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Board members discuss complaint filed with attorney general at budget meeting

A recent complaint filed with the state attorney general’s office by SAU 18 board Chairwoman Kathleen Russo against a fellow board member drew a heated discussion at a budget workshop meeting last night.

In October, Russo filed a complaint alleging it was not legal for Tamara Feener, the board member in question, to simultaneously be an SAU board member and a city moderator. The attorney general’s office has not yet made a ruling on the case.

Members debated whether Russo had the authority to file a complaint without consulting the rest of the board, many of whom said they first learned of the complaint in newspaper articles.

Glen Feener, a city councilor and Tamara’s husband, outlined his concerns during the public comment portion of the meeting. He asked whether the board held a meeting to discuss the complaint and urged board members to determine whether Russo overstepped her authority.

Glen Feener also said the law that Russo alleges Tamara Feener violated does not apply to this situation. The law says someone cannot be a school board member and a district moderator, and Tamara Feener is a city moderator. Franklin does not have a district moderator.

Russo and other officials, he said, need to “get over this situation and get on to doing what these boards should be doing, which is educating the public.”

In response, Russo said she filed the complaint personally, based on her duty as board chairwoman to protect the integrity of the board. A recent article in the Monitor misrepresented her actions and made it appear as if she filed the complaint on behalf of the board, she said. No discussion was held prior to filing the complaint with the full Franklin or SAU 18 school board.

“As board chair I feel it is my duty to protect the board,” she said.

She did not need to consult the board because the decision did not involve allocating money, she said. In response to another board member’s question, she said no legal fees for consulting with an attorney on the matter would fall to the SAU board. Copies of the complaint and a letter from Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan backing Russo’s complaint were passed out to board members.

Several board members spoke up and said they were surprised by the complaint.

“Will we discuss this at all?” asked Shelly Henry, a board member from Hill.

The situation did not get fully resolved, as Superintendent Maureen Ward said it would be best to wait until the attorney general’s office makes a ruling.

Also during the meeting, the board members went through a draft of the SAU 18 2013-14 budget. The proposed budget is just more than $800,000, a 2.2 percent increase from the 2012-13 budget. The increases mainly come from adding an additional staff member to help with finances and an increase in retirement payments, said Mike O’Neil, the SAU business administrator.

Board members spent considerable time discussing an amendment regarding pay raises for SAU staff members. After voting on several combinations of merit and flat pay raises, the board voted on a 1 percent increase for everyone, with an additional 1 percent in available merit money. Specifics on how merit money will be awarded have not yet been drawn.

The budget will be revised in time for a public hearing Dec. 6.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @kronayne.)

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