The Madison Metropolitan School District is “committed to doing the hard work and restoring the integrity” of its communications team following the release of an employee complaint against spokesperson Tim LeMonds last Friday.
In an unsigned statement posted to its website Thursday and sent via email to reporters by Communications Manager Ian Folger, the district said it “will conduct a full review of the department operations, structure and human interaction in the coming months,” with no more specific timeline.
“At the same time, the District will have significant leadership changes this summer, and through those transitions we will work to reorganize and restore relationships that are essential to our success,” according to the statement. “We will work to build a positive workplace culture for employees.”
Those leadership changes include Superintendent Carlton Jenkins retiring and longtime administrator Lisa Kvistad taking over as interim superintendent during a search for the next permanent leader. Chief Financial Officer Ross MacPherson and General Legal Counsel Sherry Terrell-Webb are among other top leaders leaving this summer.
In fact, in a story last week in Isthmus by Deborah Kades, she reports that when WMTV reporter Elizabeth Wadas approached Jenkins at a public meeting last winter LeMonds prevented her from reaching him. He told her that the meeting was for the public. Wadas informed him that being a reporter did not make her an alien, but apparently to no avail.
LeMonds also leads a communications department for a district that, beyond just LeMonds, seems intent on not communicating. In 2019 a Madison East educator and trip chaperon was found to have placed hidden cameras in the hotel bathrooms of students. The district conducted an investigation to determine if staff followed policy regarding the reporting and follow up on these incidents. The investigation concluded they had, but the district refused to release the report. Parents and students were, understandably, upset. Even school board members were not allowed to read it. Then, inexplicably and in response to another open records request on yet another camera incident, the district released the full report to Isthmus in August of 2021. LeMonds refused to answer Isthmus reporter Dylan Brogan’s questions about it at the time.
And over a long period, the MMSD holds the dubious distinction of being the least transparent public agency in the state. In March, the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council “awarded” the district with its No Friend of Openness (Nopee) award. The council wrote: “It’s rare for a public institution that depends on taxpayer support to be as awful as this one when it comes to public records and accountability. The district, through spokesperson Tim LeMonds, has become notorious for outrageous delays and excuses, prompting multiple lawsuits alleging violations of the records law. Tom Kamenick of the Wisconsin Transparency Project has said he has “received more complaints about MMSD than any other government agency.” It is time for the district’s casual contempt for the public’s right to know to come to a screeching halt.”
Tim LeMonds had good reason to fight the release of a complaint against him. Now he should tell his side of the story.
In a statement released Thursday by district officer of internal communication Ian Folger, the district says “the information shared publicly last week was difficult for all individuals mentioned in the documents, as well as for those who interact with them. It is abundantly clear that there are relational problems within the District’s communications department that need to be addressed.”
Folger said LeMonds remains a full-time district employee and that his role with the district has not changed. He said he could not comment on whether LeMonds is under further investigation by the district, but LeMonds said in a Thursday interview that as far as he knew, he is not.
LeMonds — who in the interview said he was speaking only on behalf of himself — said he has not been subject to any disciplinary action in the wake of the documents’ release and “categorically” denied that he called Stephanie Fryer, the spokesperson for the Madison Police Department, an “idiot,” as was alleged in the court documents.
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