Dusso files restraining order

Published 10:05 am Thursday, December 1, 2011

70-year-old Lyle City Council member denies threatening superintendent

The problems in Lyle are getting worse.

Lyle Public School Superintendent Jim Dusso filed a harassment restraining order Monday against former district employee and Lyle City Council member Gary Harrison.

Harrison is prohibited from going anywhere near where Dusso might be, including Dusso’s home or Lyle Public Schools, until Dec. 1, 2012.

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The restraining order stems from an altercation between Dusso and Harrison at the Lyle Public School board’s Nov. 22 meeting.

Dusso said in the restraining order that Harrison stalked him to the office shortly after the board took a five-minute recess due to several audience members refusing to leave the meeting. According to the restraining order, Harrison told Dusso, “I should drop you.” It also said Harrison tried to follow Dusso and his wife out of the building to their car.

“I never said that,” Harrison told the Herald on Wednesday. “I’ve got witnesses. I never said that.”

Dusso declined to comment on the restraining order but said it speaks for itself.

According to the order, Dusso felt afraid Harrison would try to harm him after several other incidents of alleged stalking and emotional outbursts.

“I firmly believe that Gary is going to (be) so upset he will assault me,” Dusso wrote in the restraining order.

Harrison, a former police officer, said that at his age, he wouldn’t try to assault another person.

“I’m 70 years old,” Harrison said. “Do you think I’m going to attack somebody?”

Dusso claims in the restraining order that KAAL has video footage of Harrison’s threat, and the order lists board chairman Dean Rohne as a witness.

Harrison told audience members during a recess at the November board meeting that Dusso had accused Harrison of making threats.

Harrison said he will fight the restraining order — which Judge Donald Rysavy granted Monday — by asking for a court appearance before the judge. He wants the judge to allow him at least to attend school functions so he may see his grandchildren in extracurricular activities.

“(Dusso) has absolutely stuck a dagger in my heart,” he said. “I can’t go to my grandchildren’s Christmas concert. I can’t go to any basketball games if he’s around.”

Letters from Lyle

Harrison may not be the only person to be served a restraining order. District officials sent out letters this week to Connie Branchaud, Sandra King, Tammy Whalen, Wendy King, and Harrison prohibiting them from attending school board meetings. Sandra and Wendy are mother and wife to board member Dan King. The board had asked each letter recipient to leave the November meeting, and Branchaud, Whalen and Sandra King were removed by Mower County Sheriff’s deputies.

District officials say they are complying with board policy 903, which states people could be prohibited from visiting school property if they are not following school guidelines or if their visit is “not in the best interest of students, employees or the school district.” Under the policy, prohibited visitors would be criminally trespassing.

Rohne said the policy is clear in this situation and each recipient had disrupted the board meeting.

“It’s pretty clear,” he said. “The board needs to run a civilized meeting.”

Rohne said district officials had never sent out letters like this before, to his knowledge.

District officials say only people who disrupt meetings in the future would receive those letters and that it is not a means to stifle criticism of the board or the administration. The board and specifically Dusso are under fire as many residents have taken issue with Dusso’s leadership since he was appointed superintendent in May.

“It has everything to do with the disruption,” Dusso told the Herald Wednesday. “We’re doing it because they’re not following district procedure. For them to shout out at the board during a meeting … is disruptive and it’s not allowed.”

Letter recipients say the district’s actions come as a surprise.

“Everybody is just in total, absolute shock that (they) would even go that far,” Harrison said.

What’s more, many expect some form of backlash at the next board meeting on Dec. 12.

“By sending these letters, all they’ve done is escalate the public’s frustration,” Wendy King said. “It doesn’t solve anything.”

King said she will continue to seek ways to address the board and get residents’ opinions heard despite not being allowed to attend board meetings. School critics say their continuous appeals to the board to examine Dusso’s leadership have gone unheard or have been ignored, while district officials say the board and administration are listening to people’s concerns but acting in the best interest of the district.

With each side at a crossroads, many feel nothing will be solved if people aren’t willing to talk.

“Without any dialogue … there’s not going to be anything resolved,” King said.