Burke's behavior earns censure, referral to county attorney
The Farmington School Board made a decision Monday they hope will serve as a clear warning to board member Tim Burke that behavior identified as inappropriate in a report by an outside investigator will not be tolerated. It could even result in legal action.
Board members voted 4-2 to censure Burke, disavow his actions and refer information in the thick report to the Dakota County Attorney's office for possible criminal charges.
The decision came after attorney Mick Waldspurger summarized a report compiled over the last month by Minnetonka attorney James Martin.
Waldspurger told board members the report shows Burke willfully shared information from a closed board meeting, gave out information about employees in violation of the data practices act and generally created an unpleasant working environment for some district employees with second-guessing, accusations and requests for information.
Of particular concern, Waldspurger said, the report shows Burke discussed information from a closed meeting held to discuss negotiation strategy, talked with someone outside the district about a proposed benefit package for a district employee and on multiple occasions acted outside of his responsibility as a board member.
"The board speaks with one voice. It does not speak with six individual voices," Waldspurger said. "Otherwise you have chaos."
Board members said they hope the decision comes as a wake-up call for an individual who has frequently been at odds with district employees and the rest of the board.
"I have to believe that this is going to get his attention that the board as a whole is serious that he comply with the code of conduct. That he not push the boundaries of Minnesota statute referring to closed meetings," board member Craig Davis said Monday night." Sometimes you have to be hit in the head with a baseball bat to get your attention. In my opinion, this is a baseball bat."
Whether or not the decision qualifies as a baseball bat, Burke wasn't happy with the way it was wielded. He complained after the decision that he was not given an opportunity to review the report, which is several inches thick, until it was handed to him at the start of Monday's meeting.
"I got to look through the table of contents," Burke said. He argued that the information presented Monday, while factually correct, did not always provide the context he says justifies his actions.
In the instance where he shared information about negotiation strategy, for example, he said he only asked a question of the president of the district's teachers' union.
"This is a two-way street," he said. "You got run down a one-way street tonight."
Waldspurger told board members he did not share the report with Burke earlier because Burke had said he planned to share it with his own attorney, an action Waldspurger said would be a violation of attorney-client privilege.
The board rejected the possibility of removing Burke from the board. That process could have been long and expensive. Burke would have had an opportunity to call witnesses to defend himself.
That might not have been a bad thing, Burke said.
"I would have been much happier if we had gone with a removal process so I would have literally had my day in court," he said.
He still could. Davis argued against forwarding the information to the county attorney, suggesting the censure and disavowal were enough. But only Burke voted in favor of his motion to amend the recommendation Waldspurger drafted for board members. The board voted 4-2 in favor of that recommendation, with only Burke and Davis opposing it.
With its decision to disavow Burke's actions the board distanced itself from the consequences of what he does, should it lead to legal action at some point.
Some board members expressed concerns about passing the report on to the county attorney -- "I don't want to be the board that is known for bringing in the county attorney," board member Julie McKnight said -- but ultimately decided failing to share information about potentially illegal activity would set a bad example in instances of future misconduct claims.
Waldspurger told board members that if the county finds reason to pursue legal action Burke could face a jail term of up to one year and fines of up to $3,000.
If the county attorney chooses not to pursue charges, that could be the end of the process. Burke said if there are no criminal charges he will likely let the matter lie.