The latest chapter in the Benjamin Hodge leak saga took the form of a cease and desist letter from the college.
Mark Ferguson, college attorney, sent Hodge, trustee, the letter via e-mail on April 15, just hours before the monthly Board of Trustees meeting.
“I would like to… discourage you from continuing along your current path that will certainly lead to legal claims and personal liability,” Ferguson wrote in the e-mail. Ferguson sent the letter in anticipation of Hodge’s speech at the meeting just hours later.
“I want to caution you against making any public criticism or attacks of fellow board members or the college president, which may be defamatory in nature,” Ferguson wrote. “Not only is it simply unnecessary and embarrassing, but more significantly, it might subject you to personal liability.”
At the board meeting, Hodge called for Shirley Brown-VanArsdale, board chair, and Lynn Mitchelson, board vice chair, to resign from positions of leadership.
“This is the first time in my life I’ve been given a cease and desist order,” Hodge said in a later interview. “It’s an abuse of taxpayer resources. At this point, they are clearly willing to waste taxpayer money merely to protect their reputations.”
The e-mail used the phrase "cease and desist," but Ferguson feels it is more of a cautionary warning to a trustee he works with.
“It has been described as a cease and desist order. It is just a cautionary warning that if he were to continue to use the kinds of conclusive allegations and labels that he had previously used in his blogs and e-mails, referring to unethical, corrupt, violations of the law, the kinds of things not supported by the facts or the law, they could have potential legal ramification,” Ferguson said in a later interview.
Ferguson believes the college’s reputation is on the line with every new statement and claim by Hodge.
“The accusation of a violation is damaging to the reputation of the college, so the decision was made to look in to it, investigate it and determine if a violation occurred,” Ferguson said in a later interview. “The public will decide whether that was a waste of money.”
Ferguson presented the findings of his investigation at the March 26 board meeting.
“Ferguson made the decision to engage in a sham ‘review’ of JCCC's compliance with the Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA), during which he never talked with me nor made me aware that he was performing the review,” Hodge said in a blog post on http://redcounty.com.
Ferguson said reading Hodge’s position in e-mails and blog posts eliminated the need to speak with him in person during the review.
“His position was unequivocal,” Ferguson said. “I made careful attention to attach his various writings which stated his beliefs and opinions on the subject, and I didn’t need to interview him.”
Hodge also blasted the college for omitting his presentation made at the board meeting from the board meeting summary released on the college’s e-mail information service InfoList.
“It doesn’t surprise me. Calaway wants to control the flow of information,” Hodge said. “I think it is amateurish, and they are becoming a parody of themselves at this point.”
Julie Haas, executive director, Marketing Communications, writes the summary report after every board meeting.
“The summary does not give opinion and does not comment, it simply reports things happening,” Haas said. “If you look at the budget report, there is a lot more discussion than what is put in the summary.”