It was standing room only at the Tehachapi Unified School District's board meeting held April 8, as board members tackled a lengthy agenda scheduled that night.
TUSD Board of Trustees President Mary Graham began the meeting by addressing the issue involving the March 31 arrest of an employee (Robert Hutton) relating to felony charges of animal cruelty.
"As you no doubt have heard, a district employee was arrested last week due to allegations that the employee illegally eradicated feral cats on District property," said Graham. "District administration took immediate action to place the employee in question on paid administrative leave pending necessary criminal and administrative investigations. At Superintendent Gilbert's urging, the TUSD Board of Trustees is handling this matter. This decision was made at the Superintendent's suggestion since the District Director of Maintenance and Operations is Ms. Gilbert's husband and the subject of the investigations is a member of Mr. Gilbert's department. Ms. Gilbert's suggestion in this matter is an example of the type of proactive, responsible leadership we have come to expect of her.
"Please be aware that this matter is an ongoing personnel investigation," continued Graham. "At the TUSD Board of Trustee's direction, the investigation is being conducted by legal counsel and a neutral investigator. To protect the integrity of the investigation and the privacy of the employees involved, names and identities of witnesses and involved parties cannot be shared at this time. However, please know the TUSD Board of Trustees takes this matter seriously and is working as quickly as possible to gather all the facts and further the investigation. We do not wish to jump to conclusions until we have had the opportunity to review all relevant information."
Graham went on to state that the neutral investigator, hired by the district to assist the Tehachapi Police Department, Tehachapi Sheriff's Department and Kern County Animal Control in the investigation, was an "outside" individual named Gary Bray. She advised anyone who had questions or concerns regarding the matter contact Bray at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Even though this information is unsettling, we know you will all continue to further the district's mission and will remain focused on the educational needs of our students," said Graham.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, Susan Ormsby of the Have a Heart Humane Society approached the podium and asked the Board who would share in the culpability of the employee's arrest.
"Who gave the order?" asked Ormsby. "Someone gave an order. When is somebody going to be held accountable for that?"
President Graham replied by reiterating the statement she made at the meeting's onset, and added that the board had no further comment on the matter.
"How outside is the agency," Ormsby pressed, concerning the district's decision to hire and involve Mr. Bray. "The board has gotten ahold of someone who does not live or work here to handle this? How objective can he (Bray) be?"
According to Sgt. Doug Wilson of the Kern County Sheriff's Office, Hutton was being held on $15,000 bail and was released the same day he was arrested. He was scheduled to be arraigned in Kern County Superior Court at Mojave on April 14, however the court hearing was postponed because charges had not been filed by the District Attorney at that time. (See related story on page 1).