Hamilton school leaders refuse to release details in superintendent investigation

Hamilton school leaders refuse to release details in superintendent investigation

HAMILTON, OH (FOX19) - Hamilton school officials refuse to release results from an independent investigation into allegations against their superintendent, who resigned last week.

Tony Orr was put on paid leave more than two months ago for still-unspecified allegations he may have violated board policies, according to documents in his personnel file.

The school board has paid more than $15,000 for an investigator to conduct an independent investigation, according to the district's treasurer, Robert Hancock.

Board President Steve Isgro said the district's attorney, Bill Deters with the downtown Cincinnati law firm Ennis Britton Co. conducted the probe.

The board met three times behind closed doors to discuss "personnel matters" related to Orr, according to district records.

The first two sessions, on Feb. 1 and March 26, each lasted about two hours.

The final one was Thursday, when the board conferred for nearly two hours again and then emerged to approve in a public vote to accept Orr's resignation.

"The parties have agreed that it is in the best interests of the Board and Mr. Orr that Mr. Orr resign his employment effective at the close of business on July 31, 2018," his separation agreement states.

Orr, who could not be reached for comment, will remain on paid administrative leave with the district through July 31 - he earns $156,818 annually - and receive within 30 days $130,000 and the amount of his accrued and unused vacation balance through July 31, according to the document.

The agreement releases Orr "from any and all liability, claims, demands or controversies of any kind which the Board may have or claim to have arising out of or relating to Orr's employment with the board," the separation agreement states.

It also "is understood that the execution of this Agreement does not constitute an admission of any kind whatsoever by any party," the document reads.

Orr's resignation ended the investigation that began in early February, Isgro has said.

But the school board president continues to discuss allegations against the superintendent, other than to stress "it did not involve students in any way" and was not criminal.

Authorities with law enforcement agencies such as the Hamilton Police Department and Butler County Sheriff's Office repeatedly have said they did not investigate.

"We understand that people may still have questions," Isgro said in the statement Thursday when the district announced Orr's resignation. "But, ultimately, this is a personnel matter, and we will honor the privacy of all involved."

On Tuesday, Isgro declined to release records FOX19 NOW has requested of the district-funded investigation.

He said the the school district's attorney has it, and it is not a public record.

"It's his work product," Isgro said.

Isgro referred us to the district's attorney, Deters, who did not respond Tuesday to a phone call and emails.

District officials maintain there also are apparently no related or supplementing documents to the investigation ,such as emails, for the public to review.

"We have no records that would be responsive to this request," Hancock wrote us twice in an email last week.

We are still seeking pay records showing an accounting for the $15,750 the district forked over for the investigation.

It's not clear when we will receive them.

After we continued to press Monday for more records related to the superintendent investigation, Hancock conceded there were at least some basic meeting minutes to release.

"The minutes will simply read that they went into executive session for personnel reasons and that they returned to regular session and adjourned," Hancock wrote in an email Monday.

"There are no details of what was discussed. I can have my secretary provide you those minutes if that is what you are seeking."

We asked for those meeting minutes again Tuesday and received them.

They do not specifically state who attended each executive session.

They only state which board member attended each public meeting before they went behind closed doors.

"There is no requirement to list attendees that are not district personnel, that would defeat the confidential nature of executive session," Hancock wrote in an email to FOX19 NOW when we asked for an explanation of the minutes and a list of those who attended.

"You will also notice that we do not list the names of those in attendance at the regular meeting, other than the Board and certain central office administrators."

"This board," said Dennis Hetzel, president and executive director of the Ohio News Media Association, "apparently doesn't believe in the strong presumption of openness that attaches to Ohio's open meetings and open records laws.

"The refusal to release any documents, even in redacted form, is particularly questionable and possibly illegal. The parents and taxpayers are entitled to know more information about what led to the departure of the district's top executive."

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