DAVISON- Six months ago, in the November 2022 election, Diane Rhines was ousted by voters and lost re-election as the incumbent.
Now, with tremendous backlash from the community, she is back on the board via appointment after the resignation of Stefanie Pickell.
The vote to appoint Rhines was carried 4-2 with board members Matthew Smith and Alicia Hensley voting no.
The controversial school board meeting started with board member Matthew Smith calling a point of order five times after the appointment was listed on the agenda before approval of the agenda and public comments.
“First of all, this appointment process was way too rushed. The official notice ran in the local paper in print on a Thursday and the deadline to apply was 24 hours later, Friday. What is the rush?” Said Smith.
Smith also made a motion to amend the agenda, adding the appointment after the approval of the agenda and public comment.
“Why are you shutting the public out and selecting their school board member before listening to our constituents that elected us?” Said Smith.
Smith’s motion died due to a lack of a second.
Board President Karen Conover continued to shut Smith down with the help of her allies on the board: Granger Stefanko, Holly Halabicky and Alicia Hensley.
The board proceeded to interview four applicants: Christine Baier Bozynski, Heather Giguere, Diane Rhines and Ben Vick.
All applicants have ties with current board members.
Members of the public say Diane Rhines stumbled through the questions and “gave the worst interview of them all.”
During the actual Board interviews, each board member asked the same questions that were already determined. Board member Matthew Smith said he would ask his own question, and consistently to all candidates.
Smith’s question was: “Do you think someone that lost re-election should be appointed back to the board, and what is your respect for voters?”
Board Member Alicia Hensley blasted Smith, calling the question completely inappropriate as she defended Rhines calling her “a beautiful human being”.
With the audience screaming at Hensley, Smith punched back and reminded Hensley that board members are elected by the public and his question was completely fair and relevant to ask.
“Mrs. Hensley, you ran against Diane Rhines and beat her six months ago. You should be concerned about this too, and the disregard to voters” said Smith.
Defending Rhines, Hensley said she will never align with Matthew Smith.
Prior to winning the election in 2021, Hensley attended Smith’s parental rights rally with over 500 parents. She also sold yard signs in support of unmasking the kids. According to a WNEM TV5 story, Smith then helped Hensley by getting her exposure on the local news.
Holly Halabicky, who was appointed to the board and never elected by voters, made the motion to appoint Rhines by reading a prepared statement.
The motion to appoint Rhines was seconded by Granger Stefanko.
Stefanko, Board Vice President, also serves as Chair of the Building, Grounds and Transportation committee. He is employed by his father, who owns DCC construction. DCC construction is the company hired as project manager of the district’s 74 million dollar bond project. Stefanko is a project manager of the company while chairman of the school board committee tasked with approving bids and contracts. DCC was hired in 2019 with board member Diane Rhines voting yes. According to The Davison Index, Matthew Smith was the only no vote citing a conflict of interest.
Davison index article from May of 2019: “DCC Hired as District Construction Manager”:https://davisonindex.mihomepaper.com/articles/dcc-construction-hired-as-district-construction-manager/
Since Smith cited a conflict of interest, the board has been trying to remove him from office, including Stefanko who allegedly circulated recall petitions and did not sign his name to the bottom of the sheet, a misdemeanor.
Both Conover and Stefanko pushed and passed a resolution 4-3 to remove Smith from his committee assignments over a highly political case involving a Democrat Clerk. The case was dismissed but the current board ran with the false allegations of threats in an effort to silence and smear Smith.
According to articles in the Davison Index, Smith has been working for years to flip the board and restore the board to the public, despite not having a voice in committee.
In 2018, Matthew Smith beat Karen Conover endorsed incumbent Todd Ferguson, who was appointed to fill the vacancy of Kim Lindsay.
In 2020, Karen Conover endorsed candidates, Kathleen Sudia and Mark McGlashen, both over 30 year incumbents, were defeated by Smith endorsed Nicholas Goyette and Stefanie Pickell.
Goyette vacated his seat by moving out of the district and starting a family. Pickell resigned to focus on family and her health, according to a public Facebook post.
Holly Halabicky, a former Davison Schools employee, hired by Karen Conover, was appointed by the GISD. The GISD was tasked with appointing Goyette’s replacement since the 45 days had expired. At the time, Board President Karen Conover’s husband, John Conover was on the GISD board.
Fast forward to 2022, Conover endorsed Diane Rhines, a six year incumbent, was defeated by Alicia Hensley, Kurtis McMahan and Kurt Minto.
When members of the public finally had the chance to speak at the May 15th meeting, they expressed strong opposition to the board’s actions.
“By appointing Diane Rhines back to the school board when we voted her out is a slap in the face to us voters” said resident Norman Fischer.
Richfield Township resident Leonard Marden called the boards actions “appalling” and “beneath the office they serve”.
“The games you have played tonight with the agenda, limiting public comments and the appointment of Diane Rhines sent a message to us that you don’t care about the voters” said Marden.
Marden went on to inform the board he has plans to recall those that voted to appoint Rhines back to the board after the voters said no six months ago.
Political activist Arthur Woodson was in attendance of the May 15th appointment meeting and streamed it on Facebook.
May 15th school board meeting LIVE streamed by Arthur Woodson can be found here:https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=pfbid09zxWd7SKAeasYH6dHWR5mWDYhTptGfGyrPDrJdC6wniHCgBgpBkfrJkYmNd8f5Ucl&id=1283979249&mibextid=qC1gEa
According to Woodson’s Facebook video, Board President Karen Conover asked Superintendent Kevin Brown to ask Woodson to stop recording the meeting.
“Superintendent Brown told me to stop recording the public meeting because it goes against the school board policy. I cannot believe the board president would ask him to do that…it is a public meeting and is my constitutional right to record ” said Woodson.
Board member Kurtis McMahon thanked the list of applicants, despite the opposition from the public.
Rhines appointment is valid until 2024, when the position will be open to the public to run. There will also be three other school board seats up for election for a total of four.
In the same appointment meeting, the board also rushed the election of GISD voting. Board member Granger Stefanko made a motion to re-elect the list of incumbents. Board member Matthew Smith asked how the board could vote when the deadline was the same day.
With Rhines now added to the board, they proceeded in voting for the GISD incumbents with a vote of 6-1 (Matthew Smith voting no).
Stefanko’s construction employee, DesRae Jourbran, was one of the candidates they voted for in the slate to the GISD. Jourbran works for DCC construction and lost re-election twice on the Kearsley School Board.
As for Marden, he said during public comment he plans to file a recall petition on the board that disregarded the voters.