COLUMBUS -- The Ohio Department of Education’s public hearing for Mansfield City Schools treasurer Robert Kuehnle began Tuesday in Columbus.
ODE maintains the position that while working for Benjamin-Logan Local School District, Kuehnle had a pattern of conduct unbecoming of a school administrator, said Mary Hollern, Assistant Attorney General for the state of Ohio. The allegations stem from incidents in 2012 and 2013.
Kuehnle, represented by James C. Carpenter of Steptoe and Johnson law offices in Columbus, denies any wrongdoing.
“Evidence will show this is a man (Kuehnle) who worked at a very high level for a long time and then suddenly out of the blue, things have now come up," Carpenter said during his opening statement. "I think the evidence will show as he went through that rough period where he went under that attack, he handled it professionally and the claims against him in this matter are not a violation of the code administrators are expected to behave at.”
Hollern read tweets sent by the then-treasurer of Benjamin-Logan to female students and spoke about in-person comments to students at the middle school and high school during her opening statement.
When reading a tweet to one student, “again with the tall beautiful and blonde stuff,” the ODE representative asked Kuehnle if he thought it was appropriate for an administrator to discuss a student's looks.
“I would agree that it's not appropriate for a treasurer to comment on the looks of a student,” Kuehnle said as the first witness to testify.
Carpenter said during his lengthy opening statement that this tweet in question was sent to a student whose mother taught at Benjamin-Logan and was a family friend.
According to the opening statement, Kuehnle was repeating a mantra the student had heard her mother say when the student complained about small, insignificant things in life.
Lori Lytle, superintendent during Kuehnle's tenure, was asked about her initial reaction to seeing the tweets handed to her by the district's union president.
"He (Kevin Penwell, then-union president) had pointed out some (tweets) had occurred at a very late time of night," she said. "But I did not feel they crossed any lines sexually or inapproriate with students. I did note (communication with a student via social media) was a violation of board policy."
Hollern asked her to define the board policy in 2013 regarding communications online.
"Board policy was pretty clear. Social media was pretty new tech and communications between staff and students or administrators and students was very much discouraged in board policy," the superintendent said. "If there was a need for communication, that communication needed to be OK'd by the building administrator in what ever building it needed to occur, but outside educational purposes, there was to be, at that time, no communications."
Benjamin-Logan teacher's union president Marge Jenkins, who teaches middle school technology and has 33-years of educational experience, was questioned about her working relationship with Kuehnle.
She said they had a "very good relationship" while working on contract negotiations and on a Wellness Committee, an incentive program to help union members have better health care.
In February of 2013, another technology teacher showed her the tweets in question. Not having social media, she said, she went home and asked her son to use his Twitter account so she could print out the approximate 30 pages of tweets.
Jenkins said Kuehnle had issues with staff members and would yell, throw documents and kick chairs at meetings. Eventually, she signed a document requesting the Benjamin-Logan School Board remove him from the wellness program.
Carpenter's cross examination of Jenkins proved to be a difficult 30 minutes, met frequently with responses like "I do not know," "No," or "It was a long time ago."
The final witnesses of the day included a former union president, Lori Stoll, and Alison Sprigs, a middle school and current elementary school teacher in the Benjamin-Logan school District. Both said Jenkins has an aggressive personality. Though neither of them had arguments with their union president, each noted she and Kuehnle would be on opposite sides at the committee meetings.
Both witnesses served for a short time on the Wellness Committee.
"She has a very 'Type A' personality," Stoll said. "She was aggressive in defense of her union members."
Sprigs said, "I've heard her get heated when certain situations came up. She gets upset or angry sometimes. The anger isn't necessarily at an individual."
John Ferrell, an attorney working for Kuehnle, asked Sprigs who she found herself siding with most often on the wellness committee.
She responded, "Robert."
In August the following year, she and Stoll were left off the Wellness Committee and said the union president decided who was on the committee.
The hearing continues Wednesday at 10 a.m. at the Ohio Department of Education in Columbus. Carpenter said he expects to call three witnesses to testify. The hearing is set to end tomorrow before 5 p.m.