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Farmington school district decides to investigate one of its own board members

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news Hastings, 55033
Hastings Minnesota 745 Spiral Boulevard 55033

The Farmington School Board will hire an outside investigator to look into whether one of its own members has been breaking the board's code of conduct.

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The board voted 3-1 with two abstensions Monday to take a closer look at whether Tim Burke's frequent requests for information, interaction with district employees and comments about district actions qualify as a violation of that code.

The decision comes a month after an Oct. 11 meeting at which board members confronted Burke about what some have called bullying behavior and burdensome requests for information. But tensions between Burke and the rest of the board go back to before he was ever elected, to his time as a vocal critic of the district's plan for a sports and wellness center at the new Farmington High School. That proposal was eventually rejected by voters.

Burke has made comments both before and since his 2008 election that he believes superintendent Brad Meeks should go.

The proposed investigation brought several of Burke's supporters to Monday's meeting. Three spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. Others spoke out or cheered as the board discussed the proposal.

Farmington resident Rick Leverson said he appreciated Burke's efforts to get information that residents sometimes had a hard time getting themselves.

"Tim was simply doing the job he was elected to do," Leverson said.

The board members who supported the investigation did not spend time reiterating they raised last month about Burke's behavior, but Julie Singewald, who made the motion, said it is important to get an outside opinion about whether that behavior crossed a line.

Board member Julie McKnight agreed.

"I think it's important that what we're getting at here is an objective third party, not a subjective opinion," McKnight said. "That's why I'm in favor of this."

Singewald said the investigation is about making sure all board members behave as they are expected to.

"As a board we must model the behavior we must model the behavior that we expect of this district," she said. "The intent of this is to do good for this district and not another black eye."

Burke objected to the proposed investigation in part because of a lack of specificity. The motion Singewald made does not define the scope of the investigation -- though board chair Veronica Walter suggested it would cover both Burke's behavior and that of other district employees -- nor how much the board was prepared to spend.

Craig Davis, who was appointed to the board two months ago, abstained from the vote but raised questions about just what the investigation would accomplish. He pointed out that the board's code of conduct does not include any penalties for members who are found to be in violation.

"I don't think it's going to accomplish anything other than to take time and energy and some of the district's precious dollars to come up with something you already know, which is that I might not be the most pleasant person to ever serve on this board," Burke said.

Board chair Veronica Walter, who also abstained from Monday's vote, described the investigation is a last resort method of addressing behavior that has been criticized before with little change.

"This would be an opportunity to put everything out onto the table," she said. "Start fresh. Separate emotion from facts."

Board members agreed Monday to have the district's attorney identify a third-party investigator to look into Burke's behavior. No timetable was set for making that selection.

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