Totten, Shirek Call for ‘Immediate’ Removal of Superintendent, Board President
By Brandi Makuski
School Board members Lisa Totten and Kim Shirek are calling for the immediate dismissal of Superintendent Attila Weninger and Board President Angel Faxon.
The request was made following a threat of legal action from Reid Rocheleau, a Whiting man frequently attends and speaks at board meetings, who says his reputation and character were previously attacked by Weninger in public.
According to district documents, Rocheleau claims he overhead Weninger talking on the phone with the district’s legal counsel during a recess of the Oct. 13 board meeting. Under board policy the superintendent is allowed to obtain legal advice as needed.
Rocheleau later demanded to know the context of the conversation, though Weninger initially denied making the call. Rocheleau said the public denial put his personal credibility up for question, and if the board didn’t take immediate action, he would.
“This phone call issue that some of you would like to dismiss as not a big deal- it is a big deal to me,” Rocheleau said Monday night. “My integrity, honesty, reputation has been aired out in the public to hang, and I expect this board to pursue a remedy that I’ve outlined to you if necessary; if it isn’t, I will pursue it on my own.”
Rocheleau also went to Totten privately with his concerns, asking her to relay them to the full board.
Totten told the board she shared Rocheleau’s concerns.
“I agree with Mr. Rocheleau; this board should immediately address and remedy this matter,” Totten said. “We cannot allow the necessity of a citizen to pursue this one their own.”
Totten read from a prepared statement, saying Rocheleau’s “honesty and character publicly has been questioned by the superintendent and the board, and it has boiled over into the press”.
“Someone’s not telling the truth, and it is now obvious it is not Mr. Rocheleau, but the superintendent of schools,” she said. “It’s also obvious the School Board president was aware of the superintendent’s statement in his report that he did not call any attorney on the evening of October 13 was untrue…perhaps the superintendent, president and other board members would like to pass this off as no big deal. However, let me impress upon you this is not only a big deal to me, but this is a big deal to Mr. Rocheleau.
Totten said if specific actions are agreed to by the board, Rocheleau would not pursue legal action against the district, which Totten said, “would obviously not only include reimbursement for his legal expenses, but penalties as well”. The actions include:
- Immediate dismissal of Weninger without future pay or benefits
- Immediate resignation of School Board President Angel Faxon
- Immediate resignation of any Board Member or district staff member who was complicit in the superintendent’s attempt to cover up the phone call
- A public apology from the remaining Board members
The board took no action on the demands as it was not on the Nov. 24 agenda. Faxon said she and Vice President Jeff Presley would discuss the matter and determine how the board could proceed at a future date.
Weninger has already tendered his resignation effective next June, citing family as his reason for leaving.
This week Weninger explained the October meeting in question was particularly heated because the board was unable to approve payment of the district’s monthly bills. Though he initially denied making the call, he’s since said simply forgot making the call during the emotion of that meeting.
He did attempt to contact the district’s legal counsel that evening, he said, “I wouldn’t say out of panic, but out of very deep concern about the fact the board was unable to pay the monthly bills”.
In October the board couldn’t agree on approving payment of the district’s September expenses, normally a routine vote for local government bodies. The holdup was Presley’s argument that the cost for pending leadership classes at the Portage Co. Business Council, a class taken by previously by several board members, should not be approved because he felt the board’s support of the PCBC was no longer appropriate.
Totten attempted to address the concern on Nov. 10 board meeting but was unable to because it was not included on the meeting agenda. She called for an investigation into the matter, which kept district officials, as well as Faxon, busy completing a report to present the board on Monday.
Both Faxon and Weninger put together a report outlining an investigation of the events, including questions posed to Weninger about the phone call and later, retrieval of logs from Weninger’s Blackberry, which he turned over for inspection by Faxon and Totten.
“…it was very clear to me that Attila was frustrated, embarrassed and very angry with himself,” Faxon’s report read in part. Faxon also said in her report that Weninger had already owned up to his mistake and apologized for the incident.
Totten and Rocheleau, along with Board Member Kim Shirek, said the report was not acceptable, calling Weninger’s reasoning for forgetting he made the call as “an excuse”.
“Our district is unfortunately a laughing joke, and it’s because of our leadership,” Shirek said. “I think if we don’t put our foot down…we can’t afford to do this again, to let our superintendent throw members of the board under the bus over and over and over again, and lie and get away with it. Now we’re throwing community members under the bus.”
Shirek also said the board should consider holding a special session to further investigate the issue.
“If he’s doing this to people in the public,” Shirek said, “what is he doing behind closed doors that we don’t know about?”