Tipp City school board asks for legal opinion after member raises ethics concerns

The Tipp City Exempted Village Schools Board of Education voted Wednesday to ask district lawyers to review allegations of illegal and unethical conduct made in a proposed resolution of full board censure rejected last month.

Board member Anne Zakkour made the motion for a review and legal opinion on whether the alleged conduct occurred. The board held extensive discussion on the proposal before voting 3-1 to request the review.

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Zakkour, board President Theresa Dunaway and board member Corine Doll supported the request for the review and opinion while board member Simon Patry voted against it. The fifth board member, Joellen Heatherly, was not at the meeting.

The censure resolution was proposed June 28 by Patry. It was supported by Patry and Heatherly but opposed by Doll, Dunaway and Zakkour.

Patry said he believed there have been “serious offenses that are occurring by some of the members of our board … serious violations of our bylaws, our policies, our code of ethics and the Ohio Open Meetings Act.”

Some of the offenses “have caused the district to lose quality administrators and teachers … for the last several months I just didn’t know how to respond, if at all,” he said June 28.

The board was asked by the Tipp City Education Association in May to censure Zakkour, but Patry said it was his opinion that “we all share in the blame” for the atmosphere surrounding the board and the community.

TCEA asked for censure for remarks Zakkour allegedly made about the union and its president. The association claim she blamed the union for lack of communication with the board during comments she made as vice president earlier this year and allegedly did not provide accurate data about open enrollment during a board discussion. Zakkour has denied any improper comments.

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In the resolution of full board censure, Patry listed a series of alleged “failures” by individual board members. Among those allegations were that that individual members:

Used their offices to seek special privileges for personal gains by:

  • Directing the superintendent and other administrative staff to take actions that are desired by individual board members without board of education discussion, authority or outside of what is allowed under Ohio Open Meetings Act, in contravention to the board of education’s policies and by-laws and Ohio law.
  • Engaging legal services of the board’s lawyers without board authority, discussion and approval of services to be performed.
  • Directing the superintendent in the writing of a district statement that was directed outside of a public meeting, without board approval, without notifying at least two of the members of the board.
  • Making unprofessional comments and statements which, implicitly, if not expressly, accuses other board members of incompetence, lack of diligence, impropriety, or other short comings.

Zakkour said Wednesday the review and legal opinion on the merit of the allegations was needed not only for the board and district, but the community.

“It is an excellent time … to put this to rest … so that we can all move forward,” she said.

In the alternative, Zakkour said, Patry could consider retracting the allegations made in the proposed resolution.

Dunaway said she also wanted the review.

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“I want the community to know that the board members, superintendent and treasurer are following policy. That has been extremely important to this board, transparency and following policy. This document makes people think, ‘Wait a minute, are they, or aren’t they?’ I think that is unfair,” Dunaway said.

Patry suggested the board hold a work session to craft questions before seeking answers or have Superintendent Mark Stefanik hire a law firm other than those used regularly by the district to investigate the allegations in the resolution. Using lawyers who routinely work with and advise the board would be a conflict of interest, he said.

“I think that Simon you’ve opened up a big can of worms. The cost of setting the board straight could be costly because we now have to protect the integrity of the Tipp City schools,” Doll said.

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