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Published: Sunday, October 23, 2011, 12:01 a.m.

Everett School Board members still at odds over closed meetings

If you hoped cooler fall temperatures would mean less heat at Everett School Board meetings, prepare for disappointment.

There is little sign that peace has broken out among the five-member group, despite negative attention sparked by their physical fracas Aug. 23.

The four people who are the board majority have spent recent weeks focusing on new policies and procedures aimed at bringing to heel fellow board member Jessica Olson. They've now banned videotaping or other recording in executive sessions. There's also talk of restricting Olson's ability to augment the public record with documents she wants in the paper trail.

For her part, Olson isn't backing down. She continues to highlight what she sees as the board's repeated failure to operate within both the letter and spirit of the state's Open Public Meetings Act.

Olson also is challenging the board's decisions to censure her twice since February. In particular, she disputes allegations that it is she who is violating public meetings rules.

She recently asked the board to rescind part of one censure. In support, she attached emails exchanged with Tim Ford, the assistant state attorney general who serves as the state's open government ombudsman.

Olson last month wrote Ford, reporting that she'd been found guilty by her colleagues of breaking open meetings rules. Involving Ford was a step Olson had asked the school board to take earlier, but she was ignored.

Read Ford's messages for yourself. It's pretty clear he's not finding a violation, at least not for the incident that got Olson censured in February. In that instance, Olson crashed a confab involving Board President Ed Petersen, Vice President Jeff Russell, Superintendent Gary Cohn and a lawyer for the district. The men reportedly were discussing the agenda for another meeting, but they stopped when Olson showed up.

There's also been more friction over evaluating Cohn's job performance. That issue provided the flashpoint for the Aug. 23 dustup. At the board's request, the school district recently asked three lawyers to examine the board's job evaluation methods. Each pronounced them legally sound. Olson sought Ford's advice, too. She wanted to know whether the board could approve Cohn's performance evaluation by the majority silently voicing no complaint. That seemed "a little tortured," the state lawyer noted, but not flawed so long as the vote happens in open session. It is worth remembering that the school board majority is convinced it is taboo for any board member to criticize Cohn in open session.

Now those in control appear poised to clamp down on what records detail board business and interactions. Olson recently posted to her Facebook a brief video of Russell on Oct. 11 suggesting control is needed in the document department, too.

It's up to the board to decide what records are accepted, he said. The records must reflect the group, he said, and "are not intended to be the billboard or the bulletin board of an individual board member."

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