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Subpoena served: Bender a no-show at board meeting

STANFORD — “Is there a Chance Bender in the building?” was a question raised by Lincoln County School Board Chairman Tom Blankenship at the end of the board’s February meeting Thursday.

With no response, and the seats reserved at the front table for Bender and his attorney vacant, Blankenship said that the board would move on.

Jonathan Baker, attorney for the board, said that Bender had been served his subpoena to appear before the board.

The board had voted 4 to 1 in November 2019 to issue a subpoena to Bender, referred to as “a citizen” at the meeting, after accusations were made on facebook of Superintendent Michael Rowe receiving lobbying gifts.

Before the vote, board vice chair Win Smith had explained the issue.

“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,” said Smith. “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 … we, as a board, need to address that.”

“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.”

Smith explained that the school board has subpoena power, saying 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 board voted to go ahead with issuing the subpoena.

Baker asked the board what it wished to do after Bender failed to appear at the meeting, saying, “We, obviously, can enforce his appearance if the board wishes to do so. We can request law enforcement assistance.”

Board member Alan Hubble asked Baker if Bender had responded to the subpoena, and Baker said he had received no response.

With that, the board agreed to follow through with enforcing the subpoena.

Baker and the board did not get a response from Bender but he did send an email to The Interior Journal following the meeting explaining his absence.

“I was advised by counsel to reschedule. I fully intended, and do attend, to appear,” Bender wrote. “My attorney, Hon. Sen. Robin Webb, was unable to attend last week as the Senate was in session. She attempted to contact Mr. Baker but he did not return her calls and that is why he suggested I failed to appear.”