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Opsahl resignation agreement ruling: Erickson: Agreement is an open public record

Posted: Monday, Sep 2nd, 2013

HURON — The opening of the resignation agreement of former Huron School Superintendent Ross Opsal has taken another step closer.

Third Circuit Judge Jon Erickson on Wednesday said in a written decision that the resignation agreement with Opsal is an open public record.

While the official paperwork for releasing the document has not been completed, the district’s hope to make the document public has been reiterated throughout the summer.

At the Aug. 12 meeting of the Huron School Board, David Wheeler, a board member, issued this statement on the matter.

“Based upon our contractual obligation we had appealed the hearing examiner’s order requiring us to release the agreement with Mr. Opsal to the Mitchell Daily Republic. The case is before Circuit Court Judge Jon Erickson. The parties have recently finished submitting their written arguments to the judge and we are now waiting his decision. Pursuant to the boards instructions, our attorney, Rodney Freeman, is still attempting to get a new agreement from Mr. Opsal allowing us to release it without a court order. So far Mr. Opsal has not agreed to that.”

It is expected that once the paperwork becomes finalized, the school board will meet in open session to discuss the matter and could at that time, depending on their advice from legal counsel, release the agreement.

As part of the agreement, Opsal was paid his salary in the amount of $10,916.51 per month for an undisclosed amount of months.

When the district stopped making payments, Opsal had been given around $175,000.

The original court action to challenge the Office of Hearing Examiner was a result of legal advice given by Freeman, because the agreement was originally drawn up to be confidential.

“As everyone is aware, the confidential agreement with former superintendent Ross Opsal requires that the same remains confidential, and if that confidentiality is challenged, as it has been by the Mitchell Daily Republic, we are required, the party being challenged to release it, is required to defend that with vigor,” said Freeman at an April meeting. “And we cannot release it until a court of competent jurisdiction says we have to override the agreement and in fact release it.”

At that time, he said that in his opinion the decision of the S.D. Office of the Hearing Examiner is “not a court of competent jurisdiction.”

He said it is an equivalent of an administrative law judge and thus the district was required to appeal the decision to the circuit court.

However, at that time, he did bring up the possibility that the appeal could be withdrawn if both the district and Opsal agreed to do it.

“I have been in touch with Mr. Opsal’s attorney ever since the decision of the hearing office was first rendered,” said Freeman. “I have expressed to him that we did not, we being the school district, did not necessarily wish to appeal that to a circuit court, that we would accept the decision of the hearing officer.”

That guidance came directly from Wheeler, who suggested the following resolution:

It read, “That the School Board directs its attorney to take the following actions:

• To appeal to Circuit Court the Office of Hearing Examiner’s Order regarding the open records request from the Mitchell Daily Republic.

• To use his best efforts to obtain a new agreement from Mr. Opsal to release to the public the agreement that is the subject of the order, and

• if such agreement is obtained, to immediately dismiss the appeal and release the prior agreement to the public.

For the complete article see the 08-31-2013 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 08-31-2013 paper.

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