Lakota School Board holds special meeting amid superintendent controversy

LIBERTY TOWNSHIP, Ohio – The Lakota Local Schools Board of Education will hold a special meeting Wednesday night at 6 p.m.

The meeting is to “review the investigation of allegations or complaints against a public servant” with “[p]possible actions to follow.”

The meeting comes as controversy continues to surround Superintendent Matt Miller.

Because Miller has not been criminally charged, FOX19 NOW is not repeating the allegations against him. But the allegations have led to public scorn in which the district remains mired months after they came out.

Resident Vanessa Wells, who lost a school board race last year, first filed complaints about Miller with the district and the Butler County Sheriff’s Office in August.

The sheriff’s complaint contains hearsay allegations against Miller that Wells claims he heard from his ex-wife.

Miller has said publicly that the allegations against him are false and that he is the target of character assassination.

Hundreds of people have signed an online petition to put Miller on administrative leave.

A majority of the board continues to support Miller, who was selected as Lakota’s top administrator in 2017 after a national search. He is paid $192,000 a year to run the district of more than 17,300 students and also has a car allowance.

But board member Darbi Boddy, no stranger to controversy, has repeatedly called for Miller to be placed on leave and for the district to terminate him, citing issues related to his personal life that detectives confirmed during their investigation.

Miller said at a special board meeting Sept. 28 that he fully cooperated with the sheriff’s office investigation. Sheriff’s records show he spoke at length with investigators without his attorney present, as did his ex-wife.

“I will continue to dedicate my career, my life, our children and our students, our staff, our administrators and our community, and I will not allow harassment and rumors and false accusations to deter me from that work,” Miller said.

The sheriff’s office closed its investigation in September, determining there was no probable cause that Miller committed a crime. No charges were filed.

Board President Lynda O’Conner announced at the Sept. 12 board meeting that the district would independently investigate Miller by a New York-based law firm. The firm is charging the district $280 to $360 an hour, school records show.

Miller has said he is also cooperating with the district-funded investigation.

Many lawsuits followed.

Resident Diane Hughes, through her attorney Curt Hartman, filed a complaint with the Ohio Supreme Court in September accusing the school board of violating Ohio’s public records law by keeping the original complaint against Miller.

Hughes also sued the board in U.S. District Court after the board voted at its Sept. 12 meeting to ban public comment. She claimed the board unconstitutionally restricted free speech by preventing the public from speaking critically of the board in the context of Miller.

The Board justified its decision by relying on a part of the by-laws: “To protect the rights of employees, the Board does not hear complaints about specific employees in a public session.”

Hughes filed a temporary restraining order to reinstate public comment before the Oct. 10 board meeting, but later put that motion on hold after she and the school board appeared to have reached an agreement.

But during that meeting, Frost Brown Todd attorney Alex Ewing advised the board to close public comment. The board followed suit with a 4-1 vote, completely limiting public comment. Ewing was the only speaker allowed.

The body voted the only “no”. “Stifling our community is a bad idea,” she said. “It won’t go well for you.”

Hughes and the school board appeared to reach another agreement later that week. U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black entered an order representing that agreement in which the board agreed not to enforce the section of its bylaws that limits public comments to individual employees. She also agreed to allow a 30-minute public comment period at the next meeting on Nov. 7.

Hughes specifically “shall provide [three] minutes of uninterrupted talking time.”

The school board, however, reserves the right to remove public comment at any subsequent meeting “or otherwise revise its public participation policy.

The agreement, according to Black’s order, should bring the case to a settlement. If indeed elected, it appears to be up to the board to follow through on its promise to allow Hughes and other members of the public to speak at future board meetings.

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