Janesville school staffer files temporary restraining order against union representative

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Nick Crow
Thursday, January 22, 2015

JANESVILLE--Janesville School District employee Deb Blazer filed a temporary restraining order Wednesday against AFSCME Council 40 staff representative Dennis Hughes.

The order claims that Hughes “harassed, stalked and confronted” Blazer, the district's assistant board clerk, on several occasions from Jan. 12 to Jan. 16.

Hughes represents support staff in the district as part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Hughes had no knowledge of the order as of Thursday afternoon, but he denied  harassing Blazer.

“The words that were spoken were 'tell the truth,'” Hughes said. “You can't use restraining orders to protect people from the lies they're telling. I'm not doing anything to harass her other than telling her to tell the truth in a very calm fashion.”

“I am 100 percent certain that she is not telling the truth,” Hughes said. “So that's where we are. It's just really sad that she has been dragged into the middle of this and really hasn't been doing the speaking herself. I assume she isn't the one who instigated or requested the restraining order.”

In an email to school board members last week, Superintendent Karen Schulte said Hughes' behavior was disruptive, intimidating and "creepy" and kept employees from doing their jobs.

Since challenging the nomination papers of two school board candidates, Hughes has had several encounters with Janesville police at the district's Educational Services Center, 527 S. Franklin St.

Hughes said he was attempting to meet with district administrators, collect public documents and meet with members of his union when he was asked to leave the property.

“I wasn't harassing anyone,” Hughes said. “They are using the fact that they called the police and are using their own private police force that can remove anyone they want from a building. They think police escorting someone from a building is proof enough.”

School district attorney David Moore offered a limited comment on behalf of the district.

 “Obviously, we're continuing to monitor the situation with regards to the election on the one hand, and the district continues to be concerned about the actions of Mr. Hughes. That's about all I can say at this point.”

Moore is a member of the Nowlan & Mouat law firm, as is attorney Sara Gehrig, who is representing Blazer in the restraining order case.

Moore said Hughes is not banned from public meetings or events, but he is supposed to avoid Blazer in other instances at her home or work.

Blazer accepted the nomination papers of four candidates running for three seats on the school board.

After reviewing signatures on the papers, Hughes raised issues with the papers of incumbent David DiStefano and challenger Diane Eyers, saying they were invalid. Hughes said DiStefano's documents were missing information that was later added by district staff. Eyers' documents were missing printed names accompanying the signatures, which are required, he said.

Blazer and board clerk Karl Dommershausen later ruled the papers invalid, and the two were removed from the ballot pending appeals. Eyers was removed for not having printed names, and DiStefano because one of his papers was missing an election date.

The candidates have until Friday to file appeals with the state's Government Accountability Board.

Hughes said he plans to attend Tuesday night's school board meeting and hopes the school board will discuss Schulte's conduct. He claims either Schulte or Blazer added information to DiStefano's papers after they were filed. 

Hughes said DiStefano's nomination papers had an incorrect header.  After he notified Blazer of the problem, she took the papers with her and went to lunch, he said.

When she returned, he said, Blazer gave DiStefano's nomination papers to Hughes with numbers that weren't previously on the documents. Hughes said he's unsure who added the information, but he believes Blazer and Schulte were involved. Hughes later asked Blazer to sign an affidavit saying the documents were changed, but Blazer was told by Schulte she could not sign the affidavit, Hughes said.

“I think the board should absolutely be looking at the conduct of the superintendent,” Hughes said. “I saw it with my own eyes that she added information to election documents when they were already turned in. They are trying to make this an issue where it's her word versus mine, and it's a situation where I know the truth.”

An hearing on the restraining order is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 3, at the Rock County Courthouse in Janesville.

Editors note: This story has been modified from an earlier version to more accurately reflect the issues with the candidates' papers and Hughes' claims about the affidavit.

Last updated: 7:33 am Friday, January 23, 2015

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