Attorney General Ed W. Hancock sued two members of the county Board of Education in 1972, claiming they had usurped their positions and should repay several years of their salaries.
Circuit Judge Carl Melton was out of town at the time the suit was filed by Owensboro attorney Richard S. Taylor on behalf of the attorney general. That prompted Circuit Court Clerk George Raber to issue a restraining order at 3 p.m. April 17, 1972, which prevented Chairman Wilburn Ray Buckman and board member Paul Thomas from voting at the meeting that night.
Neither of them attended the meeting, according to The Gleaner of April 18. Board Vice Chairman James Flint, who presided over the April 17 meeting, told The Gleaner the restraining order could not be lifted in time for the two to attend the meeting.
Both men were accused of having a conflict of interest. They were elected Nov. 5, 1968, and took the oath of office Jan. 6, 1969. Even though they had been serving since then, the suit said, “they in fact have no right to exercise the duties of said office for the reason that they are serving illegally or are otherwise ineligible.”
Buckman was the sales manager of Taylor-Dempewolf Motors and on July 20, 1970, he made a motion for the school board to buy a dump truck from his employer. The suit alleged such action violated state law and mandated Buckman’s removal.
Thomas, meanwhile, was employed by the Henderson Area Vocational School, which was a merit system job. Merit system employees were prohibited from serving in a paid political position by two sections of state law. “Paul Thomas has violated the above and, therefore, he should be ousted as a member of the Board of Education,” the lawsuit said.
The Gleaner’s story noted, “The accusation against Thomas has been made previously by other individuals, but Superintendent Lewis Johnson and Thomas have denied any impropriety.”
That leads me to think there was a backstory to this lawsuit that is not revealed by either the newspaper stories or the legal papers. The suit had big ramifications. Think of it: If the election of the two men were nullified by the court, that would appear to call into question every matter they had voted on since 1969. I suspect that could have been very messy.
The Gleaner’s second story about the controversy – and its last – appeared April 22 and it reported the restraining order had been lifted the previous day after a brief conference in Henderson Circuit Court. But the judge did not rule on whether the two men had been serving illegally.
According to The Gleaner the basis for dissolving the restraining order were essentially two legal technicalities: The affidavit filed with the request for the order failed to state whether the petitioner “had ever been refused the issuance of such an order in any other court, and also failed to state that the circuit judge was out of the county when the restraining order was issued.”
The judge’s formal order from the court file, however, phrased the reasons somewhat differently in that the “plaintiff has failed to file a motion for restraining order to be heard at this time and date and further that the affidavit filed for issuance of the restraining order is not sufficient to authorize the clerk to issue a restraining order.”
According to The Gleaner, Buckman maintained he had been voting to take the low bid for the dump truck purchase. Meanwhile, “Thomas said he cleared the matter of his service with the board with the attorney general’s office before taking office.”
On May 19 the case was once again before the judge, who did not rule until May 30. He dismissed the case for failure to state a claim “for which relief can be granted.” However, the attorney general was given permission to file an amended complaint.
The amended complaint claimed Thomas’ job with the vocational school and his service on the school board “are incompatible in that the functions of the two are inherently inconsistent and repugnant to each other; that the one interferes with the performance of the duties of the other; and the occupancy of both by the same person is detrimental to the public interest.”
As for Buckman, the amended complaint said, during his school board term he had voted to buy not only the dump truck from Taylor-Dempewolf, but also “various other equipment, supplies, materials and services” and that he “received either directly or indirectly a monetary gain from these said transactions.”
School board attorney C.B. West, in his filings with the court, maintained that was not so because the salary paid Buckman by Taylor-Dempewolf did not change no matter what the school board did. “While he may have had an ‘emotional interest’ in his employer receiving the contract, the complaint fails to show that any further interest on his part, direct or indirect, existed.”
On Aug. 18 a motion was heard to set the case for a pre-trial hearing, which was set for Sept. 27 but never occurred. Local attorney George Stigger represented the attorney general that day in court. The judge required the attorneys to list their witnesses, any special damages, and produce for inspection all exhibits expected to be entered into the record.
The attorneys were also required to submit any proposed instructions to the court, along with a memorandum showing their legal authority, and a memorandum about any anticipated “unusual problems” with the case.
That action on Aug. 18 was essentially the last gasp of the lawsuit – probably because neither Buckman nor Thomas sought re-election and left office at the end of 1972.
On Feb. 13, 1973, the court dismissed the case “for failure of prosecution” and required court costs to be paid by the plaintiff. The attorney general “has no objection to dismissing the action, the issues involved in the action now being mute” by which the scribe writing in the court order book most likely meant moot.
100 YEARS AGO
The Grand Theater premiered “The Sheik” April 20, 1922, along with theaters across the nation.
The silent film made Rudolph Valentino one of the first international film stars and had a huge impact on popular culture – although by modern standards it is in no way politically correct. In fact, the plot involves a classic case of Stockholm syndrome.
The film played two days at the Grand. Admission was 15 cents for children and 25 cents for adults. There was a matinee at 2 p.m. and the evening performance at 7 p.m.
75 YEARS AGO
An article appeared in The Gleaner April 18, 1947, touting the benefits of the new herbicide 2,4-D.
“After two years of research in this state and others it is now possible to recommend its use for the control of many weeds that are troublesome…. Weeds such as dandelion, buckhorn and plantain are killed without injury to the bluegrass” used in many lawns, golf courses and parks.
In June 1947, according to Maralea Arnett’s “Annals and Scandals” book, the local extension office demonstrated use of 2,4-D on a field of corn. “Gradually the horse weeds began to droop and fall over, revealing the green stalks of corn the weeds had hidden.”
Up to that point, the herbicide had not been used locally on anything other than small text plots. But a wet spring had kept the fields too wet for cultivation until the weeds were thicker and taller than the corn.
Paul Rhodes sprayed 10 acres on June 18 and other farmers followed as soon as they saw the results. “It’s like a miracle,” said one.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency allows the use of 2,4-D, although since 1985 it has banned forms of it that contain dioxin, a chemical linked to cancer.
The same April 18 edition also carried a story noting that Henderson Fiscal Court had bought its first power mower for maintaining the courthouse lawn. It drew quite a bit of attention.
25 YEARS AGO
A joint venture between The Gleaner and Evansville-based World Connection Services provided Henderson with yet another portal to the World Wide Web, according to the April 20, 1997, edition.
It was called Henderson Online and featured 32 modem telephone lines that were connected to the Web via a dedicated T-1 line.
Customers were able to access the Web, email, and chat rooms in the Tri-State vicinity and were entitled to 4 megabytes of personal storage space for setting up a web page. They also got a free copy of the Netscape browser.
The Gleaner was continuing to set up its Web page, according to Publisher Steve Austin, which already provided information about the newspaper and links to sites of local interest. “In the future it will include all types of news and information services and classified ads and weather,” Austin said.
Henderson Online was the fifth Internet provider to offer local dial-up service. Others included campusMCI (also known as UK Online); Dynasty Online; kih online; and LDDNet.
Readers of The Gleaner can reach Frank Boyett at YesNews42@yahoo.com or on Twitter at @BoyettFrank.
This article originally appeared on Henderson Gleaner: Henderson history: AG tried to remove county school board members in 1972