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Continued: Farmington schools turbulence was just what Burke had in mind

  • Article by: HERÓN MÁRQUEZ ESTRADA , Star Tribune
  • Last update: November 30, 2012 - 7:07 PM

During his four-year tenure on the Farmington school board, Tim Burke was a lightning rod for controversy. He was censured by his colleagues, threatened with prosecution for allegedly disclosing private data, and engaged in a years-long public feud with former Superintendent Brad Meeks, who left last year.

As the district looked for a replacement, Burke took the unusual step of notifying the search firm looking for a new superintendent that he would not be seeking reelection so that his presence would not be considered an impediment to hiring a new leader.

A month from now, Burke -- who came to prominence by winning a battle against a proposed $24 million sports complex at the new high school before he was elected -- will step down. Last week he answered a few questions about his tenure:

QWhy are you leaving the school board -- why now?

AI told the recruiter ... that I thought it might it easier to attract some candidates if they knew I was not going to be on the board the next term, because based on the media coverage ... some superintendents might think that I'd be a pain ... and wouldn't want to come here. I didn't want to be the reason we couldn't hire the best possible candidate.

QSo you're just fulfilling that pledge?

AThat's part of it. The other part is that I think a lot of the things that I had concerns about ... have been dealt with.

QWhat is it that you think you've done, and are you satisfied?

AI think other people can figure out what was or wasn't accomplished. But going back to before I ran, when we had the $24 million referendum for what was being called the Sportsplex, that opened my eyes ... and it gave me great concern about how people were being dealt with and how information was or wasn't available, not only to the public but even to school board members, and how personnel in the school district were being dealt with to the point that some made it clear to me they didn't feel comfortable speaking up in any way that might be construed to be at odds with the administration.

QCan you give me some examples?

AYeah, a number of people, a half dozen, 10 people, independently came to me with stories about how people had been dealt with, had their careers put in jeopardy and that they simply wanted me to know. But they weren't comfortable being on the record about it because they literally feared for their job.

QSo you get on the school board. Is that what led to the animus between you and Mr. Meeks and you and the district administration?

AI didn't have any problem talking about these issues in public and I was perfectly willing to call people out on ... the way they conducted business on behalf of the district.

QThat did lead to a number of problems for you and the district and the school board. You were censured, threatened with criminal charges. Any regrets on how you handled things?

AUltimately what came of it is that the superintendent resigned and ... that made it worthwhile.

QWhy did you want Mr. Meeks to leave? What was your issue with him? Transparency, I believe, was one of the things you brought up?

AWhat I learned during the referendum on the Sportsplex was how hard it was to get information that the district thought might be used in an argument against the Sportsplex. And so being an old reporter, when people withhold information, that just makes me want it that much more. ... They didn't trust the public is what it amounted to.

QUltimately, why did Mr. Meeks leave, in your opinion?

AThe agreement that we signed with him to have him resign handicaps me in answering your question.

QOne of the issues [against you] was that you were submitting so many data requests that it was bogging down the whole works ...

A... That's nonsense.

Q... And there was some question regarding your behavior causing a hostile work environment because of the interaction you had with district employees?

AYou know, when we got into 2009-2010, the lines had pretty much been drawn by then. The administration had sought counsel from various law firms looking for grounds to seek removal of a school board member. All that came before the board. So there was no question they were looking for ways to get me off the board.

QHow worried were you that you would actually be removed? How worried that you would be charged?

AThere's two things about lawsuits and charges. One is how easy it can be to bring them, and two, how hard it can be to prove them. ... I was fairly confident there were no grounds to remove me. To remove me would have required ... public hearings and discussions. That would have provided an opportunity to bring people under oath to talk about some of the things that people hadn't been willing to talk about publicly ... and some of the things that were in the investigator's report about me that were redacted.

QIn some ways you were vindicated, right? The county attorney refused to press charges, the city attorney refused to press charges. Nobody apart from your colleagues on the school board leveled anything officially against you.

AThey voted to censure me and you know, given the situation and who was voting, you can either take that as a censure or a badge of honor.

QDo you think the school district is better off now when you are exiting in 2013 than when you [arrived] in 2009?

AI do.

Heron Marquez • 952-746-3281

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