Conflict has arisen among members of the Groveport Madison Board of Education stemming from a disagreement over whether newly elected board member Steven Slyh can take his seat on the board before January.
Slyh alleges that board members Dr. Naomi Sealey, John Kershner, and June Gibbs instructed interim district treasurer Steve Huzicko to refuse to immediately administer him the oath of office.
"I should be sworn in immediately," said Slyh in a Dec. 4 telephone interview. "I’m a duly elected official."
On Nov. 6, Slyh ran unopposed and was elected to fulfill the unexpired term of Patti Froehlich, who resigned June 15. Duane Dailey was appointed to take Froehlich’s place, but he would have had to run in the Nov. 6 election to retain the unexpired seat. Dailey decided to run for a four year term in his own right – and lost – instead of trying to be elected to fulfill the final two years of Froehlich’s term, which runs to Dec. 31, 2009.
According to information provided to the Southeast Messenger by the Franklin County Board of Elections on Dec. 4, the Nov. 6 votes have been certified and Slyh is now eligible to immediately take his seat on the board and replace Dailey.
In a letter to Slyh dated Dec. 5, Barcy McNeal, of petitions and financial filings for the Franklin County Board of Elections, wrote, "Candidates who are elected to unexpired terms may take office as soon as the election is certified, which it was on Nov. 27, 2007. The certificate you have received from the Franklin County Board of Elections certifies that you have been elected to fill the unexpired term ending Dec. 31, 2009, as a member of the board of education of the Groveport Madison School District."
Slyh stated Huzicko cited a section in the Ohio Revised Code that states new board members can take their seats in January following the election. Based on this, he refused to swear Slyh in before Jan. 1, 2008.
Slyh, noting the Franklin County Board of Elections’ statement, maintained he must be sworn in now. He said he believes Huzicko is basing his decision on a portion of the Ohio Revised Code that deals with officials newly elected to full four year terms, not unexpired terms as in his case.
The district’s legal review
In a telephone interview Dec. 5, Sealey stated that she and Gibbs, but not Kershner, sought input from the school district’s attorney, Jim Burnes of Bricker & Eckler, about Slyh taking his seat on the board immediately.
Burnes stated in an e-mail to the board, "…we have completed our research and have concluded that Ohio law specifically provides that the term of office for an individual elected to fill an unexpired term of office on a board of education, as well as any other newly elected board members, begins on Jan. 1 following the election, according to Ohio Revised Code Sections 3313.09, 3313.11. Because Ohio law requires a board of education to conduct its organizational meeting in January, typically as a practical matter the first meeting at which a new board member functions in his/her capacity as a member of the board is the organizational meeting…We discussed our conclusion with Assistant Franklin County Prosecutor, attorney Patrick J. Piccininni, who is assigned to represent the Franklin County Board of Elections, and he concurred in our analysis and conclusion…Piccininni stated that, pursuant to the provisions of law, the individual’s term of office as a member of the board of education does not begin until Jan. 1 following the election. This is consistent with our reading of the law."
Burnes additionally stated that, under the Ohio Revised Code, "the oath of office may be administered by the treasurer or any member of the board."
Sealey stated that, based on this legal ruling, Slyh could not be sworn in by Huzicko for the board seat until the board’s organizational meeting in January.
The Secretary of State’s Office and Huzicko did not return calls from the Southeast Messenger for comment.
"I think he’s (Slyh) not interested in the kids one bit," commented Sealey. "He’s bringing negativity to the district and that’s sad. This isn’t a time for political games, we’re talking about children’s lives…I think it’s a terrible thing for him to try to remove Duane (Dailey) before his last meeting. I’m standing up for Duane Dailey because it’s the right thing to do."
Slyh said he is "purely disappointed" with the current board because he believes some board members are engaging in "back door/back room politics" to keep him from taking his board seat in December.
Slyh finds another way
Since Huzicko would not swear him in, Slyh sought other avenues in order to take his seat on the board.
"At 10:30 p.m. on Dec. 4, I was given the oath of office by attorney J. Douglas Stewart,who also serves as a notary public and, as a result, I am officially a member of the Groveport Madison Board of Education effective Dec. 4, 2007," said Slyh.
Slyh noted that, according to the Ohio School Boards Association, any notary public may perform the oath of office.
Slyh said he will try to take his seat at the board’s Dec. 12 meeting.
"If they (the board) refuse to seat me, I’m not going to create a scene or disrupt the process, but I will make a statement at the speaker’s podium that I am a duly elected board member and should be allowed to begin serving. I consider myself a board member now."
Sunshine Law allegations
Slyh additionally said he plans to file a lawsuit against Sealey, Kershner, and Gibbs alleging that the three violated Ohio’s public open meeting laws (known as Sunshine Laws) in working behind the scenes via telephone and e-mail to instruct Huzicko not to perform the oath of office for him. He said the alleged communications among the three board members in essence created a special meeting that was not open to the public.
Slyh alleged these efforts by current board members fly in the face of their original campaign pledges to be completely open with the public.
Sealey said Slyh’s allegations are "untrue" and reiterated it was she and Gibbs who contacted Burnes to question Slyh’s swearing in, and that Kershner was not involved. Therefore, she said, three board members were not involved and it cannot be considered a special meeting under the laws.
"I don’t have anything to gain (by preventing Slyh’s swearing in)," said Sealey. "I care about this district and the students. If this behavior is an indication of the caliber of board member we’re getting, heaven help us."
In a telephone interview Dec. 4, Kershner, who was in Chicago, said he was unfamiliar with the laws regarding a board member being sworn in early, but he said he knew Slyh intended to take the oath soon.
"I don’t care either way," Kershner said of Slyh taking his board seat early. "Whatever is legally the right thing to do, that’s what should be done. Everyone needs to be patient and calm."
Kershner went on to say he didn’t think "it was that big of a situation," but added that, to be fair to Dailey, the normal process would be to swear in new board members in January.
"Everyone’s attitude should be to be thrilled to serve and be happy to be elected," said Kershner.