May 11, 2007
Livingston County Circuit Court Judge Stanley J. Latreille is giving the Howell Education Association (HEA) and Howell Public Schools officials up to two weeks to review thousands of email to identify which e-mails, written by union leaders on school computers, contain verbiage "regarding politicking" so that he can review them following a hearing Thursday, according to a story in the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus.
Rightwing operative Chet Zarko of Clawson attacked the HEA, the union representing the 475 Howell Public School teachers, claiming they are abusing taxpayer-funded resources to promote union causes based on e-mails he received under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Earlier in the week Latreille signed an injunction that prevented HPS from releasing more e-mails by leaders and members of the teacher’s union after a joint circuit court petition by the school and the union until Thursday’s hearing.
Some emails were released that should not have been released before the injunction was signed. HEA President Dough Norton has said that some of the e-mails are inappropriate for disclosure under FOIA because they are private and contain subject matter that should not be disclosed under the law, and the emails constitute information or records subject to attorney-client privilege. I don’t know the scope of the FOIA request, but it makes you wonder if Zarko also has his hands on sensitive information from union leaders – who, by the way, are also teachers – to parents talking about student grades or behavior.
To be honest, I was surprised that the school district even has access to all the teacher’s emails. Perhaps the school district can be like the White House and claim they just lost the emails.
As a former journalist who supports open and transparency in government, I strongly support FOIA, but this is nothing but an attempt to smear a group of dedicated professionals and smear the union by an anti-union, rightwing zealot. I am happy that Latreille is the judge reviewing the emails for “discussion about election candidates, officials in office or ballot proposals to determine if the correspondence should be released under FOIA.” He is a former reporter, and he knows how important FOIA is.
Basically, Zarko’s smear campaign comes down to allegations that teachers are using their school email accounts for personal reasons and they allegedly passed or talked about passing out pro-HEA flyers at a parent-teacher conference in March. Zarko claims the union violated state law, and I say then file a complaint.
He has a very receptive audience in Lansing in the form of Republican Attorney General Mike Cox and Secretary of State Terry Land, and there is also a marked campaign against worker unions. Zarko’s past endeavors with the shady campaign to end affirmative action ensures him he has contacts to Cox and Land or knows other Republicans who do. The recent witch-hunt of Democratic Rep. George Cushinberry for alleged campaign violations that were thrown out of court proved that fact. I would not bet against Cox taking this case up, but the good news is there are sane judges out there.
Norton has said the union has a "recognized right" to use the district e-mail server for union business, and the district is backing that claim up. The district's attorney, Raymond Davis, said it is not against district policy for employees to use the district's server.