Mike Dennhardt

School board member can’t attend school events

By ANDREW MCGINN

a.mcginn@beeherald.com

A school board member banned from attending sporting events in his own school district will have to be chaperoned by the school board president Jan. 15 in order to attend senior wrestling parents’ night.

The Greene County Community School District board of education made that a stipulation Jan. 3 in agreeing at a special meeting to let board member Mike Dennhardt attend the wrestling event on behalf of his son, a senior at Greene County High School.

It was the first public admission by the district that Dennhardt, whose term on the board doesn’t expire until 2021, acted inappropriately at football games throughout the fall.

But it also appeared to contradict what Superintendent Tim Christensen told The Jefferson Herald in a story published Nov. 8 that no action could be taken against Dennhardt because he’s an elected official.

When questioned after last week’s 7:30 a.m. meeting about whether the public should have been informed of a decision to ban an elected school official from certain school events, Christensen and other board members said that the action was taken against Dennhardt as a parent, not as an elected official.

Board member Catherine Wilson said the two are separate.

As a parent — albeit one who serves on the school board — Dennhardt isn’t allowed to attend district sporting events for a full calendar year, Christensen confirmed after the meeting.

Because Dennhardt asked that an exception be made in order to attend senior wrestling parents’ night, the full board was forced into a reluctant public discussion on the matter at last week’s special meeting.

The board refrained from discussing the details of Dennhardt’s conduct at home and away games this past football season, which reportedly included foul language and even threats against second-year head coach Mitch Moore, who has since been terminated from his roles as activities director and strength and conditioning coordinator at Greene County High School.

Things apparently came to a head Oct. 26 following a verbal altercation between Dennhardt and Moore after the Rams’ season-ending road loss to Benton Community in the first round of the playoffs.

The game capped the high school’s best season on the gridiron in more than a decade, with Moore earning honors as the 2018 Class 2A District 9 coach of the year. 

Moore wasn’t returning for a third season, anyway, announcing in December that he would be leaving to coach football at Class 4A Des Moines Roosevelt in 2019.

In speaking to the Herald last month, Moore alluded to off-field drama that hastened his decision.

“What I learned more than anything is to try and avoid some of the outside noise,” Moore said. “When you’re at a university or you’re at a bigger school, you’re not as intertwined with some of the negativity. 

“In this place (Greene County), you are. It can really have an effect on your family and it can have an effect on the people around you if you let it.  I learned to really value what was important and what’s not.”

Moore, who planned to remain on the AD job at Greene County High School through spring, said he felt “betrayed” by Christensen’s announcement over winter break to terminate his remaining contracts.

Board vice president Steve Fisher, who previously claimed to be embarrassed by Dennhardt’s conduct, now said, “I don’t want to know the whole story.”

The board on Jan. 3 also formally approved the immediate termination of Moore’s contracts with 30 days’ pay.

Dennhardt previously denied threatening Moore or anyone else, but said he agreed with the district’s punishment to ban him from sporting events for a year.

But in making his case to fellow board members to attend the senior wrestling night, Dennhardt also took aim at the district, alleging that he’s not the only one with character issues.

He said he disapproves of the way coaches interact with students.

“You kick me out of a year’s worth of games?” he said. “Just because we’re winning doesn’t make it right for our coaches to talk the way they talk.

“It’s got to be fair across the board, but this school doesn’t act like that.”

He decried a lack of “set rules.”

“There’s always one person that covers it up,” Dennhardt said.

Wilson encouraged the board to “show grace” and not punish Dennhardt’s son.

“I think Mike’s learned his lesson,” she said.

Discussion ended when board president Mark Peters agreed to attend the senior wrestling night with Dennhardt and his family.

Iowa Code is fairly explicit that an elected official must first violate one of seven offenses in order to be removed from office: neglect or refusal to perform the duties of office; willful misconduct in office; corruption; extortion; upon conviction of a felony; for intoxication or upon conviction of being intoxicated; or upon conviction of violating the provisions of chapter 68A, which deals with campaign finance.

Court records show that Dennhardt was arrested by Jefferson police this past May after a field sobriety test on a charge of operating while intoxicated, but the charge was later amended to open container.

He pleaded guilty in June to open container and received a $200 fine.

The incident went largely unnoticed by the public.

This year will mark a season of change on the school board as four of its seven seats — those held by Peters, Fisher, Sam Harding and John McConnell — come up for re-election.

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