ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Alleging violations of the state’s open-meetings law, the “attempted subversion of the democratic process,” and the public harassment of Burns board members, a representative from Burns SOS (Save Our School) called for the immediate resignation of Peabody-Burns School Board President Doe Ann Hague during a USD 398 board meeting in Burns last Wednesday night.
Reading from a prepared statement during the “Public Forum” time in the board’s agenda, Brad Stuhlsatz called for the resignation after citing three alleged violations of the Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA) and other incidents related to the board’s decision to close the elementary school in Burns and consolidate students in Peabody.
Contacted two day after the meeting, Hague said she would not be resigning from the board, but declined to address the allegations made against her.
She did say that members of the board, including the two members from the Burns area, had encouraged her to continue in her position. Both of those board members, Lou Anderson and Carolyn Koehn, confirmed their support.
About 50 patrons attended the meeting, which was held in the Burns Community Building-only a few feet away from the old elementary school, now in rubble. The building recently had been razed after being condemned by the state fire marshall last fall.
Stuhlsatz’s statement alleged that the first open-meetings violation occurred at a community forum held in Burns in October. He said a Burns citizen recently had come forward with an audio tape of a conversation between board members that occurred after the meeting had been adjourned and two board members had already left.
“Board President Doe Ann Hague’s voice was among the more recognizable voices recorded on this tape,” Stuhlsatz stated.
Two more alleged violations occurred at the February meeting in Peabody-the first after the board went into executive session late in the evening and sent the secretary home.
“Following the executive session, the board did not adjourn as the published minutes suggest-in fact, they resumed their discussion,” Stuhlsatz said.
Meanwhile, the allegation continues, the doors to the place of meeting “were inexplicably locked-thus preventing citizens who might have attended the meeting and had gone outside during the executive session from being able to return and witness the resumed meeting.
“The presiding officer of the meeting-the president-bears the ultimately responsibility that both the letter and spirit of KOMA are met whenever the Board of Education meets,” Stuhlsatz stated.
The statement also alleged that Hague had planned to end the Public Forum portion of the board meetings “due to the continued outcry against the closing of the Burns Elementary School”-but was advised that doing so was specifically forbidden by board policy.
Finally, the statement alleged that Hague participated in the harassment of two board members from the Burns community.
“One was singled out and subjected to abusive language concerning a decision as a parent to relocate a child to a school that would better meet the child’s educational needs,” Stuhlsatz stated.
He also said the board member was told to resign from the board.
“We would ask that each member of the BOE weigh Ms. Hague’s actions in the past eight months and consider whether they have really shown the sort of trust and respect the citizens of our school district deserve,” he added.
“The parents and citizens of Burns may have no choice but to call on Kansas Attorney General Carla Stovall to initiate ‘ouster’ proceedings and launch a full investigation into Ms. Hague’s conduct in the past eight months, for the purpose of removing her from office under Kansas law.”
He said Burns SOS was prepared to turn over the audio tape in question as well as sworn affidavits from eyewitnesses who allege the two additional violations of the open-meetings law.
When Stuhlsatz finished the statement, Hague resumed the board’s regular agenda without comment.
Preliminary minutes of the board meeting indicate that the statement was signed by eight other Burns residents: Kaylon Keene, Heather Keene, Rodney Morgan, Margaret Morgan, Ivan Morgan, Brent Miles, Leslie Miles and Lowell Larsen.
Stuhlsatz was not the only Burns resident to comment during the Public Forum.
Sue Hoffman, an employee of the district, spoke before Stuhlsatz took his turn. She said it was disheartening to see the Burns school be closed and razed, but it bothered her more how some Burns residents were responding to the issue.
Referring to a flier and small poster that had circulated around the community, she said: “The hatefulness and the disrespectfulness that are shown in these posters and in the words is not what I feel Burns is all about.
“We’ve been teaching our children in both our schools and all of our homes that we should say kind things and we should treat others with respect,” Hoffman added. “And these posters that have been going out and about are speaking the exact opposite.”
“It’s really sad that a junior-high student asked me why the adults of Burns can’t act like adults. I don’t have an answer for that.”
Board member Anderson said Monday he believes Burns residents have some legitimate issues for the board to consider, but he feels the matter has gotten out of hand.
“As far as the allegations, I won’t comment,” he said. “But as for being a board member, there’s a lot of times when we have to make decisions people don’t like. If we had to resign every time somebody made a decision people didn’t like, we’d have a heck of a time trying to run a board.
“We’ve got to try to stay focused,” he said of the board. “It’s hard to do with these distractions.
“Being from Burns, I represent Burns,” Anderson added. “But you’ve got to look out for the district. There’s a fine line you walk there.”
Duke Eldridge, a three-year board member from Peabody, said he and other board members have not been shown any evidence of the allegations, despite requests to see or hear it.
“All they have given us is a letter,” he said. “We’ve asked to listen to any proof they’ve got, and they won’t show it to us.”
Eldridge said supports Hague’s work on the board.
“She’s done more to help this school district than anyone will ever know,” he said. “She works very hard, she works with integrity and has done a great job.
“This group (from Burns) says we don’t listen, but I have not had one phone call from any one of them.”