2011-06-09 / Front Page

Murphy to return as superintendent, accepts discipline action by board

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Houghton Lake Community Schools Superintendent Kevin Murphy was reinstated Tuesday night, following 10 weeks of paid administrative leave. The Houghton Lake Board of Education had placed him on paid, non-disciplinary leave March 28 based on complaints about his performance as superintendent.

The school board – by a 7-0 vote – reinstated Murphy during a special meeting attended by over 130 people, effective June 13, following an investigation by the district’s attorney, Ray Davis of Thrun Law Firm, East Lansing.

The reinstatement is accompanied by a set of disciplinary actions, accepted by Murphy and his attorney, Ed Morris of Morris and Doherty, P.C., Southfield, with which Murphy must comply.

Murphy will take a seven-day suspension without pay; follow an Individualized Development Plan established by the board and monitored by sub-committee members Thomas Dean, Tim Scherer and David Johnson; and attend a course lasting at least eight hours, at his expense, on human resource functions and standards. He is not to challenge the disciplinary action or retaliate against any witness or individual providing information to the investigator’s report. He may, however, draft a response for attachment to the report.

Accepted as part of the motion was a “friendly amendment” offered by Scherer, Murphy is to draft a letter of apology to, as referred to in Davis’ report, Administrator R-1 for an inappropriate posting on the district’s web site.

The complaints revealed in Davis’ report, copies of which were made public after the meeting, ranged from possible breaches of employment contracts, sending inappropriate “gifts” and retaliating against Collins Principal Pam Akin in an attempt to limit public speech at board meetings (see “Report reveals errors in judgment”).

In approving the motion to reinstate Murphy, Dean read a prepared statement prior to his “yes” vote. He said his task was to evaluate the allegations against Murphy in an unbiased and open-minded manner to determine if there had been a violation of law, board policy or professional conduct.

“Knowing that each and every one of us has made mistakes, it is with hope,” he said, “that judgment will be fair and merciful and restoration complete.”

Murphy, in his role, Dean said, showed a lack of professional judgment in word and deed and Dean felt the discipline was appropriate.

Murphy and Administrator A1 (later identified by Davis at Tuesday’s meeting as Collins Principal Pam Akin) shall continue to abide by the methodology established by the board concerning Murphy’s supervision. Failure by Murphy to abide by the terms and elements of his improvement plan could result in action by the board up to and including discharge.

Addressing the board, Morris thanked the public for its support of Murphy.

“Kevin did admit some errors in judgment,” Morris said. “Kevin believes they’re fair terms” and in the best interest of everyone to put this behind us.”

He said the board weighed things and “you followed your duty,” resolving it in the best interest of the school district.

“I know Kevin has learned from this experience,” Morris said, adding he believes Murphy will be an outstanding community member and superintendent.

Morris noted that, in regard to concerns about the Open Meetings Act, he and Davis talked about reaching a settle- ment. Initially, Morris said, he expected a “contested situation,” but as recently as that day, he and Davis discussed possible recommendations to the board and to Kevin. (The board had gone into closed session twice Tuesday, once under OMA rule 8(H), attorney-client privilege, and once under 8(a) to consider disciplinary actions against an employee).

“This has been a humbling experience,” Murphy told the board.

He said he is excited to return from leave and is looking forward to working with the board and staff.

“My hope is that we build from here open, supportive relationships that will bring forth the vision of one school, one community standing strong together,” he said.

President Dave Harned said many injurious things have been said over the past several weeks. He said when allegations come to light, there is an assumption of either guilt or innocence, which is not fair to those involved.

“There needs to be an investigation,” he said. “We think we did it very well.”

He thanked Davis for his unwillingness to short-circuit the investigation for the sake of haste and feels the board made the right decision.

Davis thanked the community for its patience, thanked Murphy and Morris for their responsiveness in providing information, praised Collins Principal Pam Akin for her professionalism and thanked secretaries Lynn Pope, Lisa Earley and Evelyn Maciha.

“Pete Injasoulian (interim superintendent) needs to be thanked,” he said, “during a very difficult period.”

He said the board’s action was not his recommendation. The board, he said, had a wide range of options and chose to give Murphy an opportunity to learn from the situation and succeed. Ultimately, the vote was their vote, he said, and he did not pressure them into anything.

Davis praised Harned’s integrity, whom he said, made sure the investigation process was fair.

“It is very clear to me that if everyone works together...you have the makings for just an excellent district. If everyone gets focused in the right direction and it is our sincere hope that this happens with this action.”

Harned, who, along with Ron Duquette, lost his seat in the May election, said, “We have a lot to be proud of. Let’s start healing from here on out. Let’s take advantage of what we have which is a lot of great people.”

Harned told the Resorter Wednesday one of the things that influenced the board’s decision to give Murphy more time was that previous superintendents have been more “seasoned” whereas Murphy had been a principal before coming to Houghton Lake.

The board may have been able to help prevent some of the mistakes that were made, Harned said, and he thinks Murphy will be a better superintendent in the future. He said the board learned some lessons as well.

“There’s a lot of good things he’s brought to the district,” Harned said, “and with some added assistance from the board...I think we can move forward.”

“I’m thrilled to be back,” Murphy said.

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