Arizona attorney general sues Scottsdale school district and board member Greenburg

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Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich filed a lawsuit against the Scottsdale Unified School District and board member Jann-Michael Greenburg, accusing them of violating Arizona's Open Meeting Law last summer.

Brnovich contends the governing board, through Greenburg, who was board president at the time, broke state law on Aug. 17 when it issued content-based restrictions on public comment, allowing people to only talk about one of the agenda items.

Board members also violated the law when they cut off speakers who tried to give input on any other topic, including a proposed mask mandate that was also on the agenda, according to the attorney general’s complaint.

The complaint also says board members were in violation of the state's Open Meeting Law on Aug. 23 when they restricted in-person access in the boardroom when COVID-19 mitigation strategies were one of the agenda items. The 39 people who addressed the board that evening had to wait outside and enter the boardroom one at a time.

Greenburg told The Arizona Republic at the time that the decision to restrict access came at the advice of police amid heightened tensions over face coverings.

The attorney general also says Greenburg broke the law when he interrupted parent Amanda Wray when she talked about a neo-Nazi propaganda comic book being distributed at a school campus. When Wray accused a district employee of distributing the material, Greenburg said that wasn’t true.

Wray “correctly explained to Greenburg that he is not allowed to interrupt public comments,” according to the complaint.

Once Wray finished her comments, Greenburg said he wanted to make clear that no district employee distributed the material. Once he was done with his statement, he was caught on the microphone whispering to his colleagues, “Jesus f------ Christ, these people.” He apologized after parents told him they had heard him.

“I did cuss on the mic and I’m very sorry about that. I apologize to our community, I apologize to my fellow board members, to staff and parents watching. These things happen,” he said. “I have to admit it was done out of frustration.”

Greenburg's father, Mark Greenburg, is suing Wray for defamation for comments she made about a leaked Google Drive folder that contained social media posts and other detailed information on parents. Wray, in turn, filed a lawsuit with other parents last month against the district and Mark Greenburg over the Google Drive.

District's response

Three complaints were filed with the Attorney General’s Office after these two meetings.

After receiving notice of the complaints in November, the district sent a response to the attorney general in December, according to SUSD spokesperson Kristine Harrington, who also said the district hadn’t received any additional information about it until it learned about the lawsuit.

Harrington said the district doesn’t comment on pending litigation but maintains it complied with the Open Meeting Law.

Attorney Jennifer MacLennan wrote SUSD’s response, saying it was the district’s position that state law allowed SUSD to limit comments, citing a 1999 attorney general opinion. Brnovich argues the district’s position ignores that at the time the opinion was issued, the state Open Meeting Law was silent on whether a public body could allow public comment.

MacLennan also wrote in the response that Wray had been permitted to finish her remarks and concluded them three seconds before her time was up. She also argued that board members are allowed to address criticism and that Greenburg didn’t break the law when he corrected Wray.

Masks, curriculum, 'communism': Scottsdale district, board face continued turmoil

The Arizona Republic reached out to Jann-Michael Greenburg for comment but did not hear back.

Brnovich is asking that a judge issue an order that:

  • Prohibits the district from covering any of Greenburg’s legal fees.

  • Declares SUSD and Greenburg violated state Open Meeting Law and enters a judgment requiring them to comply with the law.

  • Imposes a civil penalty on Greenburg to be paid to the district in the maximum amount allowed under the law.

  • Awards all other relief under the Open Meeting Law, including ordering appropriate measures to prevent violations or removing Greenburg from office.

  • Awards the Attorney General's Office his attorneys' fees and costs.

Jann-Michael Greenburg's term is up in January. He already has announced he is not running for reelection.

Brnovich, who has served as attorney general since 2015, is running for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate.

Greenburg, SUSD on the hot seat again

This isn't the first time the Greenburgs or the Scottsdale school district have been the topic of controversy in recent months.

A lively crowd of parents and students stands with signs calling for the resignation of Scottsdale Unified School District board member Jann-Michael Greenburg during a rally outside Coronado High School in Scottsdale on Nov. 30, 2021.
A lively crowd of parents and students stands with signs calling for the resignation of Scottsdale Unified School District board member Jann-Michael Greenburg during a rally outside Coronado High School in Scottsdale on Nov. 30, 2021.

In November, several parents and some of Jann-Michael Greenburg's colleagues on the board called for his resignation after news of his father's files containing information on parents who had been critical of the district came out.

The governing board doesn't have the power to oust Jann-Michael Greenburg from the board, but members did remove him as president of the board.

At the same time, Superintendent Scott Menzel announced a district investigation into the files to see if any district resources were used to create or maintain the files. In February, the district released the findings of the investigation, which concluded no school official used district computers in connection with the drive.

The Scottsdale Police Department also investigated the files and interviewed several parents, including Wray, and concluded that no criminal conduct under its jurisdiction had been committed.

Mark Greenburg, in his lawsuit against Wray, accused her of defaming him and invading his privacy by sharing a copy of his personal Google Drive folder.

Wray, on the other hand, is accusing Mark Greenburg of defamation for collecting information on a bankruptcy for someone with a similar name but who is not her. Her lawsuit argues that Mark Greenburg shared that file with his son and two others and by wrongfully associating the bankruptcy with her could harm her career as a financial adviser.

Reach the reporter at rclo@arizonarepublic.com or at 480-267-4703. Follow her on Twitter @renataclo

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona attorney general sues Scottsdale school district, board member