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Investigation of Duluth School Board member cost $43,000

Duluth School Board member Art Johnston speaks during a Dec. 2 meeting held to discuss the findings of an investigation about incidents involving him. (2014 file / News Tribune)

The cost of the four-month investigation into allegations made against Duluth School Board member Art Johnston has been released.

The Eden Prairie, Minn.-based firm Fafinski Mark and Johnson billed the Duluth school district about $43,000 for the investigation it was enlisted to do in June.

At $210 an hour, the results of the investigation were determined after about 205 hours of work that involved multiple interviews with Johnston along with more than 30 other interviews, review of emails, text messages, newspaper stories and board meetings.

The board approved a review of allegations against Johnston that included conflict of interest, abuse of authority, assault or improper behavior toward Superintendent Bill Gronseth and then-chairman Mike Miernicki, making a racist comment and violating the board’s code of ethics. The allegations stemmed from both actions Johnston took on behalf of his partner, Jane Bushey, who is a district employee, and his behavior toward Gronseth and Miernicki at the June 4 East High School graduation ceremony.

The investigator, Mary Rice, found the claim of a racist comment to be unsubstantiated. Claims of personal conflict of interest, abusive, threatening behavior and violation of several board codes were found to have merit.

The board voted in December to move forward with the removal of Johnston, pending a hearing. Johnston has requested one, but it has yet to be scheduled. The hearing will involve sworn testimony and will be presided over by a retired Hennepin County judge.

After he offers his findings, the board will make a decision.

If Johnston is ousted, it will be the third time a state statute allowing it will have been used.