Tipp school board duo blast effort to oust them; citizen group cites focus on future

Dunaway, Zakkour say petitioners had no evidence, made “hollow excuses;” group says delays killed court challenge

TIPP CITY — Tipp City school board members Theresa Dunaway and Anne Zakkour said Thursday that legal action seeking their removal was dismissed because a Concerned Citizens group did not have evidence to support their allegations.

“Petitioners’ hollow excuses of fiscal responsibility or it is in the best interest of the community do not ring true in this matter,” lawyers for Dunaway and Zakkour said in a joint statement for the board members.

In a statement on the dismissal filed Tuesday in Miami County Common Pleas Court, the Tipp City Concerned Citizens had cited legal delays over the past 15 months, along with concerns about the effect of continued litigation on the school district’s needs, the November election for three board seats and the district’s efforts to educate its children.

The Concerned Citizens stated they still think the removal should take place, but that timing interfered.

“Once the judge issued the court date of October 2023, it became clear there was little chance of a final decision by the court on the merits of the case before Dec. 31, 2023,” the organization wrote, noting the terms for Zakkour and Dunaway expire at year’s end.

Neither school board member has said whether they will seek re-election this fall.

The complaint alleged Zakkour and Dunaway were willful and flagrant in exercise of authority and power; engaged in refusal or willful neglect to enforce the law and uphold their duties; exceeded the scope of their responsibilities and authority; and showed gross neglect of duty, misfeasance and/or nonfeasance in office.

Dunaway and Zakkour refused requests to resign their positions before the removal action was filed.

The board members’ statement this week said they “maintained that their actions as board members have been appropriate and that the lawsuit presented baseless claims without any factual or legal support. From the beginning, Theresa Dunaway and Anne Zakkour have repeatedly requested from the petitioners any information they had to support their meritless allegations in the Complaint. Nothing was ever produced.”

The board members claimed legal delays in proceedings were the responsibility of the petitioners.

“The removal statutes under which the petitioners filed their complaint requires the hearing on the merits to be held within 30 days of the filing of the complaint, but the petitioners’ lawyers never requested a hearing. Once a visiting judge was appointed to hear this matter, he promptly dismissed many of the claims against Mrs. Dunaway and Mrs. Zakkour,” they wrote.

A hearing date was set by Judge William Wolff for Oct. 23, allowing for the legal discovery process. The board members’ lawyers said they provided discovery requests to obtain information. The responses were due Friday, March 24, they said.

“Instead of producing the discovery, the petitioners dismissed the case on March 21 rather than admit that there is no evidence to support their claims,” Zakkour and Dunaway’s lawyers claimed.

The Concerned Citizens said in response that from January through December 2022, there were delays throughout the legal process.

“In January 2023, a court date was finally set for October 2023 for jurisdiction, which means it’s only for the petition signature review and to analyze the signature process, not the merits of the case,”the Concerned Citizens stated. “The court date to address the merits of the case has not yet been set. Counsel for Theresa Dunaway recently disclosed 222 fact witnesses and wants to set aside 14 full days for depositions in this case.

“The petitioners believe it is not fiscally responsible nor socially responsible to have over 200 fact-based witnesses potentially deposed when the timing of the final decision by the courts will not be until after the terms of Anne Zakkour and Theresa Dunaway have expired,” the citizen group continued. “It is time for our community to focus on current challenges facing our school system and finding qualified, respected citizens to run for these two seats in the November election.”

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