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Removal hearings begin for Wayne CSD Board members accused of misconduct

March 12, 2019 06:41 AM

ONTARIO, N.Y. (WHEC) -- The two sides spelled out their cases in Ontario Monday in the case of a Wayne Central School District Board member accused of "official misconduct."

Of two board members, the school board is considering ejecting, Steven Gallaher was the first to go to a hearing before a special independent hearing officer.

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In February, the school board voted to consider removing Gallaher, as well as fellow member Dennis Landry, over an incident at the shut-down Freewill Elementary school in September.

"Still sounds like Steve and Dennis were doing the right thing," declared supporter Keith Manne of Walworth who came out for the proceeding at Wayne Central High School.

The hearing was conducted much like a trial with retired former Rochester school system attorney Louis Kash acting as hearing officer, effectively a judge, while a lawyer for the school board acted as prosecutor, submitting evidence and questioning witnesses.

The rough circumstances of the incident are largely not in dispute.

On Sept. 6, several school officials testified. Gallaher and Landry got into Freewill Elementry which was supposed to be locked up at the time; a burglar alarm went off; state police and Wayne County Sheriff's deputies responded and later left without detaining anyone.  

The incident brought a hurried response from the district involving Superintendent Mathis Calvin, Assistant Superintendent Joe Siracuse and Facilities Director Robert Fussa, all of whom testified Monday. 

Landry told News10NBC he was at the school when a friend's teenage son discovered an unlocked door. That prompted him to raise the issue.

No criminal charges are involved but for purposes of removing them from the board, Gallaher and Landry are charged with trespassing on school district property, "inappropriate and unauthorized access, inappropriate and unauthorized inquiry" and "inappropriate involvement in a law enforcement property check." 

Gallaher is also under fire for what an attorney for the school district called inappropriate posts on Facebook.

In his own questioning, the hearing officer Kash said he had concerns about the relevancy of those posts which dated back several years and were not posted while Gallaher was on the school board.

In opening statements, the school board's attorney declared and Superintendent Calvin later repeated in his testimony, that Gallaher was "obsessed" with Freewill Elementary School which the district closed down two years ago.

Gallaher, who had not yet been elected to the board, was an outspoken critic of the decision.

"I think obsession is the wrong word," countered Abbie Schmitt of Walworth who came to the hearing wearing a T-Shirt proclaiming her support for Gallaher and Landry.  "Freewill was a very close community. We all loved the school very much. We fought very hard. Steve was not the only representative to speak up."

In his testimony, which took up most of the afternoon, Calvin spelled out district policies meant to keep school board members from "going rogue," as he put it, and stepping outside their duties on the board.

He also said Gallaher and Landry gave multiple stories about the events surrounding the episode at Freewill Elementary, particularly deviating from an agitated phone call Calvin said he received from Landry on the evening of the incident.

"If there is any obsession, my opinion, it would be a personal witch hunt against Steve," said Manne. "We want him to keep the board honest. We want him to keep the board transparent. And that's what he's been doing.  And now because they're not cooperating, it sounds like the board is going after him."

The hearing ran so long into Monday evening, it was forced to move from the high school's auditorium into the cafeteria to avoid a conflict with a concert.

It wrapped up after Calvin completed his testimony with no defense presented by Gallaher.  

He and his attorney were scheduled to begin presenting their case on May 7, the date scheduled for a hearing for Landry. 

Kash indicated he would make no findings and give no recommendation on how either board member should be treated until he had heard both their cases.

Credits

Charles Molineaux

Copyright 2019 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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