Debbie Hickman
Special to The Gardner News
School board members spent the majority of a meeting on Nov. 11 discussing what one board member deemed a “non-issue.”
Although school district director’s reports to the board included such news as the implementation of a new computer system and website, an annual financial statement audit, vehicle purchases, bring your own computer devices to school updates, and construction timelines for the new middle school, board members spent the most time on a presentation by district attorney Joe Hatley. The presentation highlighted an issue Board President Mark Grannell described as “a non-issue that became an issue then became a non-issue again.”  Grannell referenced a letter sent to Hatley questioning the methods used in the most recent appointment process of two new board members.
Hatley’s presentation did not center on the issue in the letter, the appointment process itself, but rather focused on placing blame.  Hatley’s sole reference to the appointment process was to describe it as completely discretionary other than a requirement of 15 days between public notice and
Rob Shippy, board member, asked Hatley how much in attorney fees the district had incurred on the subject of the appointment process from beginning to now. In  reviewing district expenditures, Shippy said he saw attorney fees for the prior month totaling $8,300.  Although Hatley was unable to confirm the amount billed on this one issue, he described it as “not cheap.”
Shippy also asked why board members were not informed of the letter and possible litigation given that it directly involved a board action. Grannell explained his first reaction was to question the validity of the letter and given that no client was initially identified, it was deemed “not a board issue.”  Grannell added that he had questions and no answers, and noted that the attorney on record for the unknown client was not a lawyer within the district.  Shippy said Hatley did not live in the district either.
Tresa Boden, board member, said she did not appreciate coming home to an email from the newspaper asking her for a comment on an issue in which she had no knowledge.  Boden said she did not want to be blind-sided.  Mary Herbert, Brad Chandler and Mary Nelson, board members, also said they would have like to have been informed.
Grannell said he would try to keep the board informed and involved in the future.
During this meeting, the client was identified as Rhonda Humble of The Gardner News. Grannell, Hatley and Bill Gilhaus, district superintendent, all accused the paper of manufacturing news.  During the conversation a few board members asked why the relationship with the local newspaper was so strained. Gilhaus said the newspaper has had issues throughout the years with the local chamber of commerce and the city council as well.  When asked if the newspaper had been contacted to talk about problems and moving forward, the answer was no.
Grannell, without board consensus, directed Hatley and Gilhaus to explore other options for a newspaper partner.
A video of the meeting is available HERE.
All USD 231 Board of Education meetings are open to the public.