The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

May 4, 2014

Litigious Midd-West pays solicitor $35G in year

By Marcia Moore
The Daily Item

— MIDDLEBURG — The controversy engulfing the Midd-West School District has some residents complaining that the only people benefiting from the brouhaha are attorneys.

Jenn Arbogast, a Mount Pleasant Mills mother of three, recently questioned the school board about the legal advice it is receiving from solicitor Orris Knepp III, of Lewistown.

“He’s paid quite a bit of money, and at the end of the day, our district is in turmoil,” she said. “There are lawsuits all over the place. It’s his job to prevent that.”

Middleburg resident Mike Dupuy urged the board to reconsider its handling of controversial matters.

“This board needs to think about a second opinion,” he said. “You do not work for counsel. You employ counsel. It is your job to protect this community and do its will in regard to education.”

Knepp said Friday that he understands the public’s demand for answers, but said without a waiver of confidentiality rights, neither he nor the board can talk about issues involving district employees.

“It’s a situation where if the public is patient, their questions, or many of them, will be answered,” he said, adding that each elected, volunteer board director is looking out for the best interests of the students.

As far as the “multiple pieces of litigation” being pursued, Knepp said, it’s the board that is raising the “very serious issues. They’re the leaders of the district, not me. I didn’t dig this up. They had legal matters and brought them to me.”

Knepp, who has worked for the district for about seven years, was reappointed solicitor in December at an hourly rate of $100.

He’s been paid $34,894 in the past year. Another $12,216 in legal bills were paid by the district last year to special counsel Jeffrey Litts, of Lancaster, and Scott Etter, of State College, who were hired on Sept. 23 to negotiate Superintendent Wesley Knapp’s Oct. 28 resignation under the cloud of allegations of incompetence and neglect of duty.

And the legal bills continue to climb as a criminal investigation continues against Daphne Snook, the acting superintendent suspended without pay in April for what the board said was an alleged breach of the district email system. Snook denies any wrongdoing.

On Monday, the board declined by a 3-3 vote to allow the district’s insurance carrier to pay the $6,784 legal costs billed by a Camp Hill law firm representing director Nancy Kroh against a taxpayer petition in Snyder County Court seeking her removal for neglect of duty.

The decision could open the district up to yet another lawsuit for breach of contract.

Meanwhile, two more taxpayer petitions have been filed in court calling for the ouster of board president Victor Abate and director Ronald Wilson.