Feb 19, 2010

Anti-union activist files appeal in witch-hunt against Howell teachers

Anti-union activist Chet Zarko appealed last month’s ruling of the Michigan Court of Appeals ruling involving the Howell Public School E-mail case last Friday.

The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled on Jan. 27 on the case involving a Freedom of Information Request (FOIA) for some 5,500 emails sent and received on Howell Public School computers between the leaders of the Howell Education Association (HEA) and their union members were not public record and therefore subject to public disclosure. The Oakland County Republican was on a fishing expedition to embarrass teacher unions, and he claimed the emails were sent on district computers during staff time, and were used to lobby the public during contract negotiations. He hit pay dirt with Howell, with the help of teabagger and Howell School Board member Wendy Day before an injunction was issued stopping Zarko from receive any more of the 5,500 emails.

The three-judge panel ruled last month that the issue is one that must be resolved by the Legislature, and they called upon the Legislature to address it. The Court of Appeals also concluded that under the FOIA statute the individual plaintiffs’ personal emails were not rendered public records solely because they were captured in the email system’s digital memory.

Although Howell Public Schools and the School Board were the original defendants in the case filed by the HEA, they have said they will not spend any more tax money on Zarko’s personal witch-hunt and publicity seeking venture.

Zarko filed his appeal bankrolled by Washington, D.C. based National Right to Work Foundation, a union-busting “non-profit,” on Feb. 12. He is being represented by the union-busting group’s attorney and Southfield attorney Arthur Siegal.

If you need any more proof that this is nothing but an anti-union witch-hunt, you night ask why no press or media group is involved or filed a brief in support of Zarko’s position. Where is the Michigan Press Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Press Club or the National Newspaper Association?

The appeal is asking the Court of Appeals to reconsider its opinion because it “was based on incorrect information and went beyond the question before the court.”

The teacher’s union contends that they are not subject to FOIA because they do not meet the scope of FOIA in that they do not affect the performance of a public body.

When the Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on Jan. 5., the school district, the original defendant, said that even emails sent from and to personal lap top computers by teachers would be subject to FOIA if they used the district Wi-Fi under current rules. Zarko is claiming that is factually and legally incorrect, and that is what the Court of Appeals based their decision on.

Most likely the Court of Appeals will reject the appeal, and the Michigan Supreme Court will have the option of hearing the appeal.

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