Sunday, March 8, 2015

Lawsuit Filed in Response to School Board Censure

 Serving on a school board is becoming risky business.  It is imperative that school board members be allowed to communicate with their constituents, request information from the administration and voice opinions contrary to the school board majority.  Voters become disenfranchised and the democratic process undermined when law firms rather than voters control our school districts by censuring board members who refuse to toe-the-line.

 Investigating and strong arming school board members  is occurring in South Washington County, Farmington and Duluth.  Duluth board member, Art Johnston has filed suit against the Duluth School District and fellow board members.  Johnston alleges that his freedom of speech and freedom to associate were violated when five members, excluding Harry Welty,  voted to remove him in December.  Take a look at this article from the Duluth News Tribune:

 Johnston files lawsuit against Duluth school district, board members

By Jana Hollingsworth   3/5/2015  at 12:53 p.m.

Duluth School Board member Art Johnston filed a lawsuit Wednesday
against the Duluth school district and five other board members in
U.S. District Court.

Johnston alleges that his First and 14th Amendment rights were
violated in the board's December decision to remove him. The lawsuit
says that the district's code of ethics is unconstitutional; that his
right to free speech has been "chilled" and that his right to
associate "freely in his domestic concerns" has been violated.

The board based its decision to remove Johnston on the results of an
independent investigation it approved in June. The results showed that
Johnston demonstrated a personal conflict of interest in his advocacy
of his partner -- who is employed by the district -- during a work
dispute. It also revealed that Johnston engaged in behavior deemed to
be abusive, threatening and intimidating toward Superintendent Bill
Gronseth and former board chairman Mike Miernicki during incidents
following a high school graduation ceremony in June.

Johnston is asking the court to declare that the district's code of
ethics is unconstitutional, to stop the board's resolution to remove
him and cancel the impending hearing; and that his costs and damages
be paid by the district.

A hearing, according to the lawsuit, has been scheduled for May. The
hearing is to be before a retired Hennepin County judge, and must take
place before a board can remove a member. State statute allows the
removal of a member for proper cause with the consent of at least four

The board members named in the lawsuit are Miernicki, Judy Seliga-
Punyko, Annie Harala, Bill Westholm and Rosie Loeffler-Kemp. Harry
Welty was not named.

South Washington County Schools will soon be asking voters to fork over $180 million, yet wastes money to have a law firm “investigate” and strong arm board member Katy McElwee-Stevens.  Could this be considered a violation of her First and 14th Amendment rights?

Will the censure of school board member Katy McElwee-Stevens result in a similar lawsuit?  Perhaps she should consider contacting Mr. Johnston in Duluth for advice.

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Updated 3/9/15 8:56am

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