Lawsuit to oust Tipp City school board members set for trial near Election Day

Effort to remove Dunaway and Zakkour started over a year ago

TROY — An attempt by some Tipp City school district residents to oust two board of education members has been scheduled for an Oct. 23 bench trial in Miami County Common Pleas Court, on jurisdictional issues.

A group called Tipp City Concerned Citizens filed petitions with the court in late 2021 seeking the removal of school board members Theresa Dunaway and Anne Zakkour. The group claimed in the action that the pair engaged in inappropriate conduct. The board members argue they did nothing improper.

An order filed by the judge lists deadlines for the filing of various documents and information in the case, such as lists of witnesses, sharing of information between parties, exhibits intended as evidence and various motions. The first date is Feb. 3 with dates continuing until the Oct. 23 trial. A bench trial is before a judge only, with no jury.

Dunaway and Zakkour’s current terms on the board of education expire at the end of 2023, and neither has announced publicly whether they intend to run for re-election. If they do run, the trial is scheduled to begin just two weeks before their Election Day.

Judge Thomas Wolff, retired from Ohio’s 2nd District Court of Appeals, was appointed last year as visiting judge to handle the case after Common Pleas Judge Jeannine Pratt recused herself.

Wolff ruled last summer that some of the claims would be dismissed because there was not enough information to litigate them. He said arguments that Dunaway and Zakkour violated Ohio’s Sunshine Law and improperly used authority would be dismissed for failure to state a claim.

Wolff left other allegations pending after ruling there was “sufficient particularity” to them that would allow the board members to file a response. Those allegations included abuse of power; refusal or willful neglect to enforce the law and uphold their duties; exceeding the scope of their responsibilities and authority; and gross neglect of duty, misfeasance and/or nonfeasance in office.

In the fall, Wolff asked the Miami County Board of Elections to verify that those who signed the petitions were registered voters in the school district. A letter from the elections’ office to Wolff states that the elections staff counted 1,456 valid signatures on the petitions seeking Zakkour’s removal and 1,448 valid signatures on the petitions concerning Dunaway.

The elections office said the petitioners needed 1,083 signatures on each petition to meet the state law requirement for 15 percent of the district residents who participated in the last gubernatorial election. In this case, the election would have been the 2018 gubernatorial vote.

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