A law firm investigating allegations against a Prior Lake-Savage school board member has found no wrongdoing, vindicating the board member and reinforcing the belief of some residents — and another board member — that the investigation was politically motivated and a waste of taxpayer money.
Board member Melissa Enger was accused of hosting a prom party where marijuana and alcohol were present at her home nearly two months ago. The name of the accuser hasn’t been publicly revealed. At the school board’s request, an attorney from law firm Ratwik, Roszak and Maloney looked into the claims and found them unsubstantiated, according to a statement read by board Chairwoman Stacey Ruelle at a packed school board meeting Monday night.
The board “did our due diligence,” Ruelle said. “I’m ready to move forward.”
From the start, Enger said the board should have handled the matter internally.
“I’ve done nothing wrong and I have not broken the law,” Enger said. “We’re not talking about anything that really matters to education, students and staff here and we’re wasting all this money.”
Attorney Margaret Skelton estimates the cost of legal services at $7,500.
Board member Todd Sorensen said Ruelle tried to discuss the allegations privately with Enger but she wouldn’t cooperate.
“I think anybody who has a party like that and something happens … we would expect a full investigation, and the board’s not an investigative unit,” Sorensen said.
The Prior Lake-Savage community was already deeply divided by the failure of a $150 million school referendum in May.
Enger, known as a fiscal conservative, was the lone board member who voted against sending the referendum to the district’s voters, leading some to believe the investigation was a witch hunt designed to damage Enger’s credibility and oust her from the board.
“To me it’s a political process because … there’s been a couple of people on the board that are not playing ball with the other ones,” said Dave Thompson, a resident and parent. “[The board’s majority] are really just pushing an agenda and anybody who gets in their way, it seems like they’re going to plow them over.”
Enger and board member Chad Rittenour are the misfits, Thompson said, because their votes often oppose the other five.
Before Monday night’s meeting, Rittenour said he believed the prom party accusation was either a misunderstanding or a calculated political move made by an accuser with plans to run for local office.
The board could have saved money by researching claims against Enger on its own, Rittenour said.
“We could have done our own quick investigation and come to a logical conclusion, but we didn’t,” Rittenour said. “And that’s what reeks of political shenanigans to me.”
Some residents, like Bill DeMars, thought hiring a firm made sense.
“If there is something going on … somebody needs to be neutral or impartial,” DeMars said.
Monday night ended with Enger reading her own statement, which included specifics about the prom get-together. She had enlisted several chaperones, made students sign in and checked bags. When a chaperone found alcohol in a student’s bag, that teen had to call her parents and the party ended, she said.
After Enger finished, the crowd of about 50 people gave her a standing ovation.
“People know me in this community,” Enger said. “I’m as honest as the driven snow.”
Ruelle said she was “disappointed” that Enger didn’t submit names of party attendees to the high school activities director to determine whether any athletes violated Minnesota State High School League rules.
Rittenour said he hopes board members can put the investigation behind them.
“The most important thing is that we do move forward and fix our failed referendum,” Rittenour said. “I see this as being a big distraction.”