Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Now there were actual cheers, and Aho had to bang the gavel as Gingrich got up from his seat at the board table. Rather than leaving the room, though, he walked over and stood against the wall. Susan figured that the show wasn’t over yet, and apparently most of the crowd felt the same way. At least Gingrich got his, she thought. He may have unintentionally done her a favor by trying to keep her in school for another year, and it may have been an unwanted favor, but the deed was done and she thought she was better off for it. There was no doubt that the schools would be better off as a result of what had happened, either.
It took Aho some time to get things back in order. He spoke loudly, “I think the board needs to understand that their unwanted and unnecessary actions now have left the district without a superintendent at a busy time of the year. That’s going to cause a great deal of difficulty, and I’d like to know what anyone thinks should be done about it.”
Battle spoke up, respectfully although anyone could see the contempt he held. “I don’t see it as a great difficulty,” he said. “I’d like to propose that High School Principal Harold Hekkinan be asked to serve as interim superintendent. He’s done the job before, and he has a good assistant principal and athletic director who can help him carry the load at the high school.”
“It would probably be an adequate solution,” Aho grudgingly admitted. “Harold, would you be willing to serve until such time as a new superintendent is hired?”
“Under the circumstances, I can’t refuse,” Hekkinan spoke up from the audience.
“Very well,” Aho said. “Mr. Battle, I will take your proposal as a motion and entertain a second.” In only a few more seconds, the interim appointment was unanimously approved on a show of hands; Hekkinan walked up and took the seat that had been recently vacated by Gingrich.
He was no more seated when Battle spoke up again. “Mr. President,” he said. “In view of the circumstances and the nature of the charges against Mr. Gingrich, I would like to ask that the interim superintendent immediately have a guard placed on the superintendent’s office until the locks can be changed. I don’t think we want any school property or, more importantly, school records walking out the door.”
“I hardly think that’s necessary,” Aho said. “Mr. Gingrich is an honorable man.”
“That may be the case, but if there’s any substance to the charges placed against him out of state, I think it’s a reasonable precaution.”
Aho glanced up and down the table, and could see from the looks on the board members faces that if he made an issue out of it he would be likely to lose another vote. “I think it’s totally unnecessary,” he replied, “but on the other hand, better safe than sorry. Harold can you take care of it?”
“Carol?” was all Harold had to say to Mrs. Foxbender, the high school secretary. She got up from her seat and headed out the door, leaving Susan with the impression that the move had already been arranged, by Battle presumably. She glanced at Gingrich, who looked even unhappier than before.
“That leads us to the question of a new permanent superintendent,” Aho said, trying to recover some of his authority. “I would like to suggest that we re-institute the search committee we used last summer to get going on a new superintendent search.”
“I have a problem with that,” Battle spoke up. “The simple fact of the matter is that the search committee last spring didn’t do a very good job, or else we wouldn’t have had to deal with this issue tonight. Had they done an even minimally competent job of investigation we would have been made aware of the problems Mr. Gingrich had, and we might well have made a different decision. I don’t think we dare take that risk again. I therefore move that a new search committee be named, with no members of the previous committee on it, and that they be ordered to undertake to hire a professional firm to do a background search on all finalists, and that their written report be provided to the full board.”
“Don’t you think that’s overdoing it a little?” Aho sneered. “The old committee might have missed a few details but overall I think they did a good job.”
“We’re just going to have to agree to disagree on that one,” Battle replied. “I for one think that they did a lousy job. In fact, my suggestion is that the search committee be asked to hire a professional executive search firm to conduct both the search and the investigation. It’ll be cheaper, quicker, and more reliable than trying to do it ourselves. In fact, since my motion hasn’t been seconded yet, I’ll add that to the motion.”
“Our budget is tight enough that I don’t think we need to go to the additional expense,” Aho replied weakly. “A professional search firm would just be wasting more money.”
“I think after this mess, it’s a good idea,” Rickenbaugh said. “I second the motion, assuming that Mr. Battle can restate it a little more clearly.”
It took Battle virtually no time at all to restate the motion, since he read it off of his notes. Clearly the search firm had been meant to look like an afterthought. “Does that meet with your approval, Ed?” he asked finally.
“Sounds good to me. Let’s get this taken care of. I will call the question if necessary.”
“Very well,” Aho said, knowing defeat when he saw it. “I think we can do this on a show of hands.”
Once again the motion passed, with Aho futilely voting against it. “Motion passes,” he said finally. “Are there any more items to be brought up under this agenda point?” No one on the board had anything to say, so he turned to the crowd. “With that taken care of, we might as well move on. The rest of the agenda is routine business, so I’ll call a five-minute recess if anyone wants to leave.”
The noise level in the room went up considerably and people got up to leave, realizing that the show was over. “That’s it?” Susan asked her father conversationally over the din. “They’re not going to do anything about Aho?”
“There’s a limit to what the board can do against one of their members,” he replied. “They can’t throw him off the board by themselves. That doesn’t mean the issue is settled, though. Haven’t you noticed those pads of paper being passed around the room?”
“Well, yeah, I saw some, but I didn’t know it meant anything.”
“Recall petitions,” Mike smiled. “I got a glance of one at a distance, and that was what was printed in big letters at the top. It only takes, I think, ten percent of the number of voters in the previous election to call a recall election, and there’s more people than that in this room. I’ll bet there’s already enough signatures, and if not, there will be people waiting outside the door to get more.”
“Battle, right?” Susan grinned, realizing once again that there had been more going on than had met the eye. “He really wants to take a chunk out of Aho’s butt, doesn’t he?”
“You bet,” Mike grinned. “And he’s going to get it, too. If you weren’t going to be in school tomorrow morning I’d be tempted to have you down at the County Clerk’s office in the morning, because I’ll bet George will be filing those petitions as soon as it opens.”
“I’d be darn near tempted to do it anyway,” she grinned. “But that would miss the point of the exercise, wouldn’t it?”
The rest of the meeting went quickly; even Gingrich had left with the crowd that had filed out during the recess. Several items had to be put off until further meetings because Hekkinan hadn’t been ready to talk about them, so they burned through what had been a relatively long agenda in a matter of minutes. People were still standing around in the halls and semi-darkness outside talking about what had happened, and Susan confirmed that those papers being passed around were indeed recall petitions – and from what she could see, there were lots of signatures on them.
“So,” her father said as soon as they were by themselves a little. “My normal way of doing things at a meeting like this is to head back to the office and write it up while everything is fresh in my mind, rather than let it go to the next day. Would you like to take a swing at it?”
“Sure,” she said. “That was a meeting to remember.”
“All right,” he said. “Let’s head back to the office and you can knock something out. I’ve got a couple things I can do to kill time while you’re working on it.”
“You could take me home and I could get the Cavalier,” she offered.
“No, I could stand the time at the office anyway,” he said. “That way I’ll be close at hand if you have any questions.”
“Well, I’ve got one now. How do you want me to handle the business about the recall petitions?”
“I’d say don’t bother. Sure, there are people pissed at Aho and want their pound of flesh, but that never came up directly at the meeting so isn’t part of the meeting story. Just write what happened, and don’t try to put any implications into it. Those will take care of themselves. I’ll take care of the recall petition business tomorrow after they get filed with the County Clerk, and I might go over there with a camera and hang around about eight in the morning, just on general principles.”
“What else are we going to do about Gingrich?” she asked.
“After this week’s paper, nothing, unless something new comes up,” he told her. “Although I’ll tell Henry to keep an eye on what happens down in Springfield. If Gingrich gets convicted, it’ll probably be worth a story, but I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.”
As they walked out to Mike’s car, they happened to glance down the way toward the board’s administrative office, which included the superintendent’s office. The place was dark, but in the light of a street lamp they could see a police car parked outside. “They didn’t mess around with that, either, did they?” Susan grinned.
“Probably a good idea, under the circumstances,” Mike said. “It’s not really any of our business, but I’ll bet Battle had that set up with Harold and the cops long before this meeting started tonight. I’ll bet money that Harold will be going through Gingrich’s files very carefully tomorrow morning, maybe with an auditor at his side. If they find anything, that means we’ll have yet another story out of it, but it probably won’t surface for a while.”
“You think they’ll find anything?”
“Hard to say,” Mike shrugged. “Really, Gingrich would have been a fool to start something this soon in his tenure here. But then, he was already a fool, so there’s no telling.”
“So, really, I have only one other thing I can’t figure out,” she said. “Why was Aho so head over heels in love with Gingrich in the first place? Shouldn’t he have been able to figure out what was happening and what the rest of the board was thinking?”
“I don’t know,” Mike sighed. “We may never find out, either. It could have been sheer laziness in the beginning, or it could have been something else, like maybe Gingrich was an old friend of the family, or something. In any case, it was a mistake that he shouldn’t have made. Then, after all this came out I would have thought he would have joined the pack of wolves going after Gingrich tonight, but sometimes it’s hard to admit to an error even when you know you’ve made one.”
“Yeah, I suppose,” she agreed. “Sometimes it’s hard to admit that you’ve screwed up. Maybe he still doesn’t think so.”
“Probably not,” Mike agreed. “But if I had to bet, it’d be that there was something going on that didn’t meet the eye. But, like I said, it’s something we’ll probably never know.”
Writing the story was really pretty straightforward – after all, the headline was going to read Superintendent fired or something like that, and the lead paragraph in the story reflected it. Susan wrote it quickly, taking only a couple paragraphs to go over the events in the previous weeks’ papers that led up to the firing.
After she was done, she sent it to her father over the network. “Not real bad,” he called through the open door to his office a couple minutes later. “A couple places it’s worded awkwardly, but they’re easy to fix. It’s good that you pretty much kept to the facts and downplayed the drama. That’s good news writing. I’ve often thought that you have a real talent for it.”
“I always thought so, too,” she replied. “But it doesn’t mean that my goals have changed any. I guess I told you I’m thinking about journalism as a minor after all, but that doesn’t mean I want to get stuck doing Restaurant Report Card like Henry. Well, unless it’s reporting on French restaurants in France, or something. I think I could manage that.”
“I don’t know about you, Susan,” he smiled. “But stop and think for a moment. Don’t you think there’s some poor kid at some TV station in France right now doing the same damn thing as Henry?”
“I suppose,” she sighed. “But it’s not the same thing. If there’s one thing I learned in Germany, it’s that there’s a world beyond Spearfish Lake. I want to see some of it, and I want to make people aware of it.”
“Lofty goals,” Mike said as he started to shut down his computer. “Get back with me in ten or fifteen years and we’ll see how well you did.”
After the big evening the night before, it was hard to get in the Cavalier and head down to Riverside in the morning. If she had been going to Spearfish Lake High School, she would have turned off the state road at the Central Avenue turnoff. Instead, as she drove right past Central Avenue, she couldn’t help but think that if all the stuff hadn’t happened in the past month she could well have been taking it instead, and heading off to the high school like she had originally intended. In a way she missed doing it, she was leaving friends like Megan there, plus all the fun of finally being a senior. But, she reflected that she didn’t miss it a lot. As it was, this was probably better for her; it would mean one less year till she was out of college, one less year before she could get serious about finding that job to take her to faraway places.
It seemed almost anticlimactic to be helping get the papers out again on Wednesday. Her father had indeed managed to get a picture of Battle filing the recall petitions at the County Clerk’s office, and it was the lead photo on the front page. He’d also managed a brief interview with Battle that detailed the reasons for filing the recall. It would still be a slow process to hold the recall election, requiring that the signatures on the petitions be validated before an election could be scheduled. In the article, Mike had explained that there was no hope of the recall election being held on general election day, a month and a half off. At best it could be late November or early December.
Around the addressing table, Mike explained that it almost wasn’t worth the expense and trouble, since Aho’s term would be expiring in the spring, anyway. It really was just another case of Battle wanting his pound of flesh out of Aho’s hind end. “Suppose Aho loses,” Anissa commented. “Don’t you think that will be enough?”
“I think it will be,” Mike shrugged. “But whether George thinks so is another question. If I had to bet, It’ll be that Battle will just be looking for his next opportunity to take Glenn down another notch.”
Along about that time, Harold Hekkinan walked into the room – he was an old friend of Mike’s, after all, and knew what went on around the Record-Herald on Wednesdays. “So how’s the superintendent today?” Mike asked.
“Mostly looking forward to getting another superintendent hired,” Hekkinan replied. “I didn’t even throw the light switch in the office until I had an auditor there. I can’t say that she’s found anything yet, but she’s looking hard. There are some other things that, well, I can’t say they’re wrong but I wouldn’t have done them that way.”
“In a way, I’m sorry I have to put you through that,” Mike said. “But only in a way.”
“I understand completely,” Harold smiled. “You did what you had to do. In fact, it would have been a mistake on your part if you hadn’t done it, but that’s not what I came over here to talk about. Susan, I’m glad you’re here. I’m very sorry you were the one caught in the middle in all of this, and I’d like to apologize to you personally for the disservice the school district did to you.”
“You weren’t the one who did it,” she said. “It was Gingrich, and he got what was coming to him.”
“Yes, and you played a part in that, too. Your father has told me that you were the one who originally turned up the court action against him, so I have to tell you that you did the right thing. Now, I realize that it’s probably pointless for me to ask, but I’d like you to consider coming back to Spearfish Lake High School. I’ve already restored your status as a senior, and I’d like you to rejoin your class.”
“Thanks, but no thanks,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the thought, but since this has happened I think I’ve managed to move beyond it. It would really be a huge step backward for me. I mean, I’ve already been gone from the class for over a year, and I think of myself as a college student now. I don’t want to go back to high school.”
“I figured you’d say that,” he said. “But I thought I ought to at least make the offer and tell you that all is forgiven and that you’d be welcome.”
“I appreciate that,” she told him. “I know you went to bat for me on this deal and you took some crap as a result of it, and I appreciate you doing so. But I’m already getting up towards midterms now, and things are going really well. I’d be foolish to turn away from that.”
“Like I said, I figured that would be your decision. But we’d still like to keep you as a student, no matter however irregular. That would allow you to graduate with your class next spring, and that might mean something to you.”
“Maybe, maybe not,” she smiled. “Nothing is settled yet, and it’s still something of a long shot, but I might not even be in the country for graduation at all. There’s a possibility I could be attending uni in Germany, and if not, some friends and I are talking about taking a long bike trip in Europe through the Low Countries.”
“You don’t do anything the normal way, do you?” he smiled. “It would still mean an American diploma for you, and that might be worth something. But it’s your decision, and I think we’ll carry you on the books anyway so you can get the dual enrollment tuition paid for six hours in the spring.”
“Well, I’d appreciate it,” she said. “A penny here, a penny there, you know how that works. It’s not like this is Germany where the state picks up the costs for higher education.”
“We’ll consider that part of it a done deal,” he said. “Now, with that in mind, I’d like to ask a favor of you. You’ve made it pretty clear that you don’t want to go back to Spearfish Lake High School on a regular basis, but would you consider sitting in on Mr. Delahayne’s first hour class on Friday, at least until he takes attendance?”
“Why would I . . . oh, fourth Friday count, right?”
“Right. It’d mean $6700 to the school, and part of that will go toward your tuition at Riverside. And it would also mean that we wouldn’t have the state auditors trying to count you as a dropout.”
“That’s a different story,” she smiled. “Mr. Delahayne asked me to drop by to help him work with the kids on drills. I suppose I could show up for that once in a while, and Friday morning sounds like a perfectly good first time.”
They talked for another few minutes while the paper addressing continued. Finally Mr. Hekkinan said he had to be going. He was barely out the door when Susan smiled and said, “Well, crap. I guess I’m still a high school student after all.”