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Cops called after tussle over videotaping erupts at closed Everett School Board meeting

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By Sharon Salyer and Rikki King
Herald Writers
Published:
EVERETT -- Tensions got so bad among Everett School Board members Tuesday night that the cops were called.
A tussle broke out involving school board members Jessica Olson , Kristie Dutton and Ed Petersen, the board's president, as the group met behind closed doors in executive session.
Police were summoned at about 9:30 p.m. to district headquarters.
Statements were taken from those involved, but no arrests were made, Everett police Sgt. Robert Goetz said.
"We'll gather the statements, write a report and most likely forward it to the prosecutor's office for review," he said.
The fracas followed a long and divisive public meeting which lasted three-and-a-half hours and featured fiery denunciations of Olson by others on the board.
Petersen said the dispute occurred as the five-member board met in private to discuss an unfinished job performance review of Superintendent Gary Cohn.
Petersen said he had prepared a draft of the review which he had handed out to board members.
Olson then turned on a small digital videotape machine -- something that she's done of late to document her interactions with school officials, drawing the ire of others on the board.

Petersen said he and the other board members objected to the taping. He said he reached across a desk to turn off the recorder.
Olson said she was worried that he was trying to confiscate her recorder.
Things reportedly got physical, and board members tussled over copies of a draft of Cohn's review.
Petersen said he feared that Olson would try to keep the review and release it publicly. He considers the document confidential.
Olson said Dutton grabbed her and began wrestling with her. She said while that happened, Petersen stepped up and restrained her from behind.
Olson said she told the pair, "You guys have just assaulted me." She then dialed 911.
Olson's video camera was recording for at least part of the time. She showed the video to Herald reporters as police were taking statements from other board members.
The recorder was perched on the table. The video recorded a heated debate, although the words weren't clear. That lasted for about 30 seconds before scuffling began. The video ended at about 45 seconds. Read a transcript of the video here.
Olson said she was injured by the confrontation with scratches and three fingernails on her left hand bent backwards.
The executive session was convened after a tense public meeting of the board that included talk of a censure vote of Olson. The board did that earlier this year, claiming she was divisive and abusive to staff.
Olson has countered that her efforts to keep the public's business public have been met with bullying and harassment.
On Tuesday, board members criticized Olson for taking attorney invoices from school district offices without permission in June. They also rebuked her for this week publicly releasing a legal opinion from Seattle attorney Valerie Hughes.
The opinion was prepared for board members and marked as confidential attorney advice. It discussed the legality of Olson videotaping public sections of school board meetings as well as Olson's use of the camera to document interactions with school district staff.
Olson provided a copy of Hughes' report to The Herald. It contained little more than a recounting of state public meetings law and state attorney general advisory opinions -- some of which can be found on the Web.
Olson said she released it because there was no legal rationale for treating it as a secret document.
Hughes wrote that there are no prohibitions under state law against taping public meetings, but that any meetings with school staff should be considered private, and can't be recorded without the consent of all those present.
The school board had scheduled Tuesday to discuss whether to make Hughes' advice public. Olson's decision to share the document on her own rankled others on the board.
"Most worrisome to me is she feels she is above the law," said school board member Jeff Russell on Tuesday.
Some on the board indicated they want consequences for Olson's decision to ignore the board's will.
"I think the concern clearly stated by several board members is that there have been serious violations of board policy and state law and these require some sort of statement or action by the board," Petersen said during the public part of the meeting.
Olson told Petersen and the rest of the board that if they believe she's broken the law they should take their complaints to county prosecutors.
Petersen said Olson's actions violate board policy. All five board members, including Olson, voted in March to prohibit copying or removing the invoices from school district property, he said.
Some of the documents were also posted online, he said.
Story tags » EverettEverett School District

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