Investigation shows boardmember is legit
July 07, 2010 - Lake Orion School Boardmember Tiffany Weber-Phillips' residency is legitimate, say school officials, and so were investigation methods used to look into it.
Law enforcement officers checked out allegations that Weber-Phillips has not lived in the school district for months. Rumors suggested Weber-Phillips and her family lived in Oxford's school district instead, which, if true, would make her seat on the board unlawful, according to election law.
To verify Weber-Phillips' residency, the school district investigated her children, who attend Lake Orion schools.
"Because Tiffany has children in the district, investigating her children's residency would be investigating hers," said school board Vice President Mary Jo Burchart. "We did move swiftly and, according to the attorney, thoroughly to clear her name."
Burchart said the board's attorney gave the investigation method a thumbs up as a way to satisfy Weber-Phillips' residency, noting she's heard community members voice concern over not asking for Weber-Phillips' utility bills and the superintendent announcing Weber-Phillips' investigation was complete, when really the investigation was for her kids.
"I heard some of the same concerns, which is why I asked our attorney to give an opinion as to whether or not we had performed our due diligence. He stated that we had," she said.
According to officials, residency checks are made by an Oakland County Sheriff school liaison at the request of the district. For the check on Weber-Phillips' students, Thursday, May 20, Lieutenant Bruce Naile said, "At the time we did the inspection, it appeared that the children were living at that (Lake Orion) address at that time. We're not saying anything about a year prior, or two years prior."
Weber-Phillips has denied the allegations from the beginning – ever since an anonymous letter accusing Weber-Phillips of living in Oxford was sent to The Review and various school officials at the end of April.
At that time, she said, "We purchased the home in Lake Orion five or six years ago and that's always been our residence. Everything is at that address. That's where we live," she said. "I would say we're in the Lake Orion house 90 percent of the time."
She added, "I truly believe, because we're going through all these issues with schools, that somebody has a political motive and they're going to try to bring whatever they can to light."
But, Weber-Phillips' Lake Orion neighbors said the family hadn't stayed at that house for months. According to three residents in close proximity, the house is instead a cottage or vacation home – a place used for entertaining or staying for an occasional weekend, and two or three weeks in the summer.
As for the anonymous letter sparking the investigation, neither the school board nor The Review knows who wrote it.
Burchart said "I have no idea at all. Haven't even heard a rumbling," about where it came from.
Weber-Phillips did file a report with Lake Orion police after receiving the letter, but officers say they are not investigating Lake Orion resident Birgit McQuiston for sending the letter.
At the school board's May 12 meeting, Weber-Philips alleged McQuiston had some connection to the letter after McQuiston referred to Weber-Phillips' disputed residency during public participation.
Weber-Phillips said to McQuiston, who was sitting in the audience, "This speech that you have was pretty written down, pretty scripted. This is a police matter at this point. I'm going to have to present to the police department the fact that you had this information in front of you so quickly and had it part of your speech. The police department stated that this letter is… harassment and stalkish. Some of the information that has come to light will be pretty informative to the lieutenant at the village."
McQuiston denies any connection to the anonymous letter.
She got back up in front the board at their May 26 meeting and said, "I have personally been disrespected by this board simply for reading The Lake Orion Review and rendering my opinion at a school board meeting. …It is my sincere desire that our school board conducts itself with the highest levels of ethics and professionalism, and that they follow their policies and bylaws and are thereby held accountable for their actions."
Reporter, Lake Orion Review