Investigation finds no evidence of wrongdoing by embattled Lakota superintendent

Two investigations into Superintendent Matt Miller are now closed. Whether the drama dies with them remains to be seen.
The Lakota School Board.
The Lakota School Board.(WXIX)
Published: Nov. 2, 2022 at 5:07 PM EDT|Updated: Nov. 3, 2022 at 12:01 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

LIBERTY TOWNSHIP, Ohio - A third-party investigation launched by the Lakota Local Schools Board of Education into Superintendent Matt Miller has found no evidence he violated the law, district policy or his contract.

Miller will undergo a “fitness for duty evaluation” sometime soon, according to Board President Lynda O’Connor.

O’Connor announced the investigation’s results at a special meeting Wednesday night amid controversy surrounding Miller and complaints about him.

A Butler County Sheriff’s Office investigation previously found there was no probable cause that Miller committed a crime.

Because Miller has not been criminally charged, FOX19 NOW is not repeating the allegations. But they have led to public opprobrium in which the district remains mired months after they surfaced.

Resident Vanessa Wells, who lost a school board race last year, first filed complaints about Miller with the district and the sheriff’s office in August.

The sheriff’s complaint contains second-hand claims against Miller that Wells claims to have heard from his ex-wife.

Miller has publicly said the allegations against him are false and that he is the target of character assassination.

Most of the board continues to support Miller, who was selected as Lakota’s top administrator in 2017 after a national search. He is paid $192,000 annually to run the district of more than 17,300 students and also has a car allowance.

But board member Darbi Boddy, who is no stranger to controversy, has repeatedly called for Miller to be put on leave and for the district to terminate him, citing matters related to his personal life that detectives confirmed during their investigation.

Miller said at a special board meeting on Sept. 28 that he fully cooperated with the sheriff’s office investigation. Sheriff’s records show that he talked to investigators at length without his lawyer present, as did his ex-wife.

“I will continue to devote my career, my life, to our kids and to our students, staff, administrators and our community and I won’t let bullies and rumors and false accusations deter me from that work,” Miller said.

The sheriff’s office closed its investigation in September, determining there was no probable cause that Miller committed a crime. No charges were filed.

Board President Lynda O’Conner announced at the board’s Sept. 12 meeting the district would have Miller independently investigated by a New York-based law firm. The firm is charging the district $280 to $360 per hour, school records show.

Miller has said he’s cooperating with the district-funded investigation as well.

Multiple lawsuits followed.

Resident Diane Hughes, through her attorney Curt Hartman, filed a complaint with the Ohio Supreme Court in September accusing the school board of violating Ohio’s public records law by withholding the original complaint against Miller.

Hughes also sued the board in U.S. District Court after the board voted at its Sept. 12 meeting to stop public comment. She claimed the board unconstitutionally restricted free speech by preventing the public from speaking critically of the board in the context of Miller.

The board justified its decision relying on a section of its bylaws: “To protect employee’s rights, the Board does not hear complaints about specific employees in public session.”

Hughes filed for a temporary restraining order to reinstate public comment prior to the board’s Oct. 10 meeting but later suspended that motion as she and the school board appeared to reach an agreement.

But during that meeting, Frost Brown Todd attorney Alex Ewing advised the board to shut down public comment. The board followed suit by a 4-1 vote, restricting public comment entirely. Ewing was the only permitted speaker.

Boddy the lone “no” vote. “Muzzling our community is a bad idea,” she said. “It will not go well for you.”

Hughes and the school board appeared reached another agreement later that week. U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black issued a notation order representing that agreement in which the board agreed not to enforce the section of its bylaws restricting public comment about individual employees. It also agreed to provide one 30-minute public comment period at the next meeting Nov. 7.

Hughes specifically “will be provided [three] minutes of uninterrupted time to speak.”

The school board, however, reserves the right to remove public comment at any subsequent meetings “or otherwise revise its public participation policy.

The agreement, according to Black’s order, should bring the case to a resolution. Whether it is actually resolved appears to hinge on the board following through with its promise to let Hughes and other members of the public speak at board meetings going forward.

See a spelling or grammar error in our story? Please include the title when you click here to report it.