A week after the chief executive officer of the local Girl Scout council resigned, the group is heading back to court to determine whether the council violated bylaws and misrepresented its actions in court.
Former CEO Patricia Coghlan’s resignation was announced last week after a yearlong controversy surrounding the Girl Scouts of North Central Alabama (GSNCA). The dispute began over an attempt to close Camp Coleman, as part of a property plan that was opposed by many local scouts.
The grassroots group that fought to keep Camp Coleman is now in control of the scout council, following an election that ousted some members who favored closing the camp, and the resulting resignation of others. Meanwhile, though, legal issues raised during the controversy remain.
One issue is whether the previous council conducted business according to scout bylaws. That was the subject of a petition for declaratory judgment against the council brought by Karen Carroll, leader of the grassroots group formerly named the Friends of Camp Coleman (FoCC). Her attorney, William Bradford, filed a new motion revisiting the petition on Nov. 5 with Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Don Blankenship.
“At the status conference this morning [Tuesday], we asked that the declaratory judgment be placed back on the docket so that it can proceed. Judge Blankenship asked that GSNCA respond to the motion regarding copying costs within two weeks. The judge is taking the motion and the request for putting the declaratory judgment back on the active docket under advisement and will rule later,” Bradford said.
The petition for declaratory judgment was originally filed in May after the yearlong membership dispute over the GSNCA 2012 three-phase property plan, which outlined the sale of four of six local camps, including Trussville’s historic Camp Coleman.
Fourteen board members and the CEO who voted that plan into action have resigned since May of this year, when the newly elected 2013 board voted to re-evaluate the plan, freezing the sale of the camps.
Grassroots members now hope to answer the question of whether or not that plan was authorized under scouting bylaws. The judgment states that “the three-phase property plan constitutes the sale or disposition of all or substantially all of the property and assets of GSNCA, and as such, requires the matter to be put to a vote of the voting membership, and that the vote of the membership required to approve the sale and/or the property plan is a two-thirds vote of the membership.”
This new motion also seeks relief from fees GSNCA demanded in response to a December 2012 motion requesting documentation outlining GSNCA’s property divestment decisions. Although Carroll was head of FoCC when the motion was heard, it was originally filed by her predecessor Sarah Edwards, who stepped down from FoCC once elected to the GSNCA board, along with 11 other members of the grassroots group.
Of note in Tuesday’s petition is the claim that GSNCA, in several official responses to the discovery motion, sought reimbursement for labor and material costs in gathering and copying 10,945 pages of the requested documentation — a sum of $22,422.50. The petition says that the request for reimbursement was inappropriate because it was based on the “erroneous” claims that the scout council had actually expended the labor, made the copies and produced the documentation.
“A great deal of time and effort went into addressing the issue of reimbursement for copies. From all that appears, this was wasted time and needless expense, prompted by the erroneous statements of GSNCA. The entire furor over copy reimbursement amounted to nothing more than additional delay by GSNCA,” the petition states.
Bradford writes that GSNCA refers to this “reimbursement” 26 times on the record. He and his client argue that the word “reimbursement” was inaccurate because the copies were in fact not made until the judge granted the discovery petition in April of this year — and even then, as outlined in the petition, there were problems.
In a letter to Weld in March, GSNCA attorney Daniel Burnick wrote, “I believe that GSNCA is entitled to be reimbursed for the time spent locating the documents. $50.00 an hour is not an unusual amount to claim for the time spent by the staff. The 339 hours was also time spent by the staff that was not dedicated to the mission of GSNCA: serving the girls. … The $.50/page request is an amount that I believe is reasonable. Again, to require a non-profit organization, in responding to a lawsuit such as this, to incur the expense of copying almost 11,000 pages is not the norm: the requesting party should be responsible for the costs.”
Burnick could not be reached for comment this week.
After Tuesday’s meeting, Russell Jackson, communication partnership chief of Girl Scouts of North Central Alabama, said, “It’s our understanding that the court had not yet ruled on any outstanding motions and that the case will remain in the Administrative Docket until the January meeting of our board of directors, at which time the current property plan will be discussed. Because it’s an ongoing matter we’re unable to provide any opinions on the new motion filed today.”
Here’s the new petition, in its entirety: