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5J Board members explain mass mailer
By Chris Collins
A flier titled “Meet your 5J School Board members” that arrived in mailboxes last week was written by the two board members pictured on the cover of the publication: Lynne Burroughs and Mark Henderson.
Burroughs, board chair, said the flier was printed by The Record-Courier. The cost, including mailing the fliers to postal customers in Baker City, Keating, Haines, Sumpter and Durkee, totaled about $2,000 and was paid for by Burroughs.
“I was given a gift of money by my sons,” she said.
Those sons live at Yuba City, Calif.; Sacramento, Calif.; and Roanoke, Va.
Burroughs and Henderson said the flier was not intended to be a response to an ongoing effort to recall them.
“I’m talking about a censure — not a recall,” Burroughs said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
She added that information contained in the flier was written in response to questions she’s been asked about the board’s vote to censure director Kyle Knight this spring.
Three of the five school board members — Burroughs, Henderson and Andrew Bryan — voted in April to censure Knight. Director Jim Longwell and Knight voted against censure, which has resulted in certain restrictions including barring Knight from serving on certain committees and denying him access to district staff and certain confidential information.
In the flier, Burroughs said the board chose to censure Knight rather than to promote an election to recall him because of the expense.
Baker County Clerk Tami Green has estimated the cost of a recall election at about $10,000.
The three board members voting for censure accused Knight of violating his oath of office and claim that he violated the Oregon Public Records law when he released information to the media about an employee accused of stealing from the district.
The employee, Carol Srack, a former accounts payable specialist for the district, was sentenced to a year in jail in July after admitting that she stole from the school district and the Baker Rural Fire District, which she served as secretary/treasurer.
The flier distributed by Burroughs and Henderson accuses Knight of violating state labor and ethics laws and four amendments to the U.S. Constitution (the 4th, 5th, 7th and 14th) when he released information they claim should have been kept confidential.
Burroughs further accuses Knight of making “constant false and malicious attacks” on Superintendent Walt Wegener and Doug Dalton, the district’s chief financial officer, and displaying “absolute rage” toward his fellow board members and district staff who disagree with him.
Burroughs also stated that “thousands of dollars of district funds and hundreds of hours of district staff time” have been spent to train board members, but that Knight arrived late to some training sessions, skipped others and sent text messages on his cellphone during others.
“Kyle has had more mentoring and training than any other board members in the annuls of the 5J District,” Burroughs wrote in the flier.
“This is everything people have been asking me,” Burroughs said in a Wednesday phone interview. “It’s my opinion that I have the right to tell them.”
Burroughs said another flier probably will be distributed later.
And if the recall effort gathers enough signatures to place the matter on the ballot, she will write a response to accusations contained in the ballot measure, she said.
Henderson said he emailed his statements to Burroughs and she designed the flier.
His section is titled “Mark’s 5 Year Goals for Baker 5J.” Those goals are to “continue Baker’s academic excellence; ensure Baker’s voice is heard in Salem; continued financial responsibility.”
Henderson also said his statements were not related to the recall.
“These are some of the calls I’ve gotten from individuals,” he said.
Under the heading of “Mark’s Number One Desire for the Baker 5J School District” he stated: “Quit playing politics, and get back to focusing on our children’s education.”
Henderson said he has spent many hours emailing and sending messages to Knight about the issues the board and district are dealing with.
“However, it seems as if all offers to work together are refused.”
In closing, Henderson urged district patrons to “Please consider carefully the effect your signature and vote may have on district finances AND on educational focus.”
McQuisten questioned the legality of the flier.
“I don’t know who created and paid for that mailing,” she wrote in an email to the Baker City Herald. “But, whoever did is personally responsible for any violation of ORS 260.532, which provides legal remedy regarding false statements in a political mailing.
“There was very little truth and a whole lot of character assassination toward Kyle Knight in that flier,” McQuisten wrote.
McQuisten and her committee filed the first recall petitions against Burroughs and Henderson on April 30. Petitoners fell just short of obtaining the required 913 valid signatures after the county clerk disqualified some signatures because either they did not match those on the signers’ voter registration cards or the voters were not registered or were inactive voters.
In an email to the Baker City Herald, Knight also expressed concern about the accuracy of the flier distributed by his fellow board members.
“Burroughs and Henderson caused false factual assertions about myself to be published to thousands of households in Baker County,” he wrote. “The statements were false, they knew the statements were false and acted with reckless disregard to the truth or falsity of these statements.
“They made these statements intentionally to attempt to save themselves from recall, and attempting to defame me as their method of trying to save themselves.”
Knight did, though, agree with one point made in the fliers about the board’s role.
“This is just another distraction from school issues and has nothing to do with the kids,” he stated.
The second petitions to recall Burroughs and Henderson were filed on Aug. 9, said Green, the county clerk.
The petitioners have until Nov. 7 to collect the 913 valid signatures required to put the two issues on the ballot.