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School Board discord: tea party vs. non tea party battles

WEST CLERMONT, Ohio (Jeff Hirsh) -- An online petition drive is underway asking three members of the West Clermont School Board to resign.

It's sponsored by a citizens group called "West Clermont United" and about 800 people have signed it.  The targeted board members are supported by the tea party and, petition or not, there's no way they're going to step down.  This is proof of serious divisions on the board and in the community.

Students in the West Clermont School District know there are certain rules you have to follow, like obeying the crossing guard, for your own good.  Well, these days, they might need a crossing guard at the West Clermont school board meetings.

The battle is between the board's new majority, three tea-party endorsed members, and the two others. 

Tammy Brinkman, a board minority member, said, "If you look at what they're doing it makes no sense.  No sense for the kids, no sense for the teachers, the staff.  We have no idea where this is coming from.  What's the motivation and who the driver is."

Take the recent fight over hiring a new school board attorney.  The tea party is supposed to stand for transparency and fiscal responsibility.  But that's not how it looked to some when tea party board member Mark Merchant, out of the blue, proposed hiring new counsel.

He said, "I'd like to make a motion to hire Frost Brown Todd."

One member of the board responded, "It's absurd this would come to the floor with no prior discussion and no vetting process!"

Merchant insisted the new law firm would be cheaper but did not know what the board had spent before.  In fact, the new firm would likely be far more costly.  Frost Brown Todd's contract proposal is for $90,000 a year plus potential other expenses.  The average school board legal expenses the past three years were $75,500.

The Frost Brown Attorney who would handle the West Clermont business is listed as Kevin Maloof.  Maloof is also the President of the West Clermont Education Foundation, a fund-raising group.  Also on the board of that group, tea party school board members Mark Merchant and Tina Sanborn.

When told this kind of looks like some people trying to hire a friend of theirs Mark Merchant responded, "No, no friendships involved.  It's strictly financial.  We're trying to get the best legal representation for the money spent."

Superintendent Keith Klein said he was told by a board member to hire Frost Brown Todd.  But that would be illegal.  Only the full board can order such a change, not an individual member.

Same problem with a letter from tea party board member Jim Lewis to school treasurer Alana Cropper regarding dues payment to the Ohio School Boards Association.  The letter tells the treasurer, "If you haven't yet paid the dues, please refrain from doing so until we can revisit it at the next board meeting.  If you have already paid them, please determine the process for obtaining a refund."

Again, only the full board can order that, not one member.  Lewis told me he sees that, and was only seeking information.  The reality is there are two factions on the school board and the tea party has 3 vote, they control the board.  There will no doubt be a lot of 3-2 votes in the future.  The question is will those votes be acrimonious, will they be ugly, or will the debates become a tad more civil?
Merchant said, "I'm the one who caused the problem.  I take full responsibility for it.  And I'm going to work toward mending fences." 

The motion to hire a new school board attorney was withdrawn, giving board members the chance to study all interested law firms and their costs. 

As for the petition calling for the tea party board members to step down?  Board member Jim Lewis says, "You have got to be kidding."




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