A Brighton School board trustee says he wants the teachers’ union office at Brighton High School removed, although evidence suggests there is involvement in the effort by the newly-elected head of the Livingston County Republican Party
The accusation that the district is violating the law by allowing the office was made at Monday night’s Board meeting by Treasurer John Conely, who added an agenda item at the beginning of the meeting about the Brighton Education Association (BEA) office.
The BEA represents the district’s teachers in bargaining on new contracts and other teacher-related issues within Brighton Area Schools.
When it came time for that item to be discussed, Superintendent Dr. Matt Outlaw questioned whether that should be discussed publicly.
“I’m wondering, if I could ask Mr. Myer and Ms. Reid as lawyers, maybe just some of the cautions, because we’ve (previously) talked about this in closed session,” asked Outlaw. “There’s some things that we want to be careful to not do in a discussion. Maybe if you could just review some of those things? What if we went into closed session first and then came back and brought it for future?”
To that suggestion, Conely said he had to “strongly disagree,” adding, “We know exactly what we’re talking about. We’ve all talked about it outside of closed session. It’s been discussed with virtually everybody that the stuff that I’m going to talk about. I have no knowledge of anything from any legal entity that’s currently going to take place. I know past, but not for discussion tonight and I believe it’s time to put this on the table so it’s recorded.”
After being reminded by Board Chair Roger Myers that it is illegal to publicly disclose anything discussed in a closed session, Conely proceeded to discuss his opposition to the BEA having an office at the high school.
“Nobody knows how long that office has been headquarters for a union operation that has taken aim at Brighton Area Schools. It’s done battle here in the boardroom. It stood out on the sidewalks and made it so loud in here you couldn’t think,” said Conely, referencing past actions by the BEA in advocating for the district’s teachers.
Conely said that in his mind the district, by providing the room to the BEA free of charge, was de facto helping to fund the union.
“The interesting thing about this office is we don’t even have a key to it,” said Conely. “So how can this operation run within Brighton Area Schools without the permission of the school board and without technically the permission of the administration while it’s gone on and gone on in a long time?”
Conely noted that while the collective bargaining agreement with the BEA allows the use of school facilities with permission after school when the facilities aren’t being used by students, the room in question is not available to students.
“No students can go in it,” he said. “It’s locked during the day. In fact, our superintendent and our management of this school do not even have a key for this classroom. But yet it runs on certain days of the week. I believe Tuesdays and Thursdays are its open days.”
Conely then called into question the validity of a BEA employee who works in the office.
“That employee carries an ID badge of Brighton Area Schools,” he said. “The ID badge indicates that the person is an employee of Brighton Area Schools, but they’re not. As well as there’s no security file or security check on that particular individual that works for the Brighton Education Association.”
Conely further alleged he had made several attempts to visit the room in question, but no one was allowed to enter. Additionally he said he had been blocked by BEA President Barry Goode on one of those visits and said Goode refused.
“He told me specifically that he was under the direction of the superintendent to not allow me in the classroom,” said Conely. “That classroom is owned by Brighton Area Schools. The school’s owned by the State of Michigan. It’s owned by the taxpayers. No one has an entity right to be in that, if that’s the right word. You guys are attorneys, but no one has a right to own it. There’s an ownership going on here that shouldn’t be there.”
At that point the board voted unanimously to go into closed session that lasted more than an hour. When they returned, they immediately voted to return to closed session to “review confidential attorney-client communication.” They then returned after 45 minutes and officially ended the meeting, making no further reference to the allegations made by Mr. Conely.
When questioned about the allegations made by Conely, Dr. Outlaw provided GIGO News with the current contract language between the district and the Brighton Education Association that indicates the arrangement for an office is included.
Article IV (D): “The Association and its members shall be allowed, upon request, to use school building facilities for meeting during the hours that the buildings are covered by custodial staff. Association personnel shall have the right to use school facilities, technology, and equipment, at reasonable times such equipment is not otherwise in use. The Association shall supply at the Associations expense, all materials needed to conduct Association business. The Association shall have the exclusive right to post notices of activities and matters of Association concern on employee bulletin boards, at least one of which shall be provided in each building. The Association may use the district mail service and employee mailboxes for communication to employees.”
Outlaw said that the district “as always” is committed to following applicable law and honoring its contractual obligations.
“Brighton officials made a decision some 40 years ago to allow the BEA to utilize a small space at the high school as an office,” he said. “Obviously, no current board members or administration were part of making that arrangement. The school board has requested and received guidance from counsel regarding this matter and the allegations made. The Board has not authorized me or anyone else to disclose that advice. Based on the consensus of the board, the administration is working with the BEA to ensure both parties honor the requirements of the contract and applicable law. All employees that are required to have background checks have done so. All but one BEA official is an employee of the Brighton Area Schools. Union officials come from among your children’s teachers and counselors.”
Meanwhile, screenshots posted to social media indicate that Jennifer Smith, who was elected head of the Livingston County GOP in December, was making all of these same accusations online earlier this month in an attempt to seek legal assistance to remove the union office.
The screenshots, which were posted January 14, show Smith using the Facebook page titled “Grand Rapids Legal Forum: Ask a LAWYER here” to request an “opinion on legality / suggested action to take regarding a Te@CH3€RS Uni’n holding a physical classroom at a high school as the local un!on office. Recently it was divulged it has been there for years’! So many years it isn’t in any documents from the last 20+ years. Board members fighting this have gone to sheriff and all the way up the food chain Prosecutor will not act on it – no one will act on it. Only un!on employee has a key- not even custodian!! They pay no rent, use internet and phone services. Superintendent refuses to remove them- worried about ‘optics’
Some lobbyists feel this is a gray area!! Lol Say any entities related to education can be in the buildings. No contract in any CBA! How do we get them out!”
When asked by another forum user why the district didn’t just make a key to the office, Smith repeated her accusations.
“…board can’t access it! Superintendent refuses to address or acknowledge. Doesn’t want to ‘ ruffle feathers ‘!! Select board members filed police report, prosecutor won’t act! It is mind blowing. Using internet. Copiers Phone service ! Board members cannot even get the police to remove them”
Smith has a long and contentious history with the Brighton district, including a December 2021 meeting in which Smith threatened members during a discussion over mask usage and quarantining students.
That threat was reported to the FBI by a Brighton woman who later said she was later forced to obtain a Personal Protection Order against Smith for harassment and threatening her family.
Smith has filed a motion to terminate the order, with a hearing scheduled for Thursday.
Smith also has a reported history of collusion with John Conely.
In August of last year, Smith and two other members of the local Moms for Liberty chapter sought to drop lawsuits they had filed against Board President Roger Myers, then-Vice President Alicia Reid, then-Treasurer Angela Krebs and former Trustee Laura Mitchell, alleging they were in violation of Michigan’s Open Meetings Act by not being open to the public while developing policies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in schools.
The motion to drop the lawsuits, which was granted, came after the district sought “all communications related to this action, which included all emails or other communications between Plaintiffs and Conely and Trombley,” referring to Treasurer Conely and Vice President Bill Trombley.
The motion went on to question why Conely and Trombley were not included in the lawsuit along with the other board members.
“The answer is simple,” stated the response, “these blatantly frivolous lawsuits were filed by Plaintiffs at the behest of and in secret collaboration with Conely and Trombley to judicially harass Defendants with whom Conely and Trombley had an axe to grind because of their positions on various school board issues.”
Requests for comment have been made to Conely and Smith, but have yet to be returned. A request for comment was also made to Barry Goode, the BEA President.
However, one who is commenting is district parent Caitlyn Perry-Dial, who posted to social media after Monday’s board meeting.
“What was probably the most interesting thing about last night’s school board meeting is that John Conely is not giving up on his crusade to remove the union office out the high school,” she tweeted. “He openly admitted trying to enter that office after he was explicitly told he could not. It is clear that this man is hostile to teachers. Several have told me that they fear their safety and livelihood with him on the board. Last night he went as far to say that teachers are responsible for large class sizes in Brighton because they refuse to take lower pay so the district can hire more teachers. Our buildings are AT CAPACITY. There are literally no classrooms to put these extra teachers, John.”