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Hempfield AD often 'borrowed' cash: filing

| Monday, Dec. 1, 2008

The Hempfield Area School District athletic director "had a habit of 'borrowing' funds" from the department, according to a filing in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh.

That's why athletic director Greg Meisner's former assistant called the state police after $4,200 disappeared from a locked cabinet in that department, the filing states.

Former assistant athletic director Mike Burrell Jr. was fired after the money vanished and then later reappeared, ending a criminal investigation. Among Burrell's duties were the collection and safekeeping of money generated at athletic events.

Burrell is suing the school board, Superintendent Terry Foriska and Meisner under the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law, claiming the dismissal was in retaliation for exposing the alleged theft.

Burrell's attorney, Joseph Hudock Jr., said Meisner had only "borrowed $40 or $60" from the office. When the $4,200 disappeared, Meisner denied any involvement.

He earns more than $101,000 in the dual jobs of football coach and athletic director.

Meisner said Friday he could not comment because of the pending lawsuit and the fact that it's a personnel matter. The school board has argued that Burrell wasn't fired but was not rehired.

High school Principal Kathy Charlton ordered Burrell to contact the state police after learning the money was missing. During a joint search of the office by Meisner and Burrell, Meisner found a manila envelope containing $2,380 in cash in $20 bills, according to court documents.

Burrell charged that Meisner berated him for going to state police and for "suggesting that the money had been placed back in the office by someone after it turned up missing," documents stated.

Burrell also alleged that Meisner told him "he and (Burrell) should have kept the money and split it."

Meisner accused Burrell of disloyalty because Burrell would not tell him what he told state police when they questioned him. State police instructed Burrell not to discuss the investigation with Meisner, according to court documents.

Meisner also told Burrell that he disapproved of Burrell's friendship with Hempfield's basketball coach, Bill Swan, according to the document. Swan was suspended for two games earlier this year for using profanity toward a fan. Meisner gave the school board a 13-page evaluation of Swan's behavior.

Meisner asked a judge to dismiss Burrell's lawsuit. He argued that public employees are not always immune from discipline by their employers for speaking out about possible wrongdoing or corruption.

Meisner's attorney, Susan T. Roberts, said because Burrell was speaking in "his official job duties and that he was not speaking as an ordinary citizen," according to the motion to dismiss, his First Amendment rights were not violated.

Hudock said exposing potential wrongdoing was not part of his client's official job duties and "it cannot be said that he was speaking as anything other than a citizen ..."

"Granting the defendant's motion to dismiss would serve not only to deprive him of his day in court, but would also deny (Burrell) of his First Amendment rights and would eviscerate the purpose and spirit of the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law," Hudock wrote.

He said Burrell's contention that he was fired "because of his actions following the missing money. It is reasonable to believe that a jury might determine this to be true."

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