Aug. 3 letter, following Gorton’s announced appointment on July 30.
According to Zehner’s affidavit, the board did not respond and minutes from the Aug. 4 and 18 board meetings indicate that no discussion of the issue took place.
Zehner said the board had the chance to put Gorton on a meeting agenda twice in September, but failed to do so. He noted that Gorton was introduced as the interim superintendent during a faculty meeting on the first day of school.
Zehner first questioned the board’s appointment because it was one of many decisions being made improperly, he said. These included the board’s paid suspension of tenured administrator Bill Hamilton July without immediate charges, the forced transfer of Janice Shue from Elbridge Elementary principle to a newly created special projects position — without a public job description — 15 months ago, and the Sept. 15 firing of Anthony Scro, a Civil Service employee, on what Zehner saw as “very iffy grounds.”
Zehner, a tenured administrator at JE, was put on paid administrative leave Sept. 20. He suspects his suspension was in response to his suit against the board, because “they haven’t given me any other reasons.”
“They say nothing hoping it will go away,” he said. “And then all this happens and I get suspended.”
During the trial, the defense stated that Zehner’s petition to nullify the appointment of Gorton was premature. Superintendent Marilyn Dominick, School Board President
Mary Alley and Gorton all provided affidavits denying any formal appointment being made.
“Our public relations got out in front of the board business that we needed to do,” Alley said on Friday.
The defense also stated that while the interim superintendent position was talked about in executive session, no vote was made.
The judge’s ruling suggests that the decision making process was not public enough.
“The act of discussing and coming to a consensus in executive session, but not passing a formal resolution, does not shield the board from a violation of law,” the ruling reads. “The Open Meetings Law was designed to assure the public’s right to be informed and it is the entire decision making process which the legislature intended to affect by the statute, not only formal acts of voting or formal executions of documents.”
Judge Greenwood denied Zehner’s request to have his legal fees paid by the district, but not without sympathy.
“This court agrees with [Zehner} that he should not have been required to go to court to enforce the law and that he is now further aggrieved by incurring attorney’s fees,” the ruling reads, citing the high bar in place for the recovery of fees.
The board will vote publicly on whether to hire Gordon as Interim Superintendent during its Oct. 6 board meeting. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. and has been moved from the JE High School library to the auditorium to accommodate what is expected be a very large turnout.
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