April 25, 2014

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Wellington district spends $28,740 on investigation

WELLINGTON — Wellington Schools paid $28,470 to an attorney who investigated complaints against the district that were found to be unsubstantiated.

The money was paid to the law firm Squire Sanders, which was hired to investigate numerous complaints made by the district’s former curriculum director, Christopher Kamenski.

Kamenski, who resigned June 30, alleged that he was subject to threats and harassment by Superintendent John Nolan and several school board members and administrators. He alleged that the district did little to investigate his complaints internally, and he requested an outside investigation.

A report completed by an attorney from Squire Sanders concluded that Kamenski’s allegations were not credible, and numerous co-workers reported difficulty working with him.

The school began its investigation after receiving a written complaint from Kamenski on Jan. 15, alleging harassment and retaliation by Nolan.

Kamenski wrote that the incidents began on July 19, 2012, when he gave Nolan documentation that he was “wronged professionally and personally on many levels” by former Superintendent Francis Scruci. Kamenski said Nolan did not fully investigate the issue, and he did not investigate complaints against Kamenski by a teacher, giving Kamenski a written warning without supplying Kamenski with the results of the investigation.

Kamenski has filed four formal complaints internally and several email complaints to Nolan, school board President Jacquie Dovin and with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, according to the district’s treasurer, Suzanne Wilson.

Wilson said the $28,470 fee paid to Squire Sanders included assistance from the law firm with all of the complaints made in the past six months.

Attorney Elaine Brown wrote in her report, dated Feb. 13, that she completed the investigation at the request of the school board even though the board never voted on hiring her.

Nolan said he asked for the investigation, but the board knew about it. That was OK, Wilson said, because there is no requirement by law or board policy for the board to take action regarding the use of legal counsel.

As part of the investigation, Brown interviewed Kamenski, Nolan, Wilson, Chris Wert, the principal of Wellington High School; Tim Simpson, principal of McCormick Middle School; Craig Housum, principal of Westwood Elementary; and James Tatum, Wellington’s coordinator of special education. She examined six complaints made by Kamenski and found that the complaints did not rise to the level of harassment, nor did Nolan’s actions violate district policies, according to the investigation report.

Brown wrote that Nolan was found to be a “credible witness,” who was very candid during the investigation, while Kamenski lacked credibility.

“With respect to Mr. Kamenski, some portions of his interview suggested a lack of credibility. … Further, I have no question that Mr. Kamenski’s emails and other writings present misleading accounts,” she wrote.

Brown said Kamenski wrote in an email Jan. 31 that Nolan made disparaging comments about his religion during an administrative meeting Jan. 7, but during several prior interviews, he made no mention of the comments.

Kamenski, who secretly recorded the Jan. 7 meeting, accused Nolan of telling him to “call Father Raymond,” Kamenski’s priest, after Kamenski told him he was offended at Nolan’s use of profanities. Kamenski provided the tape recording to The Chronicle-Telegram, in which Nolan can be heard making the comments after a discussion of Kamenski’s alleged poor job performance.

In the tape, Nolan calmly tells Kamenski that he is frustrated by Kamenski sending email complaints to board members instead of addressing his concerns with administrators.

“If you want to play hardball, strap it on,” Nolan told Kamenski. “ ’cause I may be old, I may be a damn old farm boy, but my God, I’ve been down the road. And I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing, but I’m done.”

Brown reported that administrators who attended the meeting did not feel Nolan’s comments were threatening or disparaging, although some felt uncomfortable being there. An administrator told Brown that he thought the meeting should have been a private one.

Brown also addressed the comments on religion, noting that both Nolan and Kamenski are practicing Catholics.

Brown wrote that Kamenski’s allegations, which began prior to Nolan’s arrival at the district, may have been made to achieve job security. According to the report, Kamenski reported that two former employees had been involved in unethical activity, and that information was reported to Nolan after the employees left the district.

An administrator told Brown that Kamenski shared his allegations with him as well, and he thought Kamenski was trying to use him for his own personal gain. He said Kamenski told him not to worry about his contract being renewed, and that “things will come out to keep you safe.”

Kamenski allegedly told another employee last summer that “There’s going to be something coming down this year. It’s going to be fun to watch.”

Another administrator told Brown that Kamenski had “become obsessed” with the idea that Nolan would treat him differently because of an alleged falling-out between him and the former superintendent, Scruci.

Kamenski denied that he made the statements, and he said the administrators may have lied because they were upset that he reported teachers who weren’t turning in lesson plans and principals who weren’t completing evaluations.

Brown said, regardless of whether Kamenski’s statements were credible, there was no indication that Nolan had violated the board’s policies.

“The totality of the circumstances, along with the nature and context of the alleged conduct, reflect a much different picture than one of harassment and retaliation,” she wrote. “They demonstrate that Mr. Kamenski is having trouble adjusting to the accountability and collaborative nature of the new (Mr. Nolan’s) administration.”

Brown also investigated another complaint made by Kamenski on March 29 in which Kamenski doesn’t specify against whom the complaint is directed. The request for an investigation was made by Dovin, according to documentation.

According to the letter from Brown to Dovin dated April 2, Brown writes that Kamenski was concerned at Nolan’s request for his personnel file and reason for separation from his previous employer. Brown wrote that these concerns do not represent harassment.

Kamenski criticized both investigations, saying that the district hired a law firm with vested interests in the school district. He said Squire Sanders was hired for a bond issue by the school, and that the firm could make a lot of money through the district.

Nolan, who acknowledged the district has used the firm before, said he has never worked with the attorney who investigated the complaints. He said previously that the investigation was thorough and fair, and he said he was interviewed for two hours by Brown.

Kamenski said he is not looking for money, but he wants Nolan and the school district to be held accountable for what he calls unprofessional conduct. He added that he wants Nolan to remove several items in his personnel file as well.

“It’s the point of the matter about ethics and values and morals … As a professional, I feel like I’m obligated to right a wrong,” he said.

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com.

  • marie faren

    Gee ..will they ask for a levy to pay for what they spent ??

  • schoolfraud

    The district just recently passed a levy to deal with its financial crisis and without a board vote — pays out almost $29,000 in legal fees to “investigate” an employee’s harassment claims, and then claims that is legal? Not only is it suspicious that the District hired a law firm that they had used to help with the levy, they now claim that the law firm’s findings were satisfactory — for the school district, not the employee. Of course the law firm would find in favor of the school — they were being paid by the school. One of the administrators that claimed that Kamenski was lying, was recently granted a 3-year contract despite having a previous poor evaluation — which sounds like he might have been “rewarded” for lying on behalf of the superintendent. This entire affair reeks of illegality and bullying — by the district and its representatives, and should be thoroughly investigated for breach of ethics and taxpayer funding abuse.

  • April

    The school board attorney for 2012 was Rick Manoloff. Any guesses as to the firm he worked for? That’s right, Squires and Sanders (and Dempsey at that time). The attorney the school hired for this investigation also works for this firm. Apparently the $28,000 report was biased.