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Attorney general’s office dismisses complaint against Franklin School Board member

The attorney general’s office has ruled that Tamara Feener is not violating any laws by serving as both a Franklin School Board member and a city moderator.

Stephen LaBonte, assistant attorney general, issued a ruling Friday to a complaint filed in October by Kathleen Russo, chairwoman of School Administrative Unit 18’s school board. Her complaint alleged that Feener couldn’t hold both offices at once under a state statute that says no school board member can also serve as district moderator, treasurer or auditor. Feener was appointed to fill a board vacancy in February 2012 and elected to the position in October through write-in votes. She was also re-elected as a ward moderator in October, a position she’s held for more than 20 years.

LaBonte’s ruling says that Feener is not violating that statute because she is a city moderator, not a district moderator. Furthermore, she was elected to the school board under laws outlined in Franklin’s city charter, which also detail a process for making complaints to the council about board members, LaBonte wrote.

“It is this office’s determination that the above-cited statute is not applicable to the current circumstances,” he wrote.

Before filing the complaint, Russo’s attorney obtained a letter from Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan saying he agreed with Russo’s interpretation. In her complaint, Russo said she brought Scanlan’s letter to Feener and the city’s attorney and that neither took action. Throughout the ordeal, Feener, the council and its attorney maintained that she was not violating any laws. Feener also held both positions simultaneously in the late 1990s and no one ever filed a complaint, she said.

“I guess we were right,” Feener said.

In his letter, LaBonte said the city council would be the appropriate place to take further action if desired. Feener is married to City Councilor Glen Feener. Russo did not mention that in her complaint, but LaBonte said councilors with a conflict of interest in any judicial matter are expected to recuse themselves.

Russo did not respond to requests for comment. Franklin School Board Chairman Ray Yonaitis gave the following statement: “The clarification, while considerably delayed in coming, simply clears up any confusion and allows us to move forward without any further distractions over this complaint. This ruling will not change anything on the board as we will continue to focus on our duties to provide excellence in education for the children of our city.”

Feener said she’s been operating as usual since the complaint was filed, but she is glad that the issue is settled.

“I’ve done business as I’ve done business when I first got on (the board) in February,” she said. “I’ve been conducting myself in the same manner, nothing’s changed for me. Until there was a determination I felt as though I was fine to be on that board.”

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

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