Home News Local News Baker City woman seeks to recall two school board members
Baker City woman seeks to recall two school board members
By CHRIS COLLINS
A Baker City woman has filed recall petitions against two school board members for censuring fellow board member Kyle Knight.
Kerry McQuisten filed the petitions Monday with the Baker County Clerk’s Office seeking the recall of Board Chair Lynne Burroughs and board member Mark Henderson.
County Clerk Tami Green certified the petitions for circulation Tuesday. Supporters of the recall must gather 913 signatures, for each petition, by 5 p.m. July 30 to move ahead with the recall, Green said.
If enough signatures are gathered for each petition, both Burroughs and Henderson would have a choice to either resign, or to submit written statements explaining why they believe they should not be recalled.
Green would then have to schedule the recall election within 35 days.
Burroughs and Henderson would be listed separately on the ballot, so voters could, in theory, recall one but retain the other.
Both Burroughs and Henderson said Tuesday they will contest the recall if the petitioners gather enough signatures. Neither was surprised that petitions had been filed.
“Kyle’s been talking about it since last fall,” Burroughs said. “And there it is.
“I’m not particularly worried,” she said.
“If the community decides I’ve had enough on the school board I won’t have to deal with an uncomfortable mess anymore, and if not, it’s a mandate for me, I guess.”
Henderson echoed that sentiment.
“Kyle always says he’s a man of the people and this will be a chance for the people to speak,” he said. “There are people on both sides of the issues, that’s for sure — I don’t think we have a lot to worry about, but we’ll see.”
Henderson was elected in May 2011 to a four-year term that expires June 30, 2015.
Burroughs was elected to a four-year term in 2009. Her term ends June 30, 2013.
As part of the process for filing the petitions, McQuisten explained in writing why she believes the two should be removed from office.
McQuisten stated that Burroughs and Henderson exceeded the power of their offices in preventing the public from having information it was entitled to.
McQuisten claims Burroughs “created policies that violated the United States Constitution, specifically a declaration that another Board member must sign a statement forfeiting his First Amendment rights in order to avoid censure,” and Henderson voted to support her policies in approving the censure.
The issue arose in March when Knight notified the media that a school district employee was suspected of stealing from the district.
Carol Srack, a longtime employee at the District Office who served as the school district’s accounts payable specialist, was arrested April 18. She has been charged with first-degree theft, second-degree theft, first-degree official misconduct, and two counts of fraudulent use of a credit card. As a board member and secretary/treasurer of the Baker Rural Fire Protection District, Srack also has been charged with theft, fraudulent use of a credit card and official misconduct.
Knight contended that it was in the public interest to release the information about the suspected thefts. (He did not name Srack in any emails he wrote to the Baker City Herald prior to her arrest.)
During a special meeting March 29, Burroughs asked Knight to sign an agreement to change his behavior, resign or face censure.
McQuisten and other members of her family attended that meeting and came away with a feeling of “general outrage,” prompting her to file the recall petitions, she said today.
“I have kids in the district and this isn’t the way the district needs to be run,” McQuisten said.
When Knight refused to sign the agreement proposed by Burroughs, she and Henderson, along with director Andrew Bryan, voted to censure Knight during a special meeting April 10.
The three said Knight had violated his oath of office by releasing information about the Srack investigation and other information they deemed to be confidential.
Knight and board member Jim Longwell voted against the censure.
McQuisten said the recall committee chose not to recall Bryan because committee members believe that if Burroughs and Henderson are removed from office, that would “change the dynamic of the entire board.”
“They look like the core of the problem,” McQuisten said, judging from their actions at the March 29 meeting, which Bryan did not attend.
In the recall petitions, McQuisten accuses Burroughs and Henderson of violating their oaths of office by showing disrepect for Knight as a fellow board member.
McQuisten points to Burroughs’ action of publishing a letter “personally attacking” Knight, and accuses the board chair of claiming in interviews and during the proceedings to censure Knight that he had “committed criminal acts,” charges that, McQuisten says, Burroughs has provided no evidence to support.
In regard to Henderson, McQuisten claims he further violated his oath in disrespecting Knight by “publicly accusing a director with a minority opinion of wanting to gain power at the expense of our kids.”
McQuisten also calls for Burroughs’ recall for her action in appointing budget committee members without bringing the matter before the board.
In response to complaints filed by Knight in March, an Oregon Department of Revenue official wrote in a letter dated April 18 that Oregon law requires the entire board to vote on budget committee appointments.
And finally, McQuisten claims that Burroughs and Henderson abused their authority when they censured Knight “by removing the responsibilities and informational access bestowed upon another director by the voters, (responsibilities that can legally be removed only by impeachment or recall), substituting (his and her) own will.”
McQuisten said the recall committee includes about a half-dozen members in the core group.
Irene Mack is the alternate chief petitioner, and Suzan Jones, McQuisten’s mother, is the treasurer. Jones, a Bridgeport resident, lives outside the district, but as an Oregon resident she is qualified to serve on the committee, McQuisten said.
Knight, who is on a vacation at the Oregon Coast this week, said Tuesday that he’s proud to live in a country where the people can remove officials from office through the recall process if they think it’s merited.
“I’ve always been of the opinion on both sides that if there was to be a recall it has to be organized by the people,” Knight said. “It’s not my choice if they get recalled. Any recall of anyone would have to be by the people.”
Knight echoed Henderson’s comment that he wasn’t surprised that a recall had been filed.
“People can only take so much,” Knight said. “We’ve been headed down the wrong path.”