The repercussions of the number one local story of 2012 - Joyce Bingham/Post Register vs. Blackfoot School District - will undoubtedly carry deep into the new year.
On Dec. 11, 2012, former Blackfoot High School and patron Joyce Bingham learned that she had won a lawsuit against Blackfoot School District in what was a six-month quest to view documents revealing a district payout of $105,428 listed as 'contracted services from July 2012.'
Bingham discovered the payout while reviewing public records in August and consequently sued the school district when they refused to show what the pay out was for, siting it as a 'personnel issue' and not applicable under the Idaho Public Records Act. Bingham said her motivation behind the lawsuit was "to simply find out why such a large pay out was made at a time when so many drastic cuts are made throughout the district and how is it benefiting the district's students."
The Idaho Falls Post Register followed with a lawsuit as well, after requesting copies of the payout.
Judge David Nye, ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, saying that the case "smacked of a public agency trying to hide its decision-making from the public."
Following the judge's decision, the district released the documents to Bingham and the Post Register revealing a $210,856 separation agreement (to be paid in two equal payments of $105,428) between the district and former superintendent Scott Crane, plus a longevity payment of $9,000.
District officials went on to admit that Idaho open meeting laws were broken on March 13, 2012 and April 24, 2012 when decisions to pay off Crane were made in executive session.
On Dec. 20, 2012, the board conducted its first school board meeting since the documents became public. The meeting drew a crowd of angry patrons wanting answers, some even asking for the board's resignation.
"We know what was done, now tell us why." said local attorney Jared Harris, who represented [Joyce] Bingham throughout the lawsuit. "I'm offended by what you did. Why? Why?"
After some tense moments and contemplating going into executive session, board trustee Taylor Johansen declared, "Let's get this aired, open and out in the public."
Johansen went on to say that the board's decision to pay off Crane ultimately saved the board about $300,000 above what his payout was. The board offered no specifics as to 'why' the cost would have been greater, except to say that Crane was interested in pursuing a buyout and wanted to look for another job after the board voted 3-2 'not' to renew his contract.
He [Crane] left the district in June and is currently working as a superintendent in Moab, Utah.
The board members still adamantly defend their decision, saying "they believed, at the time, that it was the right thing to do and they didn't realize that they were breaking any open meeting laws."
Going into the new year, the board will hire a new attorney after firing attorney Dale Storer, who admittedly drew up the agreement between the district and Crane, saying "it was legal and what both parties wanted."
Since Crane's separation agreement has been deemed 'null and void' since Idaho Open Laws were broken in the decision-making process, Crane may not be able to receive the second part of his pay out of $105,428, due in July 2013, unless the agreement is re-signed in a public meeting.
With many questions still unanswered, the district trustees will likely be facing more legal problems in 2013 in what will be a "new chapter" of a continuing story.