Lincoln Co. School Board reacts to accusations of lobbying by superintendent

Published 12:23 pm Thursday, November 21, 2019

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Accuser to be subpoenaed to testify before board

STANFORD — In a vote of 4 to 1, the Lincoln County School Board voted to issue a subpoena to a citizen who has accused Superintendent Michael Rowe of receiving lobbying gifts.

The accusation of Rowe receiving known lobbying gifts from prominent contractors was brought up at the regular November meeting Thursday night at the end of the agenda’s action items. The accusation was one of two issues raised concerning Rowe.

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Board chairman Tom Blankenship turned the floor over to Board member Win Smith to expand on the issues.

“It’s interesting that we had a public comment about people involved in public service receiving criticism, snide remarks, etc.,” Smith said, referring to Gloria Sneed’s statement earlier in the meeting that, while the school system may not be perfect, that she appreciated the board’s efforts and did not appreciate the constant unkind remarks. “It kind of comes with it. I do appreciate what you said irregardless.”

“Social media allows anybody a voice to criticize and everybody’s, obviously, welcome to do that. You can write letters to editors. You can say things in person. That is totally up to you. However, when accusations of criminal activity or ethics violations come up, it is up to us to deal with them, especially when it comes to the superintendent. The only employee that we have purview over as a board is our superintendent.”

Before Smith explained further, he first went over the power of the school board to issue a subpoena.

“I want to mention the fact, and I’m not sure if this district has ever done it before, but school districts actually have subpoena power, or school boards have subpoena power,” he said. “There are two laws that deal with that. The board, in any investigation or proceeding before it concerning a matter that may be a proper subject of inquiry by it, may summon witnesses by subpoena, enforce their attendance and require that they testify under properly administered oath.”

The other part of the law states who may actually give the subpoena out. According to Smith, the board secretary may issue and the superintendent may direct them to be served. He added that subpoenas can be served to any person 18 years or older. When a student under the age of 18 is to be served a subpoena, a parent of the student must be notified prior to serving that student with the subpoena.

“As I mentioned, the only person we have anything to do with as far as personnel is our superintendent. Therefore, these two things have to do with accusations towards our superintendent,” Smith said. “Normally, personnel issues are handled in a closed session. We are not doing that tonight because Mr. Rowe did not want it to be a closed session, so that’s what’s going on.”

The first accusation against Rowe involved multiple DUI’s.

“The first one I’d like to talk about involves another board member who was approached by two individuals in the community. They made reference to the fact that Mr. Rowe had received multiple DUI’s over the course of his life and existence,” said Smith. “Due to the fact that we are all aware that he received a background check when he was first hired, which showed nothing, obviously, those DUI’s would have had to have occurred while he was employed here.”

“After Mr. (Ricky) Lane informed me of that, I went to Mr. Rowe and questioned him about it. Mr. Rowe told me that he had not received DUI’s. I said, ‘Well, we probably need to go a step further to make sure we back that up with facts.’ So Mr. Rowe took it upon himself to go through the district and have a background check done. The background checks came back. We did one, both with the Commonwealth of Kentucky and with the FBI. Those background checks showed absolutely no criminal activities at all. There was no record of anything ever. So we kind of wanted to shut that one down a little bit. I feel like that’s what we did.”

With documentation in hand to show that the DUI accusations are false, Smith asked the board members whether they wanted to carry it further and ask people to come in.

There was no response.

“The other is a little bit different in that it is related to a post on facebook that was originally said to have been printed in the newspaper as a letter to the editor,” Smith said. “I don’t know whether the letter was ever sent into the newspaper. I don’t know, if it was sent in, that the newspaper elected not to run it. I don’t know and it really doesn’t matter at this point. In the post, there was accusations toward Mr. Rowe receiving known lobbying gifts and he has received them from prominent contractors. And also mentioned that powers were lobbied for new furniture in the cafeteria at Lincoln (high school)… Those were the two main things.”

“There’s a number of things within this communication, which are just criticisms, and that’s fine. But when you’re accusing someone of criminal activity. Once again, we, as a board, need to address that.”

That is when Smith mentioned issuing a subpoena.

“Here’s where we’re at on this. We have the option of subpoenaing this individual to come in and testify to us, under oath, as to where he got the knowledge of this and report on it,” he said. “If we elect to do a subpoena – and Mr. Baker you may have to help me with legal terms – I would like to have it set up where it also requires him to bring paper proof showing all that.”

Jonathan Baker, the board attorney, said that paperwork can be required.

“What we would do is prepare a subpoena for him to bring documentation he has to rely upon his testimony and what facts he thinks he has,” he told the board.

Smith told the board it had the option to ignore the accusation, saying, “We can just say we don’t necessarily believe the source and go on from that.”

Smith felt action was necessary, however.

“On a personal note, I feel like there’s enough stuff that flies around there all the time that, if you’re going to make accusations that are criminal or ethical in nature, you need to be able to prove to us,” he said. “You can’t just say it and pull it out of the air because it takes away time and energy from the board to run an efficient district and to do our thing because we’re dealing with stuff like this. It also weakens the trust that the public has in our district and we need to eliminate that.”

“So, I’ll leave it up to you guys for discussion or whatever you want to do.”

Ricky Lane responded by saying, “I want to make a motion to subpoena this fellow to bring evidence before the board.”

After a second, Blankenship called for a vote. Smith, Lane, Blankenship and Alan Hubble all voted yes. Bruce Smith, who had just been sworn in at the beginning of the meeting, had the only no vote.