Freshwater: One Board Member recuses herself, another should

| 19 Comments

Update: Thompson has done the right thing and elected to recuse himself in the same manner as Barone.

Paula Barone, a newly elected member of the Mt. Vernon Board of Education, has decided to recuse herself from participating in executive sessions and voting on the Freshwater matter when it comes before the Board again. Her decision is based on advice from the Ohio School Boards Association, the Ohio Ethics Commission, and David Millstone, the Board’s attorney in the matter. While all three advised her that there was no legal conflict of interest associated with her participation in decisions on Freshwater, nevertheless her participation could give Freshwater’s legal team a pretext for further litigation. She therefore is recusing herself–at this time, anyway–from participation in the decision-making process.

Comparing Barone’s situation with that of Steve Thompson, the other newly elected member of the Board, it’s apparent that Thompson is in a substantially worse conflict of interest situation than Barone, and is doubly obliged to recuse himself.

More below the fold.

Barone’s reasons for recusal

Barone cited three factors that could lead to the (erroneous) perception of a conflict of interest:

1. She was interviewed by HR OnCall during the independent investigation in 2008 as a teacher in the middle school.

2. Her son testified briefly in the administrative hearing about handouts he had preserved from Freshwater’s class some years ago.

3. She and her husband assisted the Dennis family in beginning to set up an organization called Protecting Students, which is intended to advocate for a change in the law to protect students’ anonymity in hearings like that in progress now once the current legal proceedings are finished.

I am personally disappointed, but I understand Barone’s reasons for recusing herself.

Why Steve Thompson should recuse himself

But now consider Steve Thompson, the other new Board member.

1. His son Andrew, a teacher in the middle school and a former student of Freshwater, testified on Freshwater’s behalf at some length in the hearing. Andrew also addressed a Board meeting in August 2008, defending Freshwater.

2. Andrew met privately with Steve Short, superintendent of schools, to urge that Freshwater be reinstated.

3. Immediately after taking office as a Board member Thompson raised the possibility of a settlement with Steve Dennis, when Dennis and the Board are not adversaries in any legal proceeding. Apparently Thompson was speaking on behalf of Freshwater.

4. Steve Thompson was a founding member of the “Community Council for Free Expression,” which was organized in part to raise funds for Freshwater’s legal defense. That is a genuine conflict of interest, not merely the perception of one. If Thompson doesn’t recuse himself he is exposing the Board and District to some serious litigation risk.

Of significant interest is the fact that the web site associated with the “Community Council” has been taken down and access to it via the Internet Archive has been blocked by a robots.txt file, which on the Internet Archive also blocks access to already archived pages. That route was still available a month ago, on January 15, 2010. Fortunately, I archived that page locally; and donation requests from the Council are still up on other sites supporting Freshwater. The purpose of the “Community Council” read in part

The Community Council For Free Expression is a non-profit corporation and has developed a Legal Defense Fund to help with John Freshwater’s legal expenses. Those wishing to donate to this fund can give via credit card on this web site or write your check to

The Community Council For Free Expression
c/o Trinity Assembly of God
1051 Beech Street
Mt. Vernon, OH 43050

This historical revisionism appears to be a transparent attempt to shield Thompson against charges of ethical and legal conflicts of interest. Thompson has already committed one ethical breech as a Board member, and his continued participation in decision-making on Freshwater would be an additional serious violation of his legal and ethical responsibilities as a Member of the Board of Education. Thompson had better have a frank conversation with the Ohio Ethics Commission sooner rather than later.

The board meets late this afternoon in executive session, apparently to be updated on the state of the Freshwater affair. There’s no reliable word on whether settlement options will be discussed. I’ll be interested to learn what Thompson does. If both Barone and Thompson recuse themselves, that will leave the Board with a bare quorum of Goetzman, Fair, and Bennett.

19 Comments

If both Barone and Thompson recuse themselves, that will leave the Board with a bare quorum of Goetzman, Fair, and Bennett.

What are the leanings of the other three board members? Without Barone, could the board actually exonerate Freshwater?

3. Immediately after taking office as a Board member Thompson raised the possibility of a settlement with Steve Dennis, when Dennis and the Board are not adversaries in any legal proceeding. Apparently Thompson was speaking on behalf of Freshwater.

Richard,

Isn’t there potential for legal issues regarding this alleged action? To my knowledge (based on my state(s) of residence) board members aren’t authorized to negotiate outside of open sessions or previously scheduled private sessions in cases dealing with privacy issues. Is this different in Ohio, or am I correct in thinking that (again if this accusation is true) that they violated at least one Ohio state statute?

Richard,
“when Dennis and the Board are not adversaries in any legal proceeding.” really?
You do know that if the Dennis family wins the case against Freshwater that it is the school’s insurance company that pays out the money.

akajst said:

Richard,
“when Dennis and the Board are not adversaries in any legal proceeding.” really?
You do know that if the Dennis family wins the case against Freshwater that it is the school’s insurance company that pays out the money.

The Dennis family has settled their case with the School District.

seabiscuit said:

akajst said:

Richard,
“when Dennis and the Board are not adversaries in any legal proceeding.” really?
You do know that if the Dennis family wins the case against Freshwater that it is the school’s insurance company that pays out the money.

The Dennis family has settled their case with the School District.

Something that may be worth clarifying here: The federal lawsuit by the Dennis family still involves the Mount Vernon City Schools. The “settlement” reached with the Dennis family states that the school is still liable for Mr. Freshwater. I have a copy of the “settlement” posted on my website. (See my article “Media Didn’t Tell Whole Story about ‘Settlement.’” )

mountvernon1805 said: Something that may be worth clarifying here: The federal lawsuit by the Dennis family still involves the Mount Vernon City Schools. The “settlement” reached with the Dennis family states that the school is still liable for Mr. Freshwater. I have a copy of the “settlement” posted on my website. (See my article “Media Didn’t Tell Whole Story about ‘Settlement.’”)

Regardless of that, it’s the insurance company and Board lawyers who are responsible for any negotiations, not a freelancing member of the Board. Unauthorized by the Board and operating like the Lone Ranger, he was acting wholly inappropriately.

RBH
I just came from the school board meeting, I don’t know where you got your information that…

“Paula Barone, a newly elected member of the Mt. Vernon Board of Education, has decided to recuse herself from participating in executive sessions…”

…but she stayed for the executive session about Freshwater!

RBH,

I also just came from the school board meeting. Where did you get the information that “Paula Barone […] has decided to recuse herself from participating in executive sessions and voting on the Freshwater matter when it comes before the Board again”?

Barone has stayed for the executive session—as are all of the board members. The session’s stated purpose is to “discuss pending litigation, John Freshwater et al., v, Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education Case No. 2:09 cv 464, with its attorneys.”

mountvernon1805 said:

RBH,

I also just came from the school board meeting. Where did you get the information that “Paula Barone […] has decided to recuse herself from participating in executive sessions and voting on the Freshwater matter when it comes before the Board again”?

Barone has stayed for the executive session—as are all of the board members. The session’s stated purpose is to “discuss pending litigation, John Freshwater et al., v, Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education Case No. 2:09 cv 464, with its attorneys.”

I got it from a letter she wrote to the Board President several weeks ago. I also heard that Thompson had recently agreed to do the same. I’m not sure what went on today – I had a dinner to go to with a former student.

RBH said:

mountvernon1805 said:

RBH,

I also just came from the school board meeting. Where did you get the information that “Paula Barone […] has decided to recuse herself from participating in executive sessions and voting on the Freshwater matter when it comes before the Board again”?

Barone has stayed for the executive session—as are all of the board members. The session’s stated purpose is to “discuss pending litigation, John Freshwater et al., v, Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education Case No. 2:09 cv 464, with its attorneys.”

I got it from a letter she wrote to the Board President several weeks ago. I also heard that Thompson had recently agreed to do the same. I’m not sure what went on today – I had a dinner to go to with a former student.

Your original information could be correct and they decided for some reason to wait until partway into the executive session to recuse themselves. (Seabiscuit posted a comment on KnoxPages.com saying that both Barone and Thompson eventually left the meeting.) I’ve sent Thompson an email to find out if he or Barone left after the executive session began.

I ain’t never commented here before and I got the distinct feeling that I don’t get this legal stuff or even the biology stuff on a level close to what the rest of you folks that have posted do. But I have been following this story on this site which now that I think about it, I ain’t even sure how I got here in the first place. This whole story is utterly fascinating and the blogger (or whatever is the proper term) that has been covering this has done a smash up job (considering that I think I got the gist of the issues involved).

I am just horrified that this person was using a serious piece of electrical equipment in such a dangerous fashion. Just that alone, ignoring his crazy religion, his continued assault on science in the classroom, and his downright offensive comment to the Roman Catholic kid (I grew up Roman Catholic in Texas…I’ve always been amazed at what we apparently are to the rest of the Christian faith), ignore all of that…he was electrocuting kids.

That’s what I don’t get about this mess. Even if the burn didn’t leave a mark…even if this was some crazy atheist conspiracy to get this nutbag fired…he was electrocuting kids. If that alone can’t get a teacher fired…than exactly what does? How is his supporters coming to terms with the fact that he was doing this?

Sorry about derailing the comments. I just wanted to say how much I appreciate not only the person writing all this stuff up, but also the people commenting. Like I said, I ain’t smart about any of this stuff but you all have really spark my interest and I think I learned a great deal. Thanks.

Aw shucks, Tex, Ben Franklin is quoted as saying,”The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason. I’d say you have your “reason” eye wide open.

Are you aware that your state school board is made up of Freshwaters and are in the process of rewriting your public school’s history books to promote their religious and political beliefs?

Aw shucks, Tex, Ben Franklin is quoted as saying,”The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason. I’d say you have your “reason” eye wide open.

Are you aware that your state school board is made up of Freshwaters and are in the process of rewriting your public school’s history books to promote their religious and political beliefs?

mountvernon1805 said:

Your original information could be correct and they decided for some reason to wait until partway into the executive session to recuse themselves. (Seabiscuit posted a comment on KnoxPages.com saying that both Barone and Thompson eventually left the meeting.) I’ve sent Thompson an email to find out if he or Barone left after the executive session began.

Another possibility is that by “recluse” they mean that they’ll listen but not talk.

I have avoided committees, and councils like plague for over 50 years. However, to recuse from an issue before a council, you have to be at the meeting to do it. (An alternate I have seen is to send a letter to the Chair of the council stating your intention).

Since this seems to be moving out of the hearing, and into closed council meetings, Barone might have been present to force Thompson’s hand.

Gary, I like strategic thinking.

I congratulate both Thompson and Barone for recusing themselves.

Here’s a related story on Freshwater from another source:

http://www.au.org/media/church-and-[…]assroom.html

Sorry CharleyHorse, I don’t live in Texas anymore (I’m in Maryland now). I still got a brother and his family there. Yeah Texans are crazy in groups, but one on one, Texans are some of the nicest people on the planet.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on February 24, 2010 10:24 AM.

Freshwater: The paranoia grows was the previous entry in this blog.

Creationism really is a science stopper is the next entry in this blog.

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