Lebanon leaders at odds as protest court case concludes

Vice Mayor Mark Messer and Lebanon’s school superintendent exchanged verbal jabs after a judge ordered Messer’s brother to stay off school grounds for a year for trespassing during a protest outside the high school.

Brian Messer, the vice mayor’s brother, was found guilty of criminal trespassing and ordered to “stay off all Lebanon City Schools property” while serving one year on probation, according to on-line court records.

Judge Mark Bogen suspended a $100 fine and $80 in court costs, but ordered Messer, 32, of Lebanon, to pay a $150 probation fee during a hearing last week in Lebanon Municipal Court.

Messer was sentenced after pleading no contest on April 25, two weeks after his lawyer filed a jury demand.

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His brother, Mark, is the city councilman who fills in when Mayor Amy Brewer is absent.

In March, residents, including one who called for Superintendent Todd Yohey’s non-renewal, attended a March school board meeting after the protest challenging the in-school suspension of a student who posted Bible verses in the school in response to Gay-Straight Alliance posters.

“I’m extremely disappointed with the administration’s lack of transparency and open hostility towards faith-based texts, freedom of speech, and respectful assembly,” Mark Messer said Wednesday in a text message.

“The superintendent once again showed himself to be at odds with our country’s treasured rights and community values,” Mark Messer added.

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Mark Messer said he was referring to two previous decisions by Yohey.

In 2017, Yohey prevented the varsity football team from hearing the National Anthem before a football game in 2017, during the period when controversy over players kneeling during this pre-game ritual was at its height.

In 2018, Lebanon students were allowed to walk out of school during national memorials held following the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

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In response, Yohey said:

“As a resident of the community and superintendent of schools, I find it very disappointing that our vice-mayor is more concerned about his brother’s illegal behavior than he is about the safety of our students. If attacking me through the press makes him feel better, I guess he should feel pretty good today,” he said in an email response.

The controversy started after student Gabby Helsinger, in a March 8 Facebook video posted by her mother, said she received a one-day, in-school suspension after posting Bible verses in hallways in response to banners posted by the Gay Straight Alliance in the school.

The protest drew national reactions.

RELATED: Lebanon student says she was punished for Bible verse posts

Yohey said Helsinger was suspended for defacing authorized materials, not for posting scripture.

On March 13, Brian Messer was charged while protesting the suspension near a student entrance.

Brian Messer was cited after he “knowingly remained on the property (Lebanon High School) after being asked repeatedly to leave at the request of the Superintendent,” according to the citation.

A special prosecutor was appointed and the misdemeanor case was headed for trial before last week’s plea agreement.

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