TCAPS Set To Release Ann Cardon Memo
By Beth Milligan | June 14, 2021
A confidential memo at the center of controversy regarding the sudden departure of former Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) Superintendent Ann Cardon is likely to be imminently released. TCAPS Board President Scott Newman-Bale tells The Ticker he believes trustees will vote tonight (Monday) to make the document public instead of further fighting a court ruling ordering its release.
The memo was penned by former TCAPS Board President and current Trustee Sue Kelly, who reportedly outlined personal and professional criticisms of Cardon in the document that was discussed in a board closed session in October 2019. Shortly after that closed session, Cardon (pictured) – who was only on the job 70 days and had been unanimously hired by the board – resigned from her position. She received a lump sum payment of $180,000 under the terms of a separation agreement approved by TCAPS trustees, an amount just shy of her entire starting salary of $184,000.
The details surrounding Cardon’s abrupt, contentious departure have never been fully disclosed to the public. Cardon agreed not to make any written or verbal statements disparaging TCAPS as part of her separation agreement and declined numerous media requests to speak about her resignation. Just prior to the controversy, Cardon had made positive comments about the School Finance Research Collaborative, an organization Kelly strongly criticized for promoting a funding formula in Michigan she believes disadvantages TCAPS. The differences in opinion over the organization reportedly started a rift between the two officials. Following the closed session meeting in which Kelly presented her concerns about Cardon and Cardon’s subsequent resignation, TCAPS board members – with the exception of Erica Moon Mohr – have repeatedly declined to discuss what happened at that meeting or the circumstances surrounding Cardon’s departure, citing the confidential nature of closed session.
TCAPS also rejected Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to release Kelly’s memo about Cardon, including a request and subsequent appeal from The Ticker. In January 2020, the Traverse City Record-Eagle filed a lawsuit fighting for the document’s release. Thirteenth Circuit Court Judge Kevin Elsenheimer ruled in the newspaper’s favor last summer, but TCAPS attorneys appealed the decision. Last month, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled again in the Record-Eagle’s favor, saying that government bodies can’t take documents that would normally be subject to FOIA into closed session and claim they are confidential and protected from release.
Newman-Bale says the Michigan Court of Appeals decision was a “pretty clear ruling” and that he believes TCAPS trustees will vote tonight to comply and order the document’s release. Trustees will go into closed session before the public vote, which Newman-Bale says is necessary to discuss legal advice for how and when to release the memo. For example, it’s not clear yet whether any personal details will be redacted and whether the memo can be freely shared by board members and TCAPS with the public immediately, or if it will be released only by FOIA request. “There have just been a few procedural issues we need to overcome,” says Newman-Bale. “It has more to do with technicalities than a desire to release (the memo). I haven’t heard from a single board member who hasn’t been supportive of its release.”
That includes Kelly, according to Newman-Bale (Kelly could not be reached for comment). She will not be in attendance tonight – Newman-Bale says Kelly’s had an excused absence since January for vacation and that missing the meeting is coincidental – but told Newman-Bale she’s in “full support” of releasing it, he says. Newman-Bale says that while it may appear from a public perspective that board members were fighting the document’s disclosure by appealing the Thirteenth Circuit Court decision, the appeal was largely driven by insurance considerations through TCAPS’ provider, SET SEG.
“Whenever you have an insurance policy and do something to trigger a claim, you agree within the policy they’re going to handle the claim,” Newman-Bale says. “They’re going to pay for it, but they want to minimize the claim. They do get input on what you have to do. We could have (released) it without (appealing), but then we would have been legally financially liable for the damages at some point. That’s true of any insurance carrier, so I don’t think that was fundamentally wrong.” With the Michigan Court of Appeals ruling, Newman-Bale says he thinks “everyone” – TCAPS trustees, the insurance provider, and opposing counsel – are now on the “same page” about releasing the memo.
As to how the document’s publication will impact the school district and TCAPS board, Newman-Bale – who recently had the opportunity to review the memo – doesn’t think it will produce major shock waves. He says the newest incarnation of the TCAPS board has worked hard to have a “productive and professional relationship” and to help the school district move forward in a positive direction following an extended period of negative publicity.
“I’m sure there will be some things people are interested in learning, a few names and mentions in it,” he says. “But there’s nothing crazy, nothing shocking. It has had a big buildup, but if it had just been released from the beginning, it probably wouldn’t have gotten too much attention. It’s not worth the show it received.”Comment