2011-06-09 / Front Page

Report details complaints, findings

Eight main complaints against Houghton Lake Community Schools Superintendent Kevin Murphy surfaced from the investigation performed while he was on administrative leave.

After interviewing about 50 witnesses, Attorney Ray Davis, who was assisted by Michele Eaddy from his office of Thrun Law Firm, prepared his report for members of the Houghton Lake Board of Education.

The report, offered to the public for the first time at the board’s special meeting Tuesday, refers to individuals by general title designation (for example, “administrator”) without using their proper names.

“Several of the persons I interviewed were desirous of cooperating in the investigation, but expressed concern over whether their identity would be disclosed to persons receiving this report,” Davis wrote.

Davis broke down the report into eight categories and provided his conclusions based on the summaries of the allegations, Murphy’s response, relevant standards such as board policy and factual findings in his report:

1.) Did Mr. Murphy breach any employment contract or board policy in his termination of administrative assistant S6?

Conclusion: “Mr. Murphy concluded very early in his tenure that Administrative Assistant S6 was not a good fit as his support person, with input from former Administrator A4. I did not find evidence that Mr. Murphy violated any law, board policy or employment contract in reaching this conclusion or administering Administrative Assistant S6’s contract. While Mr. Murphy did not implement an objective procedure for making this decision, Administrative Assistant S6 was not a member of any collective bargaining unit and Mr. Murphy was not required to do so by law or policy.”

2.) Did Mr. Murphy breach any employment contract(s), board policy or state law in his attempt to implement new employment contracts for staff members and, specifically, administrators A1 and A5?

Conclusion: “Mr. Murphy was responsible for assuring that the administration of the administrator and staff contracts was performed consistent with board policy and state law. Benefits supported by the employment contracts for Administrators A1 and A5 were reduced at the beginning of the 2010-11 school year, in breach of those contracts. When administrative and staff contracts were submitted for board signature on Feb. 15, 2011, Mr. Murphy erroneously indicated that the district’s attorney had approved them for review. Relying on that information, the board members executed them even though they contained multiple errors. The board subsequently rescinded those contracts and issued new ones, through official action, as a result. There was no legal damage to either the district or the administrators.”

3.) Did Mr. Murphy send administrator A1 a “cat” folder as a “gift” for Principals’ Week in February 2010? Was it reasonable for administrator A1 to believe Mr. Murphy was sending her a negative message symbolized by that gift?

Conclusion: “Mr. Murphy did send Administrator A1 a gag gift in February, 2010, with no explanation. Administrator A1 was left to her own interpretation of the gift, in the context of Mr. Murphy sending much nicer complimentary gift baskets to two colleagues. I do not consider Mr. Murphy’s denial that the gift was meant to send a negative message as credible. Mr. Murphy was concerned about Administrator A1’s performance when he sent the cat folder gift, he sent a positive message to two additional administrators and he never followed up with Administrator A1 contemporaneously in an attempt to explain that the gift was an innocent “gag.” This issue was resolved with Administrator A1 at a meeting on Feb. 7, 2011 with representation of the district, the superintendent and Administrator A1 present.”

4.) Did Mr. Murphy commission the making of a “bobble head” doll of administrator A1, without administrator A1’s permission?

Conclusion: “Mr. Murphy did not make the “bobble head” doll; it was made by staff member S3. However, the “bobble head” doll was made at the direction of Mr. Murphy, to tease Administrator A1 at her expense. The “bobble head” doll had no clear endearing qualities, unlike the other figurines displayed by the superintendent. To the contrary, the figurine had an objectively negative connotation. The superintendent did not seek Administrator A1’s permission, he had not established a personal rapport with her at the time, and he had concerns about Administrator A1’s performance (but chose to allow the “bobble head” to be made anyway). This issue was resolved with Administrator A1 at a meeting on Feb. 7, 2011, with representation of the district, the superintendent and Administrator A1 present.”

5.) Did Mr. Murphy retaliate against administrator A1 in an attempt to limit public speech at board of education meetings?

Conclusion: “The superintendent issued a disciplinary memo to Administrator A1 on Sept. 27, 2010. The disciplinary memo was perceived by staff as intending to limit community member and staff discussion at public board meetings and to limit their Association activities. The disciplinary memo was issued in response to public commentary by community and staff members at a public board meeting. At the Feb. 7, 2010, meeting between Mr. Murphy (and district representatives) and Administrator A1 (and her representatives), Mr. Murphy agreed to retract the memo, remove it from his files and district files and to destroy all copies.”

6.) Did Mr. Murphy fail to exercise due diligence to hold a meeting with Administrator A1 on Feb. 10, 2011?

Conclusion: “The Feb. 10, 2011, meeting was significant to the future relationship between the superintendent and Administrator A1, as it was the first meeting agreed upon between Administrator A1 and the superintendent as part of a settlement to resolve Administrator A1’s complaints. The superintendent unilaterally cancelled the Feb. 10, 2011, meeting and did not consider the cancellation significant. He canceled the meeting without contacting Board Member B7 or any other board members to see if they might be available. He canceled the meeting without first consulting with Administrator A1.”

7.) Did Mr. Murphy breach any contract, board policy or state law in delaying the approval of contractor P4’s independent contractor agreement with the district?

Conclusion: “Mr. Murphy did delay in approving the contractor agreement for the Contractor P1. The delay was in the district’s interest in light of legal uncertainty related to contracting former state employees, the cost associated with Contractor P1’s agreement and concerns about the administration of said contract. Contractor P1 was not prevented from performing services at other districts and Mr. Murphy ultimately approved the agreement with the district (saving the district with materially reduced, negotiated savings).”

8.) Did Mr. Murphy post negative information regarding former employee R2 on the district’s web site? And did Mr. Murphy fail to address R2’s concerns?

Conclusion: “Mr. Murphy caused the posting of a statement on the district’s web site that was injurious to Former Employee R1’s reputation. Mr. Murphy did so without affording a due process investigation, or even interviewing Former Employee R1 of the posting, and she learned of it from colleagues. Former Employee R1’s concerns were resolved when the parties met on Feb. 3, 2011; but her concerns were re-initiated when Mr. Murphy posted a purported “apology” letter on the district’s web site that does not correct the statement objectively negative to Former Employee R1’s reputation.”

A full copy of the Thrun report is available on the Resorter’s web site.

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