By David Denson, Gary Crusader
A lawsuit has been filed against the emergency management team charged with the day-to-day operations of the Gary Public Schools.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday, October 23 in the Lake County Circuit/Superior Court by Atty. Clorius Lay on behalf of Derrick A. Hill. It alleges that the emergency manager, Dr. Peggy Hinckley, violated the serial meeting statute of the Indiana Open Door Law.
In addition to Hinckley, the suit also names as defendants: the Distressed Unit Appeals Board (DUAB); MGT, an agent of DUAB; Gary School Recovery, LLC; and the Gary School Board of Trustees.
Indiana’s Open Door Law states, “All meetings of the governing bodies of public agencies must be open at all times for the purpose of permitting members of the public to observe and record them.”
According to the lawsuit, during a meeting of the school board, Hinckley admitted she caused the board to violate the serial meeting statute. In an excerpt of the minutes of the meeting, Hinckley stated, “You will recall that early on, the first day I met with President Washington. At that same time, she neither requested nor indicated that the Board wanted to meet with me. As you will remember, we had a last-minute opportunity to meet, but not every member could meet. So, I met with you in groups of three and met with Mr. Tolliver singularly.”
During that Sept. 26 meeting, Hinckley also said, “All the attorneys in the room indicated that since the Board takes no action any longer because that authority has been given to the Emergency Manager that there is nothing wrong with individual meetings.”
She also stated that several other attorneys deemed it permissible for her to hold the individual meetings with board members. Among those she consulted was an attorney for the Department of Education; Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson; Paul Pastorek, chief of staff for the Emergency Manager; and Justin Mc-Adam, attorney for DUAB.
Although the majority of the board has met with Hinckley in violation of the Open Door Law, Lay argues in the lawsuit that a majority of the board is opposed to meeting with Hinckley privately.
On Oct. 7, Hinckley sent school board president Rosie Washington a text message in which she said, “Spoke with Courtney (Schaafsma, the executive director of DUAB) and Justin (McAdam, attorney with DUAB) late this afternoon. They reiterated one meeting per month and verified I could meet individually. They said you were welcome to call them. Peggy.”
The following day, Paul G. Pastorek, Hinckley’s chief of staff, texted Washington and said, “Ms. Washington, I urge you to go forward with the meeting tomorrow. I cannot guarantee Dr. Hinckley’s availability on Friday. I am happy to schedule individual meeting [sic] with each Board member anytime tomorrow before the Board meeting. Also, we will not participate in any Executive Session of the Board was don’t [sic] believe there is a need for an executive session. Paul.”
The suit charges Pastorek, Hinckley and the DUAB with conspiring to violate the Open Door Law by meeting with Washington.
Lay refers to Section 8 of SEA 567 (IC61.1-203-6.8 (d) that states, “The governing body of the school corporation may not meet more often than once a month.” Individual meetings with members of the governing body of the Gary School Corporation violate the law.
Hill is requesting a declaration that defendants have violated Indiana’s Open Door Law, along with a permanent injunction enjoining Hinckley from meeting individually with members of the Gary School Board.