Controversial Everett School Board member Jessica Olson was formally censured Tuesday night by her fellow board members.
The three-page resolution accuses her of violating school board policy, undermining public trust in the school board and intimidating fellow board members by falsely accusing them of violating the state’s Open Public Meetings Act.
The censure vote came at the end of a nearly four-hour meeting Tuesday evening with all four board members other than Olson voting in favor of the resolution.
“I’ve served on boards for 30 years. I never imagined myself in this situation,” said Ed Petersen, board president. “It’s not a situation that came lightly or something we’re pleased with doing.”
Seven members of the public spoke to the board on the censure proposal. All but one backed the move.
“I’ve never seen such a discordant relationship as I’ve seen on the current school board,” said Louise Uriu a long-time school volunteer.
“I agree with the censure of (Olson),” she said. “I’m for all five board members to become team players and work hard for the benefit of the children of the community.”
The one person who spoke in support of Olson was Heather Urwin, a mother who said she, like Olson, has a son who is autistic.
Turning to the audience she said, “All these people here, I can’t imagine you had a child with as profound a disability as I do.… She’s there for the children who don’t have a voice. Shame on all of you.”
The censure carries no legal weight. It does not prevent Olson from performing her duties as an elected school board member.
Petersen said the purpose of the censure resolution was to reprimand Olson and send a message to the public “that we’ve got a problem.”
The censure resolution outlines 16 actions that it says Olson took, which collectively represent “repeated and blatant disregard for state law, board policy and board protocols.”
Olson noted that collectively the other four board members had been given 50 minutes to outline their allegations against her while she had only 10 minutes to respond.
The censure process “feels like a hearing,” she said. “A censure is simply a list of allegations … with no burden of proof. The outcome is predetermined.”
School board member Kristie Dutton said the move to censure Olson “is not a rush to judgment, but a culmination of more than a year of offenses.
“Now it is the time to take ownership of your behavior and make a choice as to your future conduct,” she said.
Olson remained silent through the statements of criticisms from fellow board members, but at one point appeared to brush a tear from her eyes.
Olson has been at odds with her four fellow board members following her election in November 2009. She says at least some of these clashes involve issues of openness and which issues should be disclosed in executive sessions, which are closed to the public.
The resolution alleges that Olson publicly disclosed without board authority confidential information from executive sessions about potential real estate purchases in violation of school district policy.
Although no specific land purchase was mentioned in the resolution, references were made in the meeting to discussion by Olson on her Facebook page of a potential real estate deal involving the school district.
The deal, which has subsequently been called off, would have had the school district purchase the 289,000-square-foot Frontier Communications building on 41st Street in Everett, at a possible cost of $25 million.
Earlier this month, school leaders confirmed, for the first time publicly, that talks took place with the city about leasing space in the building to Washington State University to plant the seeds for a four-year university.
“That needs to be discussed out in the open, absolutely,” Olson said prior to the school board meeting.
“If we’re doing something with the public’s money that taxpayers have voted to give the school district and now using money to in part benefit a public agency other than ourselves, I think the public has a right to know that we’re considering spending the money in this way,” she said.
Petersen said he was disappointed by Olson’s response to the censure resolution.
“The weight of concern about (Olson’s) behavior is so significant that it’s hard to believe there is no ability to recognize any of this as valid,” he said.
“I don’t know how we will get beyond this,” he added. “Until you begin to recognize that so many people can’t all be wrong, we’ll be unable to effectively create teamwork on this board.”
Olson had twice before been publicly criticized in meetings by her fellow board members, once in November and once last month.
After both meetings, Petersen said that Olson could face censure if her behavior did not change.
Sharon Salyer:425-339-3486 or firstname.lastname@example.org