Resolution to ask Cassopolis Board of Education member to resign fails

Published 2:10 pm Friday, October 30, 2020

CASSOPOLIS — Tensions bubbling under the surface for more than a year boiled over this week during a Cassopolis Board of Education meeting.

During the regularly scheduled meeting Monday hosted via Zoom, the board presented a resolution asking board member Sue Horstmann, whose seat is not up for election on Nov. 3, to resign due to inactivity and a lack of presence at board meetings. What followed was nearly an hour of discussion resulting in accusations of bullying and discord, ultimately resulting in the board vowing to work together.

The resolution to ask the board member to resign was prompted by the recommendation by attorney Robert Schindler, who said the resolution was one of the very few ways the board could address the situation of an inactive member.

“How is [not showing up for meetings] doing any good for the public?” asked Trustee Jesse Bement. “We are all supposed to carry our weight. What good are you if you choose not to show?”

Horstmann, who has been on the Cassopolis Board of Education for 18 years, has not been present at a meeting in more than a year, following a censure last fall. The board censured Horstmann in September 2019 for making what were deemed inappropriate, profanity-laden Facebook posts and comments regarding the district’s approval of the sale of the Red Brick School building to R & R Harvesting, a Florida-based agricultural company.  In her posts, Horstmann identified herself as a school board member.

Monday, Horstmann appeared before the rest of the school board for the first time in more than a year. She said she was not willing to back down from the board.

“I will lawyer up if that is what it takes,” she said.

Horstmann said she initially stepped back from the board due to bullying from fellow board members and Superintendent Angela Piazza, alleging that Piazza had threatened her employment as a real estate agent with Cressy and Everett Realty.

Since she initially stepped away from meetings, Horstmann said she has not had contact with the board, aside from board member Amanda Smego, and that she had not been included in board emails containing Zoom meeting information.

“I backed off after 18 years on this board to see if things would settle down,” she said. “You blast me verbally in public time and time again, and you expect me to take it without taking reasonable steps to evaluate myself, the board, our board president and our superintendent.”

Thursday, Superintendent Piazza, who was not present at Monday’s meeting, denied Horstmann’s allegations, saying she has never contacted Horstmann’s employer or threatened her employment.

“That is completely not true,” Piazza said. “That is an outright lie.”

Piazza further said she has not had contact with Horstmann in more than a year, adding that while she had reached out, Horstmann did not respond to calls, emails or texts.

As of press time, Horstmann could not be reached for additional comment on this matter.

The conversation Monday did not stay contained to Horstmann’s situation. General talk of tension and discord between board members was discussed, as well as some board members expressing concerns surrounding the superintendent and overall district climate.

“I don’t understand why there is such a division between this board,” Horstmann said. “Why are we as board members treating each other like this? We should be able to work together and solve the issues.”

Trustee Smego expressed concerns about Piazza’s leadership and referenced action against her with the Attorney General’s Office.

Piazza said that the district contacted the AG’s office to investigate a potential conflict of interest regarding a case handled at Smego’s place of employment, the Cass County Prosecutor’s Office. Once the conflict of interest was removed, Piazza said all action stopped.

Smego declined to comment further on the matter. A lawyer representing her, Edwin Johnson, clarified there was never a case filed against Smego, and that he believed she had acted appropriately in the situation and that there was no conflict of interest.

Piazza said she was disappointed to hear the negativity and accusations against herself, other board members and the district leveled Monday night.

“It’s unfortunate that some personal agendas have gotten in the way of what really matters: the students and meeting the needs of our families and communities,” she said. “We are proud of the work that we have done, and change can be scary for many people, and not everyone agrees with change or progress.”

Ultimately, the board ended its meeting by vowing to remove the discord from the board, move forward and work together for the better of the district. The resolution to ask Horstmann to resign was not seconded, and therefore died before going to a vote. Horstmann agreed to become an active, participating trustee again.

“At the end of the day, we are all family in Cassopolis and work together,” said board president Scott Ward. “We’ve always had the ideology that we are a team. We decided we would rather move together as a whole team. … If we can all show up and be professional at the table, why would we not?”