After apology, rebuke

  • By Sharon Salyer Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, September 13, 2011 12:01am
  • Local News

EVERETT — There were pickets calling for maturity in their elected officials. More than a dozen people spoke in the packed room, some asking them to demonstrate civility. There was a public apology, followed with an expected public rebuke.

And by the time the Everett School District board me

eting ended, new rules were proposed seeking to gain more formal control over future meetings.

On Tuesday, the five-member board held its first regular meeting since Aug. 23. That meeting ended in calls to 911 after three of the elected leaders grappled over a document during an executive ses

sion.

News of that incident, and a videotape taken by board member Jessica Olson, split the community into camps. All sides on Tuesday had their first public opportunity to address the board: Those who support Olson; those who support board President Ed Petersen and board members Kristie Dutton, Jeff Russell and Carol Andrews; and those who demand both camps find a way to work together for the good of the students, taxpayers and district.

“It was shocking to see what happened,” said Dan Anderson, of Everett, whose father served as mayor. “I want to encourage each and every one of you to come together.

“I respect each one of you, your decisions. I may disagree or agree. I have to respect them. I’m asking you to do the same with each other. Respect each other. Easier said than done sometimes. It’s tough, but we have to try.”

The board’s determination to censure Olson, he said, “would put more flames on the fire.” Instead, the board majority needs to remember that the people also elected Olson as their voice on the board.

Planner Reid Shockey of Everett wrote a letter last month signed by nearly three dozen people, including some of the city’s best-known business owners, elected officials and community leaders, in support of the majority of the school board and administration.

Tuesday night he urged the board to consider tabling the censure vote and suggested the board hold a special public meeting with a panel of experts discussing open government and the state’s Open Public Meetings Act.

“I would have that group address specific questions surrounding this controversy,” Shockey said. Then the school board could amend its policies and “from that point on, the public can judge if you’re abiding by your policies,” he said.

Tabling the censure motion “might signal that each member of the board is committed to understanding the rules and operating accordingly,” Shockey said.

At the beginning of the meeting, Petersen apologized for his role in the fracas.

“The board has received considerable attention in the past three weeks, and I am embarrassed by this attention … ” Petersen said. “As president of the Everett School Board, I hold myself accountable … I should have adjourned the meeting immediately. I failed to do this. I apologized to my colleagues on Aug. 26 and I apologize now to the public.”

Later, Petersen, Dutton, Russell and Andrews voted to censure Olson for actions she took from Nov. 16, 2010, through Aug. 23. Among the complaints, Olson is accused of intimidation and harassment of staff, undermining public trust with false accusations, wasting the superintendent’s time, ignoring the board’s email policy and violating the school district’s records rules.

Olson has been at odds with the other board members, in large part over transparency issues, since her election in November 2009. It was the second time she’s been censured by the board majority in seven months, though censure carries no legal weight and is only public reprimand.

“Once again we are gathered to listen to the four other members of the board censure me,” Olson said. “Once again, it is largely an exercise in farce. You know, if the stated reason for censuring me was that I can be overly strident, or that I‘m not always polite, or that I can be overly tenacious when arguing for a point I believe in, I would sit here before you, raise my hand sheepishly and say ‘guilty as charged’.”*

Proposed new rules for how meetings will be run were introduced later in the meeting. The next step is for the board to discuss and vote on each of them. They include a ban on audio or video recordings of executive sessions; board votes before waiving confidential or privileged communication between the school district’s attorney and board members; and requiring a second before any item can be removed for discussion from the consent agenda.

Before the start of the meeting six people gathered on the sidewalk outside the administration building. They carried signs, calling for peace among the divided board.

“Honk if you want the school board to get along,” Kim Guymon’s bright yellow sign read.

The stay-at-home mom launched the grassroots group Everett School Board Project to call for an apology from the board for last month’s imbroglio. Drivers honked and waved at Guymon and the other five women.

During the public part of the Aug. 23 meeting, board members denounced Olson for releasing to The Herald a five-page legal opinion, from the district’s attorney, regarding Olson’s practice of videotaping school board meetings and a meeting she had with a district employee and another board member to review legal invoices.

The board had been scheduled to decide whether to release the document, but Olson’s action made their vote moot. Later that night, during executive session, Olson was videotaping as she demanded to know why the parameters used to evaluate Superintendent Gary Cohn would not be discussed in open session. She also wanted to include her minority opinion in the draft evaluation.

Petersen had earlier reached across the table and tried to turn off Olson’s camera, but retreated after being sharply rebuked by Olson. Decorum collapsed further after Dutton snatched up a copy of the evaluation from the table in front of Olson, who then grabbed Petersen’s copy. That led to all three board members wrestling and shoving for possession of the document in Olson’s hands, according to police reports.

Olson and Dutton said they were scratched during the scuffle, and Olson also had bent and bloodied fingernails. The city prosecutor is still considering whether disorderly conduct charges should be filed against any of those involved.

Reporter Diana Hefley contributed to this story.

* Correction, Sept. 14, 2011: This article originally did not accurately reflect a quote from Jessica Olson.

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