School board investigation finds Gehrke acted improperlyAn independent investigation requested by the Hudson School Board has found that board member Sandy Gehrke violated several board policies by speaking directly to a district employee about a personnel issue.
By: Meg Heaton, Hudson Star-Observer
The newest member of the Hudson Board of Education came under fire at Tuesday night’s school board meeting.
An independent investigation found that Sandy Gehrke had violated several board policies by speaking directly to a district employee about a personnel issue. School board policy requires that board members do not speak directly to employees, particularly about personnel issues but that all inquiries go through the superintendent or other district administrators.
The investigation was requested by board president Tom Holland and conducted by the district’s attorney Mike Waldspurger after the employee, who wished to keep her name out of the proceedings, contacted district administration about incident.
Waldspurger listed the allegations:
--that Gehrke contacted an employee about a job-related issue.
--that she told the employee that she was acting as a school board member leading the employee to believe that she had to answer Gehrke’s questions as she was “her boss.”
--that Gehrke was asking the questions to determine if the district administration had lied to Gehrke.
--that Gehrke misled the employee into thinking the district had lied to the employee.
--that Gehrke implied that the employee should not report their conversation to her supervisor.
Waldspurger interviewed both the employee and Gehrke for the investigation. The employee had documented her conversation with Gehrke in detail immediately following it. Gehrke came to her interview with Waldspurger armed with a district policy manual and with several of the policies in question underlined. Waldspurger said that Gehrke appeared to be very knowledgeable about the policies in question.
From his investigation with both parties and from the notes provided by the employee, Waldspurger said he confirmed that Gehrke did contact the employee directly and did identify herself as a board member. He also confirmed the other allegations against Gehrke including that she told the employee that she did not believe the information provided to her (Gehrke) by the district about the issue and that the district had misled the employee as well.
Waldspurger concluded that Gehrke had violated three district policies as they related to communication between the school board and the superintendent, the board and staff members and the policy governing board ethics and behavior. He said Gehrke acted beyond her authority as a board member” and disregarded legal advice previously provided by Waldspurger about how to handle complaints to board members by the public.
Waldspurger called Gehrke’s conduct “troubling” and, after conducting the investigation, concluded that her “actions were part of an intentional course of action designed to undermine the administration."
Waldspurger said the board members had several options as to how to address Gehrke’s behavior. They were to voice disapproval at the meeting, censure Gehrke with a formal reprimand at a future meeting or disavow Gehrke at a future meeting, thereby limiting the board’s liability if any legal action were taken against the board as a result of her behavior. Another option included the review and possible revision of board policies regarding board member behavior to avoid further incidents.
Waldspurger recommended and the board agreed to make their statements of disapproval at the Tuesday night meeting and move on. Statements from each of the other board members, Brian Bell, Dan Tjornehoj, Pat German, Mark Kaisersatt, Lynn Robson and Holland followed.
Gehrke responded by saying she did make a mistake by contacting the employee directly but denied that she intentionally lied to her or misled her. She said she was not aware that the investigation would be reported in open session at the Tuesday meeting and that doing so violated open meeting law requirements, something Waldspurger disputed. She said, “"I just met with Mr. Waldspurger yesterday morning. This is very quick in hanging me out to dry here."
Gehrke said “I was elected to the board to represent the public, to ask questions to try to create some transparency, and that’s what I am doing.”
Holland said the seriousness of the violation and the information from the employee required an investigation. “Bringing this up to the public is not a preferred approach but we have been accused of mishandling and taking action inappropriately. It was my decision to go public. The situation we are currently in calls for it."