By Kevin Kelley
What was already a sometimes tense relationship among divided Westlake Board of Education members cannot have been helped by a June 30 exchange between Nate Cross and Andrea Rocco.
Intense arguments between public officials likely go on behind closed doors all the time without the public knowing about it. The difference in this case is that Cross filed a police report against his fellow school board member.
According to statements by Cross and Rocco, what was at least a heated verbal confrontation took place in a hallway in the Hilliard Boulevard administrative offices of the Westlake City Schools following a board of education meeting.
(All statements given to police regarding the incident can be downloaded here. Police Capt. Guy Turner said because the accused is an uncharged suspect, the name is redacted in the documents his department released. However, it’s obvious Rocco is the person in question, and Rocco acknowledged making a statement to police.)
Cross alleges that Rocco grabbed his left arm, preventing him from leaving. Cross also alleges that, although he was wearing a suit jacket, Rocco dug her nails into his skin. According to Cross, during the 30 to 45 seconds that Rocco grabbed him, he told her it was assault. He also said Rocco swore at him as he left the building.
In Rocco’s statement, she said she verbally confronted Cross, saying he continually lies about school district matters. According to Rocco, during the exchange, Cross raised his arm, putting it near her face. In response, Rocco said, she raised her arm, which brushed Cross’s arm.
In addition to being a school board member, Rocco works for the Westlake Law Department as municipal prosecutor. In cases such as the alleged confrontation, Rocco would be the one to investigate and determine whether prosecution is warranted. Due to Rocco’s involvement in the incident, Westlake Law Director John Wheeler outsourced prosecutorial duties regarding Cross’s allegation to Bedford attorney Blair Melling. Melling concluded there was not enough evidence to warrant prosecution.
“A review of the statements of disinterested parties indicates no eye witness to any assault of Mr. Cross by Rocco,” Melling stated in a letter to Westlake police Lt. Ray Arcuri. “Further, at the time of the report, the police observed no evidence of any injury (or mark) on Mr. Cross’s arm.”
Between the June 30 board meeting and the confrontation between Cross and Rocco, Cross met with Superintendent Dan Keenan in the building’s conference room. In a statement to police, the superintendent described an apparently intense exchange with Cross over allegations Cross made to the press that the board’s legal counsel was being excluded from contract talks with the district’s unions. Keenan said Cross was being phony while “blatantly lying and irresponsibly misleading the public” while also stating he wants the board to work together.
In his statement, Keenan said he later heard a “loud exchange” between Cross and Rocco but was in a different room and did not witness what happened between the two board members.
In comments to West Life, each board member said the other is lying regarding the June 30 incident.
Cross said he has no regrets about filing the police report.
“Everything I wrote in that police report was 100 percent truthful,” Cross said. “I could not have made that up.”
Cross said he cannot fault Melling in concluding there were no witnesses. He acknowledged that his claim of assault was not assault in the same sense that one would be assaulted with a baseball bat.
Cross acknowledged he has been at the center of a number of disputes, such as what should be included in board meeting minutes, that some might think irrelevant to matters of education. However, he said he will essentially maintain his course.
“I’m going to continue to go to the meetings, ask tough questions and raise issues,” he said.
Rocco said Cross has made baseless allegations against district-related groups and persons, such as the Vision 20/20 committee that studied the need for new school buildings and the local firms that were appointed, then dropped, to co-manage the sale of construction bonds.
“It’s almost as if I was next in line,” Rocco told West Life.
“I think enough time has been spent on Nate Cross’s outright lies,” Rocco said, adding that she fully cooperated with the police investigation of the June 30 incident.