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School District Investigation Finds Board Member Violated Policies

An independent investigation has found that a member of the Hudson School District Board of Education violated board policies while speaking with a district employee about personnel matters.

An independent investigation has found that a member of the Board of Education engaged in improper conversations with a district employee.

According to the investigation findings presented to the board at its July 10 meeting by attorney Mick Waldspurger, school board member Sandy Gehrke broke district policy when she directly questioned a district employee about personnel matters.

Allegations

Waldspurger presented the following allegations:

  • Gehrke directly contacted an employee about a personnel matter.
  • Gehrke indicated to the employee that she was acting as a board member, so that the employee believed she was required to answer Gehrke's questions.
  • Gehrke told the employee that she was working to determine whether the administration had told her the truth or had lied to her.
  • Gehrke made false statements to the employee in a manner that made it appear as though the administration had lied to the employee.
  • Gehrke made statements that compromised and undermined the district administration.
  • Gehrke implied that the employee should not report any of their conversation to her immediate supervisor.
  • The conversation was so upsetting to the employee that she lost a significant amount of sleep.

Findings

Waldspurger presented the following findings:

  • Gehrke did contact the employee directly.
  • Gehrke did identify herself as a board member when she spoke with the employee.
  • Gehrke acknowledged making a statement that a lot of people had called her about issues with the administration. 
  • Gehrke said she would be happy to take on the employee's cause if she felt that she had been treated unfairly.
  • Gehrke acknowledged telling the employee she was looking into whether the administration had told her the truth about a personnel matter.
  • Gehrke falsely stated to the employee that she didn't know who would be performing a job function because the administration had not given her that information. 
  • Gerhke falsely stated to the employee that she was not aware that the district was completing a comparability study on wages.
  • Gehrke told the employee that she would keep their conversation in confidence and that the district would not be happy with the employee if it found out they had spoken.

Conclusions

Waldspurger presented the following conclusions:

  • Gehrke violated three provisions of Policy #2200 involving the board-superintendent relationship. 
  • Gehrke violated a provision of Policy #2300 involving board-staff communications. 
  • Gehrke violated a provision of Policy #7800 involving school board expectations and ethics. 
  • Gehrke acted in excess of her lawful authority as a board member.
  • Gehrke disregarded training and legal advice provided to the board by Waldspurger, including six items on a list of seven things a board member should never do in response to a complaint or concern expressed by a citizen.

"Such conduct is very troubling and shows, in my opinion, disregard for the district's interests and the interests of its employees," Waldspurger said. "... This is extremely unusual conduct. ... I believe that she's intelligent and I believe that she knows her policies. When I met with her she brought a policy book with her, she was clear and had underlined policies. She's sharp and she's familiar with the policies of the district. And given that, I believe she willfully violated those policies. ... When I look at those factors, in totality of the circumstances, one could readily conclude that Ms. Gehrke's actions were part of an intentional course of action designed to undermine the administration."

Action

Waldspurger presented the following courses of action available to the board:

  • Express disapproval through board member statements
  • Review and revise existing policies at a future board meeting
  • Censure Gehrke at a future board meeting
  • Disavow Gehrke at a future board meeting

Waldspurger told the board that removing Gehrke from the board was the most harsh action it could take, but he didn't believe Gehrke's actions warranted removal. He recommended the board address the issue with changes in policy and expressing disapproval. 

"I think you have the power to do more, but sometimes wisdom is not exercising power," Waldspurger said.

He said censuring or disavowing Gehrke would drag the issue on further and take the board's focus away from student learning.

Gehrke's Reaction

Gehrke acknowledged that she had made a mistakes in talking with the district employee*, but she vehemently denied making any false statements.

"I did not intentionally lie to this person," Gehrke said in her defense after Waldspurger's 15-minute report about her actions.

"I did not know this was going to happen tonight," Gehrke said. "I just met with Mr. Waldspurger yesterday morning. This is very quick in hanging me out to dry here."

Gehrke objected to the proceedings on grounds of open meeting laws that dictate information discussed in public meetings be noticed at least 24 hours before the meeting takes place.

"With such a general notice in the agenda, nobody in the public would know that this item was going to be discussed tonight," Gehrke said. "I object to discussion of it and believe it's a violation of open meeting law."

Gehrke also questioned whether Tom Holland, as board president, had the power to order the investigation in the first place. 

"I was elected to the board to represent the public, to ask questions to try to create some transparency, and that's what I'm doing," Gehrke said.

After the meeting, Gehrke told Patch, "It's all a bunch of crap. I didn't lie to this person about one single thing. [Waldspurger] twisted everything that happened to make it sound like I did."

Holland Ordered Investigation

The investigation was ordered by board president Tom Holland, who said he felt the matter deserved swift action and transparency.

"The violation is a serious violation, and we had a complaint from a staff member," Holland told Patch after the meeting. "In order for us to protect that staff member and Sandy, we needed to investigate it. ... We'd rather be doing it behind closed doors, but when we do that behind closed doors the public is not aware of what action we are taking and therefore rumor mills can spread."

Superintendent Urges Moving On

After the meeting Superintendent Mary Bowen-Eggebraaten told Patch that she wants the board to put this matter behind it to focus on student learning.

"I made a comment to Sandy, and I said, 'I hope that in the future we can build her trust in the administration,'" Bowen-Eggebraaten said. "I'd like to meet with her and talk about that."

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* An earlier version of this post stated that Gehrke acknowledge multiple mistakes. She acknowledges only one, according to the following statement she sent to Patch via email on Tuesday, July 17, 2012: 

"This will inform you that you have reported incorrect information in the Patch relative to Tuesday night's board meeting. I believe you state that I admitted to 'multiple' transgressions. I do not know where you got your information, but it is not correct. This will inform you that I admitted to only one thing, and that is it may have been a mistake to call an acquaintance who is also an employee of the school district. This email will correct the record."

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Some items in this post above may be corrected when exact wording of school district policies is obtained and a full transcript of the meeting becomes available.

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Phil McGraw July 18, 2012 at 05:12 PM
Renee - hardly off topic since it is all part of the tangled web woven here in Hudson. Do you affirm the 6 points made by Diane T?
Renee July 18, 2012 at 05:23 PM
Each of those is their own topic and you seem to believe that Diane is stating facts. You simply want to discredit me. Right?
Bobby B July 18, 2012 at 05:27 PM
Come on Renee, maybe you can answer the question that the Paine man has dodged the entire time. Please prove that a school board can legally remove a member. There is no such law. The lawyer presented himself as an "expert" in Wisconsin law. Therefore he LIED about this and is on tape saying it.
Renee July 18, 2012 at 05:36 PM
If you feel so strongly the proper channels would probably begin with reporting him to the state bar association. Or are you just blowing smoke? We'll all be anxiously awaiting your report back.
Bobby B July 18, 2012 at 05:43 PM
What is it Renee? Did he lie or not? Your bias is as strong as the Paine Man. He LIED, point blank. He presented himself as an expert and he LIED about the actions that the board can take. Please don't be as self-serving as your buddy.....
Phil McGraw July 18, 2012 at 05:43 PM
Renee - what is there to discredit, your opinion? I have not seen the substantial supporting documents from your posts that I have seen from Diane T. posts over the past couple of weeks. At least she takes ample time to research rather than throwing a hissy fit about others' opinions.
Renee July 18, 2012 at 05:49 PM
The purpose of this whole conversation was about using proper channels to correct a wrong. If you aren't willing to stand behind your position then you are doing just as I thought, blowing smoke.
Renee July 18, 2012 at 05:59 PM
What documents are you talking about, and what documents has Diane used in her "research". I'd be happy to read them. Let me know when you find them. hissy fit? Try that shoe on, I think it will fit.
Bobby B July 18, 2012 at 06:16 PM
The lawyer LIED.
Paine Reliever July 18, 2012 at 06:20 PM
Bobby B, Show me where I have dodged the question about removing Sandy. I have never called for that. I would appreciate it if she didn't break policies while she serves our community. And if she breaks more policies and is investigated again, is that a witch hunt?
Paine Reliever July 18, 2012 at 06:23 PM
Threat??? How is anything I said a threat? Please explain.
Paine Reliever July 18, 2012 at 06:35 PM
Bobby B, Not saying the lawyer lied, I am quite sure he could address this. But Sandy stated she didn't "intentionally lie." you seem to be ok with that. What if the lawyers alleged misstep was not intentional? You seem bias with your reasoning.
Bobby B July 18, 2012 at 06:43 PM
Sorry Paine Man, but Sandy never claimed to be a school board expert. She was just recently elected to the board. Waldspurger on the other hand, spent plenty of time spewing on and on about how he is the almighty expert in school board policy and law. As a so-called self-described expert, Waldspurger has no out. He LIED.
Paine Reliever July 18, 2012 at 06:47 PM
I once got a speeding ticket on the bridge between Hudson and north Hudson. I didn't "intentionally" speed but the officer did an investigation with his radar gun and the findings proved I was speeding. I suffered much embarrassment as gawkers drove by. I feel it was a witch hunt. My character was further disparaged by the city reporting my unintentional infraction in the local paper without informing me that they would do such a thing. Where is the outrage?? :)
Bobby B July 18, 2012 at 06:51 PM
Did the officer LIE? The lawyer LIED! I can keep going all day if you want. The difference is that I'm making money at the same time....
Kari July 18, 2012 at 06:56 PM
I am curious to know what Mr. Waldspurger lied about. I watched the meeting in it's entirety, and I don't recall him making any factual statements that were false. Please elaborate. Regarding removal - Wis. Stat. 17.13 gives information on removal of school board members. HSD policy #7300 also reiterates this statute. In short, a school board member may be removed from office by the electorate (the voters of Hudson) at their pleasure...no need for a recall. The member may also be removed for cause by a circuit court judge. I'm no expert, but I believe this is the roundabout way in which a school board can remove one of it's members. The school district could pursue a legal battle against Ms. Gehrke. Even though the judge makes the decision, the school board initiated the process, ultimately making them responsible for her removal.
Bobby B July 18, 2012 at 07:05 PM
Well Kari, that's quite a stretch. When you say they can be removed by the electorate, that is correct. That is what ELECTIONS are about. Mr. Waldspurger stated that the harshest punishment that the board could give Ms. Gehrke was to remove her from office and that statement is FALSE ON IT'S FACE. The board has no such power. Nice try though.....
Kari July 18, 2012 at 07:13 PM
Forgive me for not fully understanding what you are trying to say, Bobby B. Please explain the method(s) in which a school board member can be removed.
Bobby B July 18, 2012 at 07:17 PM
Listen carefully Kari. The board CANNOT remove the board member under any circumstances. That is what Waldspurger said they could do and they CANNOT. What part about that don't you understand. OMG!!!!!! I think I'm going to get back to work. No amount of explaining is going to help you and your cohorts. I'll give you and the others the last word because it's worthless anyway.
Paine Reliever July 18, 2012 at 07:19 PM
Ha! That is funny, an anonymous blogger bragging about her virtual income. Is your dad stronger than my dad too?
Renee July 18, 2012 at 07:23 PM
Give it up Kari, there is a faction here that does not have a remote interest in objectivity just in being 'right' and throwing flames. Being rational doesn't work. But nice try.
Kari July 18, 2012 at 07:29 PM
I am listening, I just want to be sure I fully understand the entire process before concluding that the lawyer lied or didn't lie. If my interpretation of the removal process for board members is incorrect, please explain the correct method(s) for removing a board member.
Bobby B July 19, 2012 at 01:25 AM
P.S. The lawyer LIED.....
Renee July 19, 2012 at 01:48 AM
Amazing how little some contribute.
Paine Reliever July 19, 2012 at 03:36 AM
Sandy LIED. With or without intent.
Bobby B July 19, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Oh the Paine that we feel.... The lawyer LIED when he said that the school board can remove a member. Under NO conditions can the school board do this. Is this the "expert" that we pay thousands of dollars for?
Jim Bob July 29, 2012 at 02:26 PM
PR, how does someone lie "with or without intent?" I would think a lie would be an intentional misrepresentation of the facts to knowingly mislead or cover up something. Unintentional explaining something with incorrect information or no intent to intentionally mislead or cover up, wouldn't qualify as a lie in my book. It would be more like ignorance exposed. Renee makes an excellent point about the quantity of some contributions here.
Micheal Foley August 22, 2012 at 12:29 PM
A transcript of attorney Mick Waldspurger's interview of board member Sandy Gehrke is now available for everyone to review and comment on at http://patch.com/A-xhSZ.
Paul August 23, 2012 at 01:41 AM
All I can say this is the worst Administration and Board this area has ever seen. WOW....
Laura Larsen October 11, 2012 at 03:05 AM
School board members are not the "boss" of school district employees, nor are they the managers of the school district. Their job is to govern....to mark sure that the applicable laws and policies are followed.

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