Michaels, Morgridge owe $10,000
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Two women looking to oust Aspen Superintendent Tom Farrell owe the school district nearly $10,000 in attorney fees and staff overtime.
Aspen School District attorney Chris Gdowski said Tuesday that the substantial bill includes copier and paper expenses from three hefty requests for district records. It is still unpaid, he said, nearly seven months after local resident Laurie Michaels and former Aspenite Carrie Morgridge began their quest to depose Farrell. The bill is the result of months of record reproduction, attorney consultation and school staff hours required to produce the requested records, Gdowski said.
The women had hoped the information, which eventually amounted to 15 boxes’ worth of papers, would produce proof of possible misconduct on Farrell’s part. Instead, it produced a debt that the school district was forced to absorb as they await payment, Gdowski said.
“A good bit of it, frankly, is the time people in the district spent with [the records requests],” he said. “These guys asked for tons of e-mails ? hundreds, maybe in the neighborhood of 1,000 e-mails.”
Morgridge and Michaels also asked for three years’ worth of communications, performance reviews, financial records and maintenance logs from school administrators, staff and board members. The search for this much information took technology staff and administration time and effort to retrieve, Gdowski said.
Between $4,000 and $5,000 of the bill is the result of attorney’s fees. Gdowski was charged with sifting through the requested e-mails in order to censor private communications, such as information about students or staff. He also reviewed requested performance evaluations and employment contracts to remove sensitive material.
The district’s bill seems unusually high, since Colorado’s open records laws were established to protect an average citizen’s right to review public entities. However, Gdowski cited the remarkable size and span of the request for the cost it created.
“We haven’t padded things out or exaggerated the time invested,” he said. “This really was, in my almost nine years of representing about 70 school districts [in and around Denver], far and away the most extensive, ongoing records request I’ve ever dealt with. This is not a case where the district is trying to be punitive to these folks at all.”
District officials reminded the women and their attorney about the mounting bill several times over the past few months, but payment was postponed as Morgridge and Michaels continued their study of district documents.
“[The women wanted to wait until] all the requests had been concluded. That was the position articulated when we raised the payment issue,” Gdowski said.
He speculated that Morgridge, who recently moved to Florida with her family, might be the reason for the delayed payment. As the main petitioner for the requested records, Morgridge could be held responsible for the delinquent bill.
“I understand that she’s no longer living in the community. That could be part of the explanation for the delay,” Gdowski said. “It’s also just a busy time of year for some people.”
Gdowski said he called Morgridge and Michael’s attorney last week and received a message essentially claiming that the check is in the mail.
“He left a voice-mail message, and I understood it to indicate the district would be receiving payment shortly,” Gdowski said. “I have had a number of conversations with [him], and I’ve been optimistic that the district would have received payment by this juncture.”
In the meantime, the district is left to eat the cost of the women’s campaign, the attorney said.
Both Michaels and Morgridge were unavailable for comment Tuesday.
[Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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