Conely Alleges Candidate Interviews Violate Law
October 24, 2018
A Brighton Board of Education trustee claims the union representing Brighton teachers, which interviewed board candidates for the November election in a public school building, violated the Michigan Campaign Finance Act.
Board member John Conely says the six candidates in the November election were interviewed at Brighton High School by the Brighton Education Association, which represents about 325 district teachers, to determine which ones the BEA would recommend its members support at the polls. Conely contends that all staff, from administrators to teachers, were informed this fall that they may not have anything to do with elections on school grounds and, therefore, the interviews violate that directive. Conely maintains that in violation of the directive, the BEA notified the candidates in September, “using a school district computer and letterhead,” that they were being invited to an interview session in which the candidates would be interviewed separately in half-hour increments.
BEA President Matt Dufon confirmed the interviews Tuesday for WHMI, saying they were done by a “ screening and recommendation panel.” But Dufon says Conely is wrong about the legality aspect, saying past legal opinions rendered on the subject have stated that conducting such interviews on school property is legal. “The superintendent has got 3 legal opinions on it (which say it’s not illegal),” Dufon says. “When John Conely was running for the board four years ago he came and didn’t have a problem with it,” Dufon adds. To that, Conely responded, quote, “I didn’t like it, but knew I had to do it, and did it for a learning process.”
After the interviews, and based on the panel’s choices, the BEA chose three “recommended” candidates out of the six. They are incumbent Trustee Ken Stahl, along with Angela Krebs and Laura Mitchell. Not on the list of recommended candidates are Sean Hickman, Andy Storm and Kara Totaro. Dufon adds that the “recommended” list is meant to be internal — to be shared among the membership. Conely says he has nothing against the candidates who are on the recommended list, saying, “It’s the process and it needs to be fair for everybody.” The other two incumbents (besides Stahl), whose terms expire at the end of the year — board Vice President David Chesney and Conely himself — are not running for re-election.
Superintendent Greg Gray said at Monday’s board meeting he would seek a legal opinion on whether it is legal to use a classroom or other location on public school property to conduct such interviews. Although Gray says legal opinions the district has received in the past have affirmed the legality of the BEA holding such meetings on school grounds, he has asked the district’s legal experts, the Thrun Law Firm, for an updated legal opinion on the use of school facilities by the BEA. Gray expects the latest legal opinion to be forthcoming sometime today.
Conely says he is waiting for that opinion before he decides on his next course of action. He also says that due to his actions, the e-mail account used by the BEA at the high school has now been “frozen”, and that as a board member, he has the right to go through all past e-mails “from 2015 to today,” without filing a Freedom of Information Act request. He says he want to determine if there have been any illegal uses of a district computer, office space and other facilities or equipment. (TT)