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Police remove two from school meeting

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River Falls, 54022

River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

Hudson police officers escorted two men out of last week's school board meeting at Hudson High School after some angry words during the public comment section of the June 14 meeting at Hudson High School.

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School board president Annette Cook asked officers to remove Marion Shaw from the meeting for not coming to order and being disrespectful in his comments. After several minutes of discussion with him in the auditorium, police also escorted Curt Weese from the meeting. Weese, who was sitting in the rear area of the Hudson High School auditorium at the time, had earlier addressed the board. His comments also resulted in some heated exchanges between him and Cook along with board member Priscilla Wyeth.

The two men along with a third resident, Mark Pribonic, had requested to speak to the board about financial issues. Reading from prepared statements, all three men took issue with a recent letter to the editor in the Hudson Star-Observer from board member Mark Kaisersatt. In the letter Kaisersatt criticized those who were making what he characterized as "frivolous" requests for information.

Weese, the first to speak, began to list the information they had received as a result of their requests for information. Cook interrupted Weese and asked him to speak to the issue he noted on his request to speak. Weese said he was and the two, along with Wyeth, exchanged words until board member Daniel Tjornehoj requested a five-minute recess.

In an interview on the morning after the meeting, board president Annette Cook said she did not call for the police to come to the board meeting during the five-minute recess but that board member Cindy Crimmins did contact school liaison officer Mark Crimmins. Cook said she was the one who called on the officers to remove Marion Shaw from the meeting, saying Shaw had repeatedly been told he was out of order. She did not ask officers to remove Curt Weese.

In an interview Friday, board member Cindy Crimmins said she phoned her husband, HPD school liaison officer Mark Crimmins, during the recess about what had just happened at the meeting. She said she was concerned about Weese's behavior during his remarks, describing it as "extremely agitated and not characteristic of his behavior at previous meetings."

"I have known Curt a long time and though we disagree on many things, it has always been in a friendly way. We had even been humorous with each other before this meeting. But he became more agitated as he spoke and he was not acknowledging the authority of the board president... I didn't know where he would go and that's why I decided to contact Mark at the recess."

In an interview on Friday, Officer Crimmins said he was not in the city at the time of the call and he decided to contact the on-duty officers at the time to come to the high school in case they were needed. "I was too far away at the time to get there so I decided to call the officers in case something needed attention at the meeting," said Officer Crimmins. "It was a precaution. It seemed like things were building up and based on their prior performances at meetings, it seemed like a good precaution."

The meeting had reconvened by the time the officers Glen Hartman and Todd Ludvig arrived. Crimmins arrived shortly thereafter, but was not in uniform. Because of the delay caused during Weese's remarks and the recess, Cook told the remaining speakers, Pribonic and Shaw, that their remarks would be limited to three minutes, rather than five, in order for the board to attend a scheduled expulsion hearing that evening.

Cook said she never told any one of the men addressing the meeting that they couldn't speak to the board, just that they needed to remain on topic. When the three resumed reading their prepared statements, Cook interrupted them again and board member Priscilla Wyeth called a point of order. Wyeth said that the issues being raised by the speakers had all been raised before, and the board has a policy of not addressing an issue more than three times at a board meeting.

Cook also said it is the policy of the board when a citizen's remarks are aimed at a specific board member or administrator, in this case Kaisersatt and fiscal director Arnie Fett, that they take whatever issue they have directly to that person and not use time at the board meeting.

Pribonic followed Weese at the microphone and focused his remarks on Superintendent Ron Bernth's mileage reports, alleging that he overstated mileage amounts ranging from 1 mile to 18 miles. Pribonic questioned who reviewed the expense reports and suggested that an independent audit be made. His remarks also prompted responses from Cook and board members.

During his remarks, Shaw said the board had over the years "weaved and crafted the district to their liking" and proceeded to read a list of grievances with the district that included remarks on $4.5 million he contended is "missing."

The missing-money remark prompted a reaction from several board members who all contend that that specific issue has been repeatedly addressed by both the board and administrators in person and in writing.

During the exchange with Shaw, board member Crimmins offered to take her day off to sit with Shaw and answer his questions about district finances, but Shaw refused her offer.

Cook said Shaw was removed for refusing to come to order. "Obviously, I am sorry that it came to this," said Cook. "It is regrettable when disruptive behavior like this occurs but we do have a policy in place to handle incidents like this," said Cook. "It is our hope that everyone who comes before the board and in this community wants the best for our kids. That is what this board is committed to doing."

Board member Crimmins said, "This is a board that wants public dialogue and wants to be responsive to the community. We are in public service because we care... but when people come before us, their motivation shouldn't be to cause a public disturbance. It has to be for the purpose of responsible dialogue. I believe in free speech. It is a right at the core of my life. But that right comes with a responsibility and that responsibility has to be exercised in order to protect that right."

The school board meeting is being rebroadcast on public access television, Channel 15. See schedule on Now Playing pages beginning on page 6B.

Information on how to contact school board members is available at the district Web site at www.hudson.k12.wi.us.

Meg Heaton can be reached at mheaton@rivertowns.net

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