Monthly Archives: June 2015

Dr. Wilson’s Unusual Response to a Question about Timberlane’s Legal Suits

At the June 23, 2015 meeting of the Hampstead School Board, there was an unusual exchange between a School Board member and an administrator during the Members’  Comments section.

Board member Karen Yasenka wanted to know if any of the money Hampstead pays to the SAU was being used to fund any lawsuits originating in the Timberlane district and in which Superintendent Metzler is individually named. She questioned if SAU funds would be used to defend him.

Without waiting for the board to respond, Assistant Superintendent Wilson interjected that Timberlane issues were not a proper topic for discussion at a Hampstead meeting. She ultimately said “Hampstead’s money stays in Hampstead.”

You can watch this short exchange by forwarding to 2:34:00  (two hours, 34 minutes)

The SAU’s budget for legal services is just $500, while Timberlane’s is $70,000 and Hampstead’s is $20,000. However, the total SAU budget is $1,622,820.  It is entirely possible—and legal—to transfer money from an unexpended line in the SAU budget to any other line.

Dr. Wilson’s response assures us that this will not be happening.

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Auditor’s Report Released to School Board UPDATED

The school board was just given the auditor’s report for the year ending June 30, 2014. It was posted on our private members only site but here it is for “Timberlane consumers,” as our PR consultant would have us called:  2014 Timberlane – AUDITORS REPORT.pdf

We have received yet another adverse opinion for not accounting for our retiree benefits liabilities or depreciating our capital assets.  This year there was also some concern about two Title 1 requirements. The auditor’s letter and pages 25 on are of particular note.  I have asked the SAU for information on the non-cancellable lease that costs $25,000 a year for four photocopy machines mentioned on page 25.

It is hard to know just how significant any of the auditor’s findings are because the language of the report is factual and not at all evaluative or judgmental. In a few days when I’ve had a chance to read it in more depth, I’ll almost certainly post more comments about it. In the meantime, I will be asking my fellow board members to ensure this is put on the agenda for August 27 and to include the presence of the auditor so we may ask questions directly of her in person. (My request to this effect last year was refused by Mrs. Steenson.)

By the way, the report is dated June 17, 2015. Could it have been emailed to the SAU on June 18th in time for our last school board meeting (6/18) but somehow fell under the radar for twelve days? This report is due in November – before elections and deliberative – but here it is, seven months late.  Hear the school board yawn.


An email from Dr. Metzler on 6/30/15 at 8:18 am

Donna – So that you understand exactly when the report was received…it was on Friday the 26th of June at 4:50 p.m. The office closed at 4:30 p.m. I spent the weekend reviewing it so that I could have it for the Board on Monday the 29th.  To imply that it was received earlier and withheld from the Board is disrespectful, inaccurate and inappropriate.


Of course, it is not disrespectful and inappropriate to have an audit released nearly one year to the date of the end of the NEXT fiscal year. No, that’s perfectly appropriate, so let’s argue about something minor to change the subject. Keep in mind that Dr. Metzler is addressing his boss and a representative of the people of Sandown; furthermore, the audit is commissioned by and addressed to the TRSD, not the SAU, so it should never have been reviewed by Dr. Metzler before being sent to the body to whom it is addressed.

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District Legal Opinion on Incompatibility and Lawsuit Deadline

Thanks to some vigorous argumentation by Mark Acciard in my comments section, I now believe there is no issue of confidentiality with respect to publishing the Timberlane School District’s letter of legal opinion on the incompatibility of offices.  Here is Diane Gorrow’s opinion:Incompatibility of Officers 2010

Also, I have learned that the deadline for responding to federal lawsuits is more than 30 days.  This means that the district’s response to Mrs. Morse’s federal First Amendment suit is sometime in mid-August.

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Battle Brewing Over School Budget Seat?

On June 15, The SAU sent the following email to all the district towns following the appointment of Josh Horns to Danville’s Board of Selectman.  Mr. Horns also sits on the Timberlane Budget Committee representing Danville.

Hello District Town Offices, 
An items that continues to resurface year after year is incompatibility of officers as it relates to selectmen also serving on the school district budget committee.  Attached is a legal opinion on the matter we received back in 2010 that we’d like to share with your office. 
Have a good day,
Cathy

[DG:  Attachment redacted due to concerns about privilege.  Readers should ask their SB reps for a copy – or their selectmen.]


On June, 25, the Danville Selectmen replied saying that the offices are not incompatible and suggesting that if the SAU wants Mr. Horns to resign, they will have to go through the court:

Dear Dr. Metzler and respective School Board members,

      Please find attached to this email the Danville Board of Selectmen’s position on this matter with supporting legal position. If you have any questions please contact me.
 Thank you,
Shawn O’Neil
Chairman
Danville Board of Selectmen

Danville_TRSD_Horns_SBC_BOS (1)   [by permission of Mr. O’Neil]


Why is this important apart from demonstrating yet another conflict between a district town and the SAU?  Well, for years members of our district were under a misapprehension about who could qualify for district positions.  You can only imagine the number of highly qualified people who did not run for school budcom or school board because of this legal opinion.  This certainly did not serve the interests of our communities.

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Collins Replies to Questions about Countersuit

This is an email sent to the board and an inquiring member of the public from Rob Collins this morning:

I have now asked the superintendent a third time about this, just to make sure.

There isn’t a counter lawsuit and there isn’t one being prepared that the taxpayers would be paying for.

Therefore, an emergency meeting of the board is not warranted for the reasons you stated.

If there’s further information you feel I have not addressed and is pertinent please pass it along.

Thank you.


So, if there is a countersuit, it is a private one.  Why then, did Dr. Metzler say he hoped the taxpayers understood?

Many questions remain but at least we have an assurance that taxpayer money is not involved.

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Metzler Talks of “Countersuit,” My Call for Emergency Meeting: Oh Hum….

ON Sunday, June 21, the entire school board received the following forwarded email chain.  I have redacted the name of the parent to whom this was addressed:
Begin forwarded message:
From: “Metzler, Earl” <Earl.Metzler@timberlane.net>
Date: June 20, 2015 at 7:11:38 PM EDT
To:matt_rittenhouse@yahoo.com” <matt_rittenhouse@yahoo.com>, Niedzinski <JNiedzinski@gloucestertimes.com>, Penny Williams <penwil1@ix.netcom.com>
Subject: Fwd: Counter lawsuit
Dr. Earl F. Metzler II
Begin forwarded message:
From: <Earl.Metzler@timberlane.net>
Date: June 20, 2015 at 7:09:31 PM EDT
To: [redacted]
Cc:nancysteenson@comcast.net” <nancysteenson@comcast.net>, Rob Collins <robcollins89@gmail.com>, Peter Bealo <pbealo@comcast.net>
Subject: Counter lawsuit
Ms. [redacted] – Please don’t forget the counter lawsuit…misrepresenting facts and defamation of one’s character are certainly going to be a factor. Personally and Professionally we will be represented by the best attorneys…locally and nationally. I hope that taxpayers understand what that means. I am all in!
Respectfully,
Dr. Earl F. Metzler II


Since receiving this email, I have been calling for an emergency meeting of the Timberlane School Board.  Is there, in fact, a countersuit planned against Mrs. Morse who is currently suing the district and Dr. Metzler?  My phone calls to individual members (3) and emails to a quorum of the board have been met with complete silence. (Only Mr. Collins replied with a denial and his usual personal insults.) Here’s my email to the board:


Sent on June 22, 2015:
Fellow Board Members:
I would like to call an emergency meeting before June 28th to discuss the possibility mentioned by Dr. Metzler below of a “countersuit” using taxpayer money which I believe may be against Carolyn Morse .  I also want to explore leaving Sandown Central in its current configuration for one more year.
Our by-laws require the chairman to call a meeting at the request of three school board members. Please ” reply all”  on this so I can know THREE members did in fact so request a meeting.  This meeting should be before June 28th, the deadline for the reply to Mrs. Morse’s suit which I believe is when the countersuit mentioned in this email below may be filed. 
As we do not have to vote on having an emergency meeting, there is no prohibition from “reply All” on the topic of anemergency meeting. Just write Yes or No in reply all.
The fact that Dr. Metzler is on vacation is not germane to these issues and his presence is not necessary for decisions on either matter. Failure to act before June 28th will almost certainly cost taxpayer money in legal fees that might possibly be avoided if we can discuss this issue immediately.
Thank you,
Donna Green

cc: Sandown Board of Selectmen


Here is an email I received this morning from the school board chairman after a short note last night saying once again that I wanted an emergency meeting:

Mrs. Green,

You are sounding like a recalcitrant child. There is no countersuit at this time. If there should be one, we will discuss it then. In addition, no one informed me that they were in favor of your request for a meeting – I’m guessing probably because it’s unnecessary.

[sentence redacted as the request of Mr. Collins.]

Nancy


I suspect Ms Steenson is saying that until a countersuit is filed with the court, it does not exist. Ms. Steenson conveniently overlooks my point:  if a countersuit is in the works, which she does not deny, we as a board should be authorizing the considerable expense of this. Defending against a lawsuit is one thing.  Launching a countersuit is quite another.  To be clear, I am not defending or trying to protect Mrs. Morse in my request for an emergency meeting. My sole concern is protecting taxpayer dollars and stopping a runaway legal spiral.

So far Rob Collins and Nancy Steenson have denied the existence of a countersuit. I sincerely hope they are not misinformed or misinforming me. We will find out on June 29th.* But one way or the other, you can be sure your board will react with complete indifference.

*CORRECTION:  The deadline for responding to federal lawsuits is more than the 30 days given for NH suits.  Mid-August is a more likely time frame.


Danville State Representative Betsy Sanders weighed in on this issue in an email sent on June 23, 2015 to Rob Collins:

Good morning, Rob,
As I happen to be a recipient of your e mail, I want to take the opportunity to respond as a voter, taxpayer, and a State Representative.  I have provided a copy of RSA 195:6 the powers and duties of cooperative school districts.  I believe that these powers and duties are exclusive to the school board who are elected to represent their constituents in the district.  The law includes “I. Each cooperative school district shall be a body corporate and politic with power to sue and be sued…”
Dr. Metzler has no legal authority to sue anyone on his own behalf using taxpayer funds, without school board approval.  The school board has no legal authority to delegate any of their authority to sue to a single person who has not been elected by the voters.
The Cooperative School Board should indeed have an emergency meeting to determine the person(s) to be sued, the anticipated cost of the suit, and the language of the suit.  Any board member who does not meet, is relinquishing their legal duty to the taxpayers.  It is the board that needs to approve or decline the participation in this suit of Dr. Metzlers.  If he wants to sue someone then it should be at his own expense, not taxpayers.
This situation needs to be discussed at a public noticed meeting so that the taxpayers are aware of the board’s decision and discussion.  Any board member who refuses to attend this emergency meeting is neglecting their duty to the people they represent.
I urge all cooperative school board members to respond with a “yes” and hold an emergency meeting before a possible unnecessary legal expense is used.  This is the people’s money to be used for a public purpose, not a private purpose and not for the benefit of a single employee.
Thank you for your consideration to this matter.  Please remember Article 8 of the New Hampshire Constitution:

[Art.] 8. [Accountability of Magistrates and Officers; Public’s Right to Know.]Edit

All power residing originally in, and being derived from, the people, all the magistrates and officers of government are their substitutes and agents, and at all times accountable to them. Government, therefore, should be open, accessible, accountable and responsive. To that end, the public’s right of access to governmental proceedings and records shall not be unreasonably restricted.
June 2, 1784
Amended 1976 by providing right of access to governmental proceedings and records.

Rep. Betsy Sanders, Danville
TITLE XV
EDUCATION
CHAPTER 195
COOPERATIVE SCHOOL DISTRICTS

Section 195:6

 195:6 Powers and Duties of Cooperative School Districts. – 
I. Each cooperative school district shall be a body corporate and politic with power to sue and be sued, to acquire, hold and dispose of real and personal property for the use of schools therein, and to make necessary contracts in relation thereto, and have and possess all the powers and be subject to all the liabilities conferred and imposed upon school districts under the provisions of RSA 194.

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Legal Opinions: Not Getting What You Pay For

The district is spending a substantial and growing amount of money on legal fees for advice and litigation services. Last year when I questioned the district on its failure to hold a public hearing on the receipt of unanticipated funds from our health insurance provider, LGC HealthTrust, Dr. Metzler sought a legal opinion on my statements.  He did this without a vote of the board and completely without my knowledge (though I would have invited it).

Only when Mr. Bealo made a statement on my blog about the lawyer’s opinion on this issue did I learn there was a legal opinion.  I then made repeated attempts to obtain an appointment at the SAU to read this letter.  I was never given an appointment or offered any way at all to read this letter. The SAU keeps a “Read Only” file available to school board members who must read the file in front of a babysitter at the SAU to be sure a letter is not copied or any notes taken.

Think about this.  Taxpayer dollars were used to obtain legal opinions that were kept secret from your elected representative. Even the existence of the legal opinion was withheld and disclosed selectively. This opinion was also being kept secret from you, the entity that paid for the opinion in the first place and whose interests are ultimately at stake. How many more opinions of this secret nature are in existence at the SAU office?  I’m willing to wager that there are quite a lot of them – like the interpretation of Sandown Central funding warrants. There is no defensible reason for keeping secret opinions on interpretations of the law dealing with public issues.

Back on the example of last year’s LGC HealthTrust return of surplus, the legal letter in question was eventually released to me and the public when it was read by Mrs. Steenson at the July 16 school board meeting last summer. During this meeting Dr. Metzler explained the secrecy of legal opinions by saying the client privilege was between him and the lawyers and not with the board so therefore the board could see the letters at his discretion. [Clips of the argument over legal letters from this meeting are below.]

By the way, once the district’s lawyer’s letter became public, it ultimately supported my argument that a public hearing should have been held to accept the funds.  Funds were expended to pay the teachers’ portion of the LGC refund of surplus. And Mr. Stokinger never returned my request after the meeting to give a full and detailed accounting of the LGC money despite his statement that he would do so.

Both Timberlane and the SAU have too much money sloshing around to transfer to their legal services budget. You think you are funding legal services to protect the district, but in some cases you are actually funding legal services that are being used against your interests. Knowledge is power. You should not be paying for something you don’t get.

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Wed. is Next Minority Committee Meeting

Wednesday, June 24

7 pm, Sandown Town Hall

Sandown’s own Withdrawal Feasibility Study Committee will meet.  Open to the public with public comment.

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Runaway Lawsuits

As far as I know, there are currently two outstanding lawsuits against the district and Dr. Metzler.  The first is a Right to Know suit I launched myself for salary information in a useful form.  The second is a federal First Amendment suit by a teacher, Carolyn Morse, who was temporarily suspended and demoted for what she claims was a posting on a district-related Facebook page.

The Employee Named in the Suits is Also the One Deciding to Pursue Them in Court

These cases both follow from actions of Dr. Metzler. In my case it was the decision not to provide me with salary information in a usable form.  In Mrs. Morse’s case, it was disciplinary action. In neither case did the school board take a vote to defend against these legal actions, or to consult district lawyers. It wasn’t needed because the board gave Dr. Metzler the unilateral authority to consult and engage legal counsel at his will. The Timberlane School Board and the SAU Board did this in seriously misguided votes in March at their respective re-organizational meetings. [Meeting clips posted below.]

Decisions are Kept Secret Even from the Board

But it gets worse. Not only was there no vote to pursue legal action in both cases but the school board was not even informed of Mrs. Morse’s case until residents of our district presented a petition to the school board to make Mrs. Morse whole at the June 18th school board meeting.  Her suit was filed in court on May 28*, 2015.

I know my case was discussed in non-public in my requested absence.  Mrs. Morse’s case was never mentioned to the board, yet Mr. Bealo is quoted in the Eagle Tribune”s June 20th edition saying “I believe we’ll end up victorious in court.”  How could Mr. Bealo form such an opinion when the board was not told anything whatsoever about even the existence of this case, let alone the merits of it?

The superintendent very clearly shares information with some school board members and not with others.  This is obvious and has been so for a long time when I was refused an opportunity to review a legal letter about an issue I raised in 2014 relating the the LGC return of surplus while Mr. Bealo and other favorites on the board were given access to the legal opinion.

Unnecessary Costs and Action

So here we have an administrator who is making decisions resulting in legal action, who is also the sole authority to decide whether or not to spend taxpayer money to pursue in court. The result is, in my opinion, needless legal expenses. My case certainly did not require the expenditure of any tax dollars in lawyers’ fees.  I could have been easily given an electronic file copy of all the public information I was requesting and a request could have been made asking me to drop my suit. Mrs. Morse’s complaint could have been brought before the school board as a first step to see if a reasonable resolution could be found to the situation.  Instead, the superintendent sought legal advice and decided to fight her case in court without consulting with the school board first.

We have at Timberlane and at SAU 55 a completely unacceptable situation where one person is deciding to spend taxpayer money on cases that he himself is personally named in. The school board should be trying to be more conciliatory towards complainants rather than facing them off in court at great taxpayer expense.  My own case is going to the NH Supreme Court and my own lawyer’s bill to me will be in the five figures. The district will certainly be paying at least as much. Why not just give me an electronic file of the salary information that is public information anyway?

Why not approach Mrs. Morse to explore mediation rather than fight it in court?

I honestly don’t understand the need for the two cases facing our district right now, and I certainly don’t understand the passivity of the school board in accepting that taxpayer money is spent on lawyers without their approval or knowledge. Something is very wrong with this picture and taxpayers are the one’s suffering for it.

A Culture of Fear

I want to make clear that I know nothing about Mrs. Morse’s case beyond what I have read in the publicly disclosed lawsuit. I have not heard Dr. Metzler’s side of things nor do I have enough knowledge to take a position on the merits of the case. The case does disturb me, however, in light of the statements of the representatives of the Timberlane Teachers’ Association at the June 18th school board meeting.  They spoke of a culture of fear in the district.

I can speak first hand about that.  Last year Dr. Metzler made an unfounded complaint against me to the Plaistow Police, claiming that I harassed an employee at the SAU.  He personally called upon Lt. William Baldwin of the Plaistow Police to investigate.  Mr. Baldwin is a former school board chairman. He dragged out the “investigation” for months while the SAU refused to release the security video tape that did eventually completely exonerate me of the false accusations. Only the intervention of my lawyer resulted in me getting the security tape and thereby being able to publish it on this blog, and bringing the “investigation” to an end. Now I bring someone with me when I have any business beyond the view of video cameras at the SAU.

If an elected official feels fear when dealing with the SAU, how more so must teachers whose livelihoods are in the control of the SAU?

School Board Must Assert Itself

Your other elected officials on the school board must not ignore the seeming flurry of lawsuits and the cost of them. You, the taxpayer, are the victims here.  With $2.6 million in surplus, there is no budget limitation that will stop this legal spiral.

*Originally blogged “May 29.”

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Summer Blockbuster Now Online

If you have six hours and a thirst for excitement, you can watch last night’s school board meeting with a tall drink:

June 18th SB meeting

You will see the board

  • learn the surplus for this year looks to be $3 million dollars.
  • vote to put $250,000 into a fund balance reserve, which I believe is completely unnecessary and a moral hazard.
  • struggle with stopping the expense of $250,000 on an inoperable sprinkler job in Danville in order to force the voters’ hand to fund the remaining $405,000 in a subsequent year
  • vote to spend $94,000 on a new playground for Sandown North payable out of this year’s surplus.

The Star assessment results were also released, though not broken down by school and with an unhelpful “acceptable” band of percentile achievement of 40-84%.  It is good to have this data but there could be so much more and should be. From what we are given, academics do seem to be improving, but the data is not detailed enough for me to be completely convinced of this yet.

Those at Deliberative will remember that Arthur Green and I proposed cutting a little less than $3 million from the budget. Concerned parents and teachers rallied because the district was going to lose music and bus service and athletics. Well, here we are with an extra $3 million and not a single cut. Dr. Metzler insists he hasn’t cut staffing either.

Perhaps those who believed the self-serving district hype in March will now be more open to looking at needed staffing reductions that even the teachers’ union acknowledged last night must be made.

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