TV stations willing to settle suit over closed meetings

TV stations willing to settle suit over closed meetings

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Two Billings television stations that filed a lawsuit against School District 2 over two closed meetings have proposed settling the suit, according to the district's staff attorney, Jeff Weldon.

Weldon, in a report to trustees Monday, said the district had been contacted in a letter by William O'Connor, the Billings attorney representing KTVQ-TV and KULR-TV.

The suit stemmed from meetings trustees held in the spring to discuss the possible settlement of two strike-related lawsuits filed separately by the Billings Education Association and district parents. Trustees closed both meetings, citing the need to discuss litigation strategy with their attorneys.

Since the suit was filed, the makeup of the board has changed, with Board Chairwoman Stevie Schmitz declining to run again and Karen Moses being elected to the vacant spot. O'Connor acknowledged that, saying the two TV stations "are under the impression that the present board would not have acted in a similar manner."

O'Connor added that the stations were concerned about simply dismissing the matter without an agreement by the board. The were also seeking a policy change that would prevent such an incident from happening again.

He also asked for the board to pay attorney's fees incurred by the stations.

Weldon suggested the trustees set a work session to discuss the proposal, but a specific date was not settled on during the meeting.

Also during the meeting, Weldon said another lingering issue tied to last year's teachers strike had been settled.

Weldon, also the district's human resources director, told trustees that an insurance grievance originally lodged against the district last October by the Billings Education Association had been withdrawn.

Initially, the BEA filed a grievance with the district over two issues related to the self-funded health insurance plan. One issue had to do with the BEA's contention that the district was not paying into the plan for part-time certified employees who declined medical and dental insurance.

The union also charged that the district had withdrawn a large lump-sum amount from the health insurance fund, a charge which the district disputed at the time.

A letter to the district from BEA President Allan Audet said the union withdrew the complaint because the district had begun making the contributions.

"We just wanted to move on and get past everything that went on in the strike," Audet said.

During Monday's board meeting, the trustees also agreed to form a committee to look into reopening contract negotiations with the union that represents the district's custodians and tradesmen. The union negotiated a new contract with the district during the heat of last year's teachers strike, and now may be a reasonable time to go back and look at the terms the two sides agreed upon, some trustees said.

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