State Patrol investigating Hitchcock County recall

Thursday, December 8, 2011

CULBERTSON, Nebraska -- The Nebraska State Patrol plans to interview Hitchcock County Public Schools patrons who signed petitions seeking to recall three school board members.

School board members Mike Baker, Larry Ferguson and Gary Matson and school superintendent Mike Apple were informed in late August that petition circulators had enough valid signatures to seek the recall of the three men. Petition circulators needed the valid signatures of at least 175 registered voters on each of three petitions that were circulated.

The recall effort followed a successful $7.4 million school bond election approving upgrades and renovations to existing facilities in May.

Despite having gathered enough signatures to call for the recalls, the school board, acting on the advice of its attorney, voted 5-1 in September not to schedule a recall election. At that time, there were questions about whether Shane Rippen of Culbertson, who signed petition documents as sole circulator of the petition, was the only person who circulated the petitions and whether patrons were told that the petitions would save an old school building from demolition and/or reduce property taxes.

Patrons who signed the recall petitions received letters this week from the Nebraska State Patrol indicating that the Patrol is investigating the possibility of criminal violations committed when the recall petitions were circulated and/or submitted.

The Patrol asks patrons who signed the petitions to come to the Ag Complex on the Hitchcock County fairgrounds in Culbertson on Tuesday, Jan. 10, any time between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.

The letter from NSP Investigator Clint Elwood reads: "The interviews are to verify that you are the individual who signed the recall petition and that your name was not signed without your knowledge, with some additional follow-up questions."

Elwood writes that each interview will take only a few minutes to complete.

He also writes that the interviews are voluntary. He asks that patrons who are unable to come to the interviews on Jan. 10 contact the NSP office at (308) 350-8050 to schedule another time.

In May, voters approved $7.4 million bonds to finance construction and renovation at school facilities in Culbertson and Trenton, including:

* Demolishing a portion of the existing elementary school in Culbertson, building a new elementary building, and renovations and updates;

* Demolishing a portion of the junior/senior high school building in Trenton, building a new classroom wing, and renovations and updates;

* Preparing and improving the sites of the existing elementary building and junior/senior high buildings; and

* Providing the necessary furniture and apparatus for the school buildings.

In July, Shane Rippen gave these reasons for seeking the recall of Baker, Ferguson and Matson:

* Mike Baker, "has brought his own personal issues to the school board agenda," "led patrons astray during this past bond election" and "knowingly distributed misinformation about the school bond options and was prejudice(d) toward Culbertson residents." Rippen claims Baker's service on the board is a conflict of interest because family members teach and coach at the school.

* Ferguson displays "a lack of consistent leadership as the president of the board. Larry has focused his energy on pleasing the faculty, staff and administration of the school instead of what is best for the whole district, not just what is best for each community. Larry is more influenced by school officials than the taxpayers of the district."

* Matson is being recalled "because he refused to listen to all of the taxpayers of the district. He led the community of Culbertson astray when telling patrons that he supported one school. He is more influenced by fellow board members than his constituents. He has not proved his willingness to speak up for people of the district to the school board."

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  • Yeah should be interesting how this turns out. I had actually thought this had blown over and was done with.

    -- Posted by carlsonl on Thu, Dec 8, 2011, at 2:48 PM
  • what a joke something that is over and done with keeps ongoing. Found out the reason it is being investigated is beacuse poor mike baker is still throwing a fit, this just keeps wasting taxpayers dollars.As i read the board voted not to acknowlege the petition anyways seems pointless. Weird how this was such a hurry up process to get the bond passed and get bonds bought and no construction has been done or for that matter no bids have been recieved. Mabey all the bids were to high and no companies can build two schools for that price and this is a scapegoat to delay the whole process, hopefully they find something. Sounds like the only person that should be investigated is the county clerk, appears she gave false info on how to carry a petition, oh well mabey the state patrol will find out more than they bargned for. go falcons and falcon nation

    -- Posted by Iron Man on Thu, Dec 8, 2011, at 6:23 PM
  • In this state you can pass a recall petition so long as you can get enough if enough people sign a recall because they don't like the color of you socks...the recall proceeds. I am not sure that such infantile reasons for recall should be entertained. If things were tha bad, why did the petionioner have to wait until after the bond issue. Mike Baker's relatives have worked for the school longer than I can remember and he has been on the board for years...why is this suddenly brought for the other accusations against the two other board members, I do not see any evidence presented that proves these baseless statements. Looks like playground politics to me.

    -- Posted by SgtRock on Thu, Dec 8, 2011, at 6:52 PM
  • Well there wouldn't have to be an investigation if Shane hadn't tried the recall in the first place so the wasted tax money is because of him.

    You're incorrect about the clerk. She did her job correctly. Plus the instructions are on the petition. And only someone trying to mislead the public would tell them the petition was going to save the old building. that has nothing to do with the clerk.

    And the architects have been working at both sites. They are expected to break ground in the spring. Don't think anyone would bid this early since prices can change fast. Right now I'm sure they are working to finalize the plans.

    -- Posted by Parent of a HC Student on Thu, Dec 8, 2011, at 7:07 PM
  • why would these board members even want to stay on the board If there is that many people out there that agree with the recall statements there must be a problem and they are not doing a good job. once again the board voted not to recognize the petition it was never put into action so what does it matter.

    -- Posted by Iron Man on Thu, Dec 8, 2011, at 7:09 PM
  • They care about the school. These three recalled members and Hrnchir were the ones that showed up for the Blue Ribbon School ceremony. I think that says a lot.

    -- Posted by Parent of a HC Student on Thu, Dec 8, 2011, at 7:14 PM
  • When the new school is built send Iron Man so grammer and spelling will be improved.

    -- Posted by geewhiz on Thu, Dec 8, 2011, at 8:22 PM
  • Do you mean "grammar", geewhiz?

    -- Posted by speak-e-z on Thu, Dec 8, 2011, at 8:42 PM
  • bahaha gotta love a corrector getting corrected.

    -- Posted by carlsonl on Thu, Dec 8, 2011, at 10:09 PM
  • "why would these board members even want to stay on the board If there is that many people out there that agree with the recall statements there must be a problem and they are not doing a good job. once again the board voted not to recognize the petition it was never put into action so what does it matter."

    That is the problem. The people that signed were misled. It really had nothing to do with the ones attempting to be recalled, the people signed because they were told they'd have a better bond option.

    -- Posted by bberry on Fri, Dec 9, 2011, at 8:12 AM
  • I disagree. I actually READ the petition and that seems to be the problem. Who in todays world would sign something set in front of them without reading it first. Ignorance is not an excuse.

    What actually happened was that people signed that petition and then started crying "poor me" AFTER it became public that they signed it. If you have the guts to sign something then have the guts to back it up when your "friends" give you hell for it. DONT start crying wolf afer the fact

    I guess that I dont get it. Yes it would cause the taxpayers more money but if said school board members were put before a recall election would they pass or fail? Shane Rippen had the RIGHT to do that petition just like you and I had the right to sign it or not.

    You dont have to agree with him but at least give him the respect of using his RIGHTS instead of just "hanging them" in the local coffee shop. Dont put the blame on him because "you" were to ignorant to read or "you" changed you mind AFTER your name appeared in public

    -- Posted by sanecomments on Sun, Dec 11, 2011, at 7:11 AM
  • Just because you read it doesn't mean everyone else did. There are still people that take others at their word. Sadly, in this case that was taken advantage of.

    Sure, Shane had the right to circulate a petition, but he also had the responsibility to do it correctly. Instead it wasn't, and now they would even go as far as to blame the county clerk for it.

    The whole thing has been petty, be it Larry F., Shane, or whoever else circulated the petition.

    As far as signing it, Culbertson patrons were the only ones the petition was made available to. As far as changing their minds, it is far more likely they were misled rather than over 100 people randomly changing their minds. I guess we'll see.

    I've also been wrong before though.

    Have a good one.

    -- Posted by bberry on Sun, Dec 11, 2011, at 9:09 AM
  • If I am correct, I do believe the petition is required to be read to the person that may sign it. And that it must be read to them by the petitioner. Also this petition is being looked at for the possibility that Shane wasn't the only one passing it around. Not sure of the reason but it appears he is the only one that could get the signatures legally on this petition.

    Me personally I wish it had all just blown over and been done with.

    -- Posted by carlsonl on Sun, Dec 11, 2011, at 11:00 AM
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