After conducting interviews with the top four candidates, the Centennial School Board has now decided who will fill the one-year term until the special election next November.

School Board Director Stephanie Carlson, whose term was supposed to run through 2024, submitted her resignation last month. The school board received nine applications and decided to interview four of those candidates at a special school board meeting last week. The candidates interviewed included: John Burns, Laura Gannon, Cindy Hansen and Robert (Bob) Vollbrecht.

Each of the four candidates was asked the same questions, with the exception of the first to be interviewed (Burns). All of the candidates were asked:

•Please tell us something about yourself and your interest in serving on the Centennial School Board, including past exposure you and your family have had with the Centennial School District.

•What previous experiences have you had working with or as a member of a 

nonprofit organization board?

•What do you view as the role of a school board and as an individual school board member in Centennial School District?

•How do you view the school board’s role and relationship to the superintendent of schools, the district and building administrators?

At the end of each interview, candidates were given a chance to share anything else they wanted with the school board about themselves and/or ask questions of the school board.

School Board Clerk Kathryn Timm asked Burns, the first candidate to be interviewed, “Do you have any prior litigation or licensure discipline which would be embarrassing to the district if it was revealed following an appointment to the school board, or which would cast doubt on your ability to act as in a fiduciary capacity as a school board member?”

Burns said no, and that he lives a pretty “boring life” and tries to “live within the law and do what’s right.” Following that interview, Chair Suzy Guthmueller said she felt Timm’s question was inappropriate, and if it was to be asked to the other candidates, it would need to be voted on and agreed to by the school board first.

Timm made a motion to include the question but the motion failed for lack of a second. Timm tried to provide some explanation as to why she wanted to ask that question. “We have an obligation to conduct due diligence in our duties as statutory board members. There is information that I have …”

Guthmueller interrupted and told her she was out of order and called a recess.

Following the interviews, school board members discussed which candidates they felt would be a great addition to the board for the one-year term. During the meeting, which was open to the public per the Minnesota Open Meeting Law, board applicants were referred to by letter to comply with the state’s Data Practices Act, which protects certain personal information.

Guthmueller said she felt candidate A had a lot of experience compared to the other candidates and could begin to work immediately.

School Board Director Tom Knisely said he felt candidates A and F would do a great job. “I’m looking for someone who can hit the ground running, get going right off the bat without having to engage in the learning curve that I had to deal with.” School Board Treasurer Chris Bettinger said he agreed with those two candidates.

Timm said her first choice has been candidate G all along, for the reasons of transparency, honesty and integrity. Guthmueller said she felt that candidate G had a lot of experience as an elected official, but not necessarily as a school board member. “It felt to me that she did not understand our role as a school board …” she said.

Timm then nominated candidate G, which failed, as Timm was the only one to vote yes. Knisely nominated candidate A. All of the school board members voted yes except Timm.

The school board then appointed candidate A, Vollbrecht, to the vacant school board seat.

During his interview, Vollbrecht shared that he served on the Jordan School Board for 18 years until he and his partner (Cori Sendle, director of Community Education) moved to the area. Over the years, he has worked as a substitute for Kids Club and preschool. He also served for eight years on the Human Resources Council for Scott County.

Vollbrecht said the one thing he has always appreciated about the district is how it maintains that small-town feel. “The district does a really good job at keeping that sense of community,” he said.

Vollbrecht will be sworn in Jan. 10. In November 2022, voters will have the opportunity to fill three board seats in addition to the seat vacated by Carlson. The winner of that special election will serve a two-year term.

 

After the meeting

Following the meeting, the Press obtained information having to do with a sanction levied against Vollbrecht by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).

In 2011, FINRA sanctioned two firms and seven individuals for selling interests in private placements without conducting a reasonable investigation. The companies ultimately failed, resulting in significant investor losses. According to the FINRA, Workman Securities Corp. of Minnesota was ordered to pay $700,000 in restitution to affected customers. Vollbrecht, Workman’s former president, was barred in any principal capacity, and fined $10,000.

In a phone interview with Press, Vollbrecht explained that he worked for Workman, a company that no longer exists, from the late ’90s until 2010. While there, he served as a control person of the broker dealer and held a Series 24 Principal’s license, which gave him the ability to oversee other representatives.

“There was a lot of litigation when Workman ceased to exist ... I was never personally listed on anything. I’ve never been personally accused of doing anything,” Vollbrecht said. “I had a Series 24 Principal’s license, I no longer have that. They word it as ‘permanently barred,’ but I surrendered the license because I am not a principal of a broker dealer, so I don’t have any reason to have it.”

Vollbrecht said he never lost his Series 7 license for general securities representative, which permits solicitation, purchase and/or sale of all securities products, including corporate securities, municipal fund securities, options, direct participation programs, investment company products and variable contracts.

“I’m not saying mistakes weren’t made, I’m not saying I wasn’t part of a broker dealer that had issues that no longer exists,” he said “I have never been personally accused of any wrongdoing, I’ve never been personally accused of fraud or anything.” Vollbrecht added that he never personally had to pay a fine, but that the company paid several fines.  

Ultimately, Vollbrecht says he remains qualified for the school board member position. At the time when this happened, Vollbrect was serving on the Jordan School Board. “It had no impact on my ability to be a board member whatsoever. I know the board needs somebody, and I’m immensely qualified to do it.”

In a follow-up phone interview with Guthmueller, she provided some context of how the board came up with questions for candidates, and what happened right before the board meeting. She explained that before the interviews, she and Superintendent Jeff Holmberg vetted a list of questions they have asked appointed school board members previously. “The biggest thing is we didn’t want any more controversy; we are just trying to find a good candidate that is going to come in, going to do the role and let the public choose when they vote,” she said.

The candidate questions were then emailed to the board, and she said no one responded with the exception of board member Timm, who requested the question about litigation/licensure discipline. Holmberg reached out to the district’s attorney to see whether the board could ask that question, but really never got an opinion, Guthmueller said.

Ten minutes before the board meeting, Guthmueller said Timm requested to talk to her and showed her a packet of information having to do with Vollbrecht. “There was no time to react to anything, at that point,” she said.

After the question was asked to the first candidate and before the second interview, Guthmueller said district staff reached out to the Minnesota School Board Association (MSBA) and were told they could not ask that question of the candidates.  

“As the chair of the school board, I was trying to run the meeting with protocol under Robert’s Rules (of Order) and not have her bring out information that was not pertinent to the interview. We do not need to be interrogating (a candidate) sitting in a board room in front of a bunch of people,” she said. “We don’t need to be getting into the weeds of someone’s personal life. He has already paid the consequences for whatever happened in his past. That was something that is not up to us to prosecute, and it doesn’t affect the school board; it didn’t affect the Jordan School Board, and it won’t affect a one-year appointment to the Centennial School Board.”

Guthmueller explained that she wasn’t concerned about Vollbrecht’s background, which had already been under extensive review before he became involved in the district’s Kids Club. She said she also talked to the chair of the Jordan School Board, who had nothing but “glowing” things to say about Vollbrecht.

If she has one regret, Guthmueller said it is that she didn’t give Vollbrecht a chance to defend himself. “He wasn’t able to tell his story ... He is very open and honest; he would have come forward and said that.” Guthmueller said she spoke with each of the board members after the board meeting and told them Vollbrecht is opening to discussing the situation with them at any time if that is something they are interested in.

“I’m so excited to have him. I think he will bring some reason to the table,” she said. “Bob is a really strong candidate. I really look forward to serving with him. He is an excellent candidate, he has been an excellent school board member, and our board members have already learned from him.”

 

Managing Editor Shannon Granholm can be reached at 651-407-1227 or quadnews@presspubs.com.

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