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Recall effort launched in Plainville USD 270

8/2/2012

By TIM UNRUH

Special to The Hays Daily News

PLAINVILLE -- What happened at Plainville Junior/Senior High School on April 20 is the crux of an effort to recall longtime school board member Darlene Jones.

Voters in Plainville USD 270 will decide Tuesday whether Jones' alleged actions in then-principal Troy Keiswetter's office are cause for her to no longer serve on the school board after 33 years.

The recall petition alleges Jones "committed misconduct in office" and accuses her of "verbally assaulting and committing battery upon" Keiswetter at approximately 12:15 p.m. that day.

Members of the recall committee contend Jones overstepped her bounds and acted like a bully when such actions are forbidden in a school setting.

"The message needs to be sent that this is an inappropriate way to act," said Todd Gilliland, Plainville, a recall committee member.

"We have kids there. That's the scary part," said Carol Van Dyke, Plainville, who is also on the committee.

Students acted out by wearing T-shirts referencing bullying and asking for the whereabouts of Keiswetter.

"What if one of our kids would've been right there in the office?" Van Dyke said.

Jones denies she had anything more than a disagreement with Keiswetter, and she added there was no physical contact in his office.

"Anything that was said was said behind closed doors," she said. "The allegations in the recall are not true. I would also say there's been no charges filed against me. I believe this is just a witch hunt."

In a response to the recall submitted to the Rooks County clerk, Jones wrote that allegations in the petition "are not accurate," and added she acted as an individual and not a school board member. Under advice of an attorney, she would not address Keiswetter's allegations.

Now a principal at McLouth High School north of Lawrence, Keiswetter declined comment.

Statements on the matter were provided to the Plainville Police Department.

Plainville Police Chief Gary Knight would not return phone calls to discuss what happened, and instead told a secretary to refer a caller to Rooks County Attorney Ed Hageman. Hageman approved the recall petition but will not seek criminal charges.

"I decided not to file charges based on the full investigation," Hageman said. "There was nothing that could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt."

Jerry Smetana, Plainville city attorney, said he wasn't part of the investigation.

"There's nothing pending in our court," he said.

Joe Simon, the Plainville head football coach, said he was in Keiswetter's office shortly after the principal met with Jones. While walking into the school, he mentioned seeing Jones heading for her vehicle.

"Troy was obviously upset about something and was shook. He then proceeded to tell me what had occurred, according to him," Simon said. "It appeared there were some marks on his face. I told police what he had told me."

He referred other comment to statements made to police.

Gilliland said he was at the school for another reason "and just happened to be there shortly after the incident took place. The principal was shook up and there were some other things going on. He was flushed. I could tell he was flustered."

A temporary secretary was "acting kind of strange," Gilliland said. "(Keiswetter) told me there was definitely some activity that happened there."

Jones was the school board president April 20. One of the other seven members is serving in that capacity since new officers were elected July 1.

She speculated her vote against offering Simon tenure at the April 9 board meeting is connected to the recall. The vote was 5 to 2 in favor of tenure for Simon.

"They all thought we were gonna fire (Simon), which was not the case at all. Since the time of that meeting I voted to keep him on as coach," Jones said. "I stated at the meeting that I supported the football program and the students."

She scoffs at the notion she committed misconduct in office, citing Kansas State Statute 24-4302: "Grounds for recall are conviction of a felony, misconduct in office or failure to perform duties prescribed by law. No recall submitted to the voters shall be held void because of the insufficiency of the grounds, application, or petition by which the submission was procured."

"Misconduct in office" is described in the statute as a "violation of law by the officer that impacts the officer's ability to perform the official duties of the office."

Because no charges were filed, Jones said there is no reason to seek a recall. She has three years remaining on her school board term.

"I believe I've served the people and done an honorable and successful job. I will continue to be dedicated to our kids and schools," she said.

Jones said she has served in various capacities on the Kansas Association of School Boards and has represented the state on a national level.

"I have been deeply appreciative of the support I have received in this community," Jones said. "God's given me the strength and we'll get through this."

The goal of the recall election, Van Dyke said, is for the community to express itself.

"We felt like action needed to be taken and that patrons needed to have a voice in this action," she said. "The chain of command was broken. It's scary what the next step could be. In other instances, I have witnessed what I and most consider bullying and intimidation."