Saturday, June 12, 2010

Secret Audio Recordings: Former School Board Member Talks about John Freshwater Controversy

The following testimony took place 12:25 p.m.—2:05 p.m. on 6/07/10.

Steve Hughes, a former Mount Vernon Board of Education member, spoke with John Freshwater in January in two conversations that were secretly recorded by Freshwater.

A copy of the recordings, and a transcript made by Freshwater, were submitted as exhibits in the hearing that is taking place before a referee. Hughes was brought to the hearing to testify about the content of his conversations with Freshwater and his knowledge of the matters related to the charges brought against Freshwater by the school board in 2008.

(Hughes in 2009 at a meeting of the school board.)

Secret audio recordings

Prior to the recorded conversations, Hughes and Freshwater had occasion to speak briefly when Hughes purchased apples and then later a Christmas tree from Freshwater.

Five days before the January 19 recordings, Hughes spoke with Freshwater’s attorney R. Kelly Hamilton. Hughes said he happened to meet Hamilton near the Knox County Service Center where Freshwater’s hearing was taking place that day.

The first recorded conversation took place outside Hughes’s law office. The second conversation took place that evening over the phone.

The school board’s attorney, David Millstone, frequently objected to questions that Hamilton asked Hughes. The concern that Millstone raised was that some of the content in the recorded conversations dealt with matters covered by attorney client privilege, confidentiality agreements and executive session rules.

One of the questions Millstone objected to concerned why Hughes said that he had “wanted to get rid of Millstone from the very beginning” and that he was “not happy with the way [Millstone] is handling” the Freshwater matter.

The referee upheld the objection.


Hughes stated in one of the recorded conversations that if the school board wanted to fire Freshwater based on insubordination that “it still has to be refusing to obey a legitimate and reasonable order.”

Hughes said in the hearing that his statement was based on his limited experience with employment law.

Religious display

It could be a lawful order for an administrator to tell a teacher to remove his or her Bible, Hughes said. The individual circumstances, Hughes said, would determine whether the Bible was part of a religious display and needed to be removed.

Hughes said that a singular Bible on a desk does not make it a religious display.

Hamilton asked Hughes if having the “Good Thinking and Ten Commandments” book covers placed over an interior window, for security reasons, was lawful.

Hughes said in that context, alone, the book covers have a legitimate purpose.

School board’s 2008 resolution

Hughes said that when he voted for the 2008 resolution “Intent to consider the termination of the teaching contract(s) of John Freshwater” he didn’t know Freshwater’s side of the story.

Between Hughes’ statements in one of the recorded conversations and his testimony in the hearing, the reason Hughes voted for the resolution was apparently so that Freshwater’s side of the story could be brought out during the hearing.

Hughes said that he did understand that if there had been no resolution that there would have been no need of a hearing.

The school board did base their resolution on the investigative report done by H.R. On Call, Hughes said.

In one of the recorded conversations, Hughes gave his understanding of how the insurance industry works: “the whole idea is to […] starve them out, to postpone the case, make it last as long as possible.”

Hughes testified that he used to be employed by an insurance company.

Hughes said that he didn’t know why Freshwater was suspended without pay. He did not recall any others teachers within the school district being suspended without pay.

Anonymous tipster

Hughes said that he has no knowledge of who the anonymous tipster is. He also said that he never communicated with Freshwater by anonymous letter.

Hughes said that he is not aware of any stuff from Freshwater’s classroom being stored anywhere in the school district.

Legal fees

In one of the recorded conversations, Hughes said that the school board does not know how much Millstone is charging them per hour. “All we know is we get a statement that says the total number of hours and what the bill is, but doesn’t say who did what,” Hughes said.

Millstone did not cross examine Hughes.

1 comment:

FSM_Ed said...

Accountability? Yes, some day John Freshwater will be held accountable.

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