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School board censures Knight
By CHRIS COLLINS
By a 3-2 vote, the Baker School Board voted to censure director Kyle Knight during a special board meeting Tuesday night.
Director Mark Henderson made the motion to censure Knight, complete with more than a page of “recitals” outlining why the censure was necessary, including allegations that Knight jeopardized a former school district employee’s constitutional rights, violated the public meetings law and slandered and libeled district officers and staff.
Henderson, along with board chair Lynne Burroughs and director Andrew Bryan, voted for the motion to censure Knight.
Knight and director Jim Longwell voted against the motion.
In censuring Knight, Burroughs said the majority of the board publicly condemns his conduct and actions. He will no longer have access to any confidential information, be allowed to interact with district employees, serve on committees or attend executive session meetings of the board, which are closed to the public.
“Unfortunately, a majority Board now finds, that Kyle Knight continues to take actions and conduct himself in ways that are outside the proper and professional role of a School Board Member,” Burroughs said, reading from a prepared statement.
Prior to the vote, Knight made this statement: “This is clearly a political censure and nothing more. There’s no proof and no legality. There was nothing said by me to the press that was illegal or broke the board policy.”
Knight arrived at the meeting just as it was getting under way, shortly after 6 p.m. Tuesday. The meeting ended 25 minutes later.
There was little exchange among board members or the audience during the meeting.
At the start, Burroughs told the audience of more than two dozen people that there would be no public comment. And there would be no discussion or mention of names of district personnel. The meeting would be moved to executive (closed) session if the protocol was not followed, she said.
As she did in a March 29 meeting, Burroughs read the charges that she said led to the board’s decision to censure Knight: violating his oath to “support the Constitution of the United Sates, the Constitution of the State of Oregon and the laws thereof, and the policies of the Baker School District.”
“It is clear that you have had no intention of abiding by your oath, violating it again and again over the last nine months,” Burroughs said.
Knight was elected to the board in May 2011 and began serving a four-year term in July 2011.
Burroughs claimed that Knight had violated state and federal Bureau of Labor and Industry laws regarding a district employee accused of theft. She also maintained that Knight violated the former employee’s constitutional right to be considered innocent until proven guilty in court.
Knight tried to interrupt Burroughs’ statement, asking her which specific laws she was referring to.
“Do you know the law?” he asked. “It’s public record.”
Burroughs continued, “You took information legally designated as confidential and given only to Board directors, and you disseminated it to the press before any investigation had been completed.”
While Knight argued that nothing he released to the media included the former employee’s name, Burroughs countered that “identification occurs when any one member of the community recognizes the individual by your description — a matter of law.”
Knight disagreed with Burroughs’ description of events and continued to deny any wrongdoing.
Bryan urged Burroughs several times to finish her statement before giving Knight the floor.
At one point, Henderson spoke sternly.
“Stop — are you going to let her speak or not?” he said, raising his voice to Knight. “You will have your chance and so will she — now.”
Burroughs continued, stating that Knight has been provided many trainings to help him better understand his role as a board member.
“You have refused to honor your oath and you insist upon distracting board and district employees from the education of the district’s children by slander of district employees, by disrespect of your fellow board members and district teaching staff, by disrespect of the board’s adviser — the superintendent, and by personal self-aggrandizement.”
She said Knight has put the district in financial “peril” with his “outrageous behavior.”
In a final discussion about the former employee, Burroughs again chastised Knight for releasing information before any investigation was complete.
“I talked to the press after this person was fired,” he said.
Burroughs responded that he had sent emails to the media before the employee was fired.
Knight sent an email to the Baker City Herald while the employee was on paid leave, but before the firing.
Before the directors voted, Burroughs offered Knight one last opportunity to change his mind and sign an agreement to change his behavior.
“I will not sign under the current format as I said before,” Knight said.
Before the vote was taken, Carmen Ott, a retired teacher who was in the audience Tuesday night, was allowed to speak briefly.
“I do know that the information (about the former employee) was released on the day this person was released from the office,” by other employees, she said.
On the continued denial of release of the former employee’s name by anyone other than Knight, Ott replied, “I think something’s being covered up, then. You should talk to some of the other employees who released the name.”
Burroughs then ended Ott’s opportunity to comment.
Superintendent Walt Wegener said after the meeting that the district will handle any inappropriate statements made by other employees about the investigation involving the former employee.
“There certainly was no cover-up,” he said. “We contacted the appropriate authorities immediately.”
Baker City Police Chief Wyn Lohner, who attended the meeting, said afterward that the investigation is continuing.
Attorney Dan Van Thiel, who contracts with the district to provide legal advice, guided the board through the censure process, Wegener said.
Knight will be banned from the executive session meetings in which the board is allowed to discuss confidential information in closed session, because he has been found to be “consistently unreliable in terms of not telling the truth and following his oath and policies,” Wegener said.
“He can vote, but he can’t be privy to information that could damage the district or the rights of others,” he said.
Knight said after the meeting that he plans to speak to an attorney today.
“This censure has no merit,” he said. “No one should take it as a censure. It’s abusing censure.
“If they damage my reputation, they’re liable,” he said.