This letter from the Mercer School Board to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, dated May 1, 2018, includes the signatures of two individuals who were not on the Mercer School Board at the time, forming the basis of felony charges filed recently by Iron County district attorney Matthew Tingstad against Noel Brandy, Deanna Pierpont, Colleen “Kelly” Kohegyi and Denise Thompson.
4/20/2019 7:25:00 AM Current, former Mercer school board members facing felony charges Iron County DA filed charges after spring election
Three days after the April 2 election for Mercer School Board, Iron County district attorney Matt Tingstad filed Class 1 felony charges against five former and current members of the Mercer school board.
Noel Brandt, who resigned as school board president in February but is still listed as its president on the school district's website, faces one count of misconduct in office and acting in excess of authority.
School board member Karl Anderson said in an email to The Lakeland Times Monday, Brandt's resignation "was never acted upon by the board."
"It was on February's agenda but not March," he said. "We did not have a quorum for February or March and therefore no business was able to be conducted."
In an email to The Lakeland Times, Mercer school administrator Eric Torkelson confirmed Anderson's explanation, adding Brandt is still the school board president as he "rescinded his resignation before it was acted upon."
Like Brandt, the misconduct charge against Deanna Pierpont and Michele "Miki"Holmstrom and the falsely exercising a public office function charge against former board members Denise Thompson and Colleen "Kelly" Kohegyi, revolve around a letter to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, dated May 1, 2018, containing an explanation for questions regarding a recent school district audit.
Kohegyi is Torkelson's mother-in-law.
Each of the five signed the letter to the DPI, the complaints states.
According to the complaint against Brandt, members of the Mercer School Board as of May 1, 2018, were listed as Brandt, Holmstrom, Pierpont, Anderson and Christa Reinert.
By the time the letter was sent to the DPI, Thompson had been off the school board for a little more than two years. She was defeated by Reinert in April 2016.
According to the Kohegyi complaint, Anderson was sworn into office April 23, 2018, after he defeated her in the spring election a couple weeks earlier.
Brandt, Holmstrom and Pierpont's alleged knowledge that Thompson and Kohegyi were no longer on the school board at the time they signed the May 1, 2018 letter to the DPI forms the basis for the charges against each of them.
Included in the complaints against Brandt, Pierpont and Holmstrom is the verbiage "it is forbidden by law to exercise a function of public office knowing that his/her right to so act had ceased."
If convicted, they each face a fine up to $10,000, up to three and a half years in prison or both.
More against Pierpont
In addition, Pierpont, who didn't run for re-election to the school board this year, also faces an additional misconduct in office charge.
According to the complaint against Pierpont, Lt. Matthew Foryan with the Iron County Sheriff's Office interviewed Reinert on Jan. 23 of this year and during that interview it was mentioned the school board's meetings were recorded via audio and video.
The October 2017 Mercer School Board meeting included "a disturbance with board members and the public," according to the complaint.
At the time, Pierpont was the school board president.
"There was some profanity and a confrontation with board member Noel Brandt and a citizen who attended the meeting," the complaint against Pierpont reads. "Reinert asked school board president Deanna Pierpont for a copy of the video. She received an email from Pierpont stating the videos are no longer on the (school district) website or available."
The complaint goes on to say in an interview for an article that appeared in the July 11, 2018, edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Pierpont "was quoted as stating 'I just felt that I didn't want that out on the website.'"
It concludes by stating Foryan scheduled a Feb. 1, 2019, interview with Pierpont, but she called the day before and canceled.
There have been questions regarding the timing of Tingstad's filing of the charges almost immediately after the April 2 election - Reinert didn't win another term on the school board - but he had no comment on the matter.
All five defendants - Pierpont, Brandt, Thompson, Kohegyi and Holmstrom - are scheduled to appear in Iron County court April 22 to answer to the allegations against them.
None of defendants have responded to a request for comment on the charges.
Brian Jopek may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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