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School board chair retained
By Chris Collins
Tuesday’s Baker School Board meeting was short, but it was not sweet.
Director Kyle Knight locked horns with three of his fellow board members over district management issues.
Tuesday’s dissension started when Knight and his fellow director Jim Longwell voted against the reappointment of Lynne Burroughs as board chair and Andrew Bryan as vice chair.
Burroughs and Bryan were re-elected to the positions on a 3-2 vote with Burroughs, Bryan and director Mark Henderson voting in favor of the nominations. Bryan participated in the meeting via video conference.
The turmoil then continued as Knight questioned past actions of Superintendent Walt Wegner and Doug Dalton, the district’s chief financial officer.
Knight’s queries came as part of the board’s reorganization for the next fiscal year that typically is scheduled during the July meeting.
In discussion of appointing Wegener as the district’s chief administrative officer and district clerk, Knight asked the superintendent if he thought it was his role to criticize board members or their religion. And he asked Wegener if he thought “blackmail” was an “appropriate communication” with a board member.
Knight was referring to an April email sent to all board members from Wegener who stated that “Kyle claims to be part of the LDS church. I think many of those good people would be deeply concerned about a church member who actively lies in public and regularly violates his oath to God.”
In response to Knight’s questions, Wegener said that email was a private communication that was never meant to be made public. His comments were not a criticism of the LDS church, he added.
“That is a private communication and you may not discuss it,” Wegener told Knight. “It’s private advice and you’re violating privacy laws.”
The blackmail question was related to Wegener’s suggestion in the email that Knight should resign or face censure or impeachment from the board. Wegener included a proposed letter of resignation that he said Knight could submit before the next board meeting as a way of preserving his “political career” and allow him to seek office with the county or the city.
As Knight continued to read from the email, Burroughs rose to her feet, pounding her gavel repeatedly, up to as many as 20 times.
“Kyle, you need to stop,” she said. “Kyle you are too silly.”
As Burroughs continued gaveling, Longwell got up from his chair and left the meeting.
Dalton left a short time later. He said this morning that he left the meeting to be with his 5-year-old daughter who “had her chin opened up at the swimming pool.”
After pounding the gavel to quiet Knight, Burroughs said she was moving ahead with the meeting.
“This has no value that I can see,” she said of Knight’s questions to Wegener.
Knight said after the meeting that Burroughs overreacted to his statements.
“I just asked (Wegener) if it was appropriate,” he said. “He could have answered yes or no.”
Knight said he would have thought Wegener would have apologized for the comments contained in that April email by now, but he has not.
“I was not only looking for an apology,” he said. “I wanted him to know that (what he wrote) was not okay.”
As the meeting continued, Burroughs called for a motion to appoint Wegener as chief administrative officer and district clerk. The motion carried 3 to 1, with Knight voting no.
Longwell commented on his departure from the meeting in a telephone interview afterward.
“I didn’t want to take any more of that — her beating on the desk,” he said. “They try to make everything personal and confidential.”
Longwell criticized Wegner for discussing Knight’s religion in his email to the board and described the superintendent as “intimidating.”
“He’s a bully,” Longwell said. “You try to talk to him and he filibusters you and wears you down.”
Longwell said he plans to continue his support of the recall effort against Burroughs and Henderson in the hope of changing the direction of the board.
The recall was started by community members led by Kerry McQuisten, chief petitioner, in response to the board’s vote to censure Knight. Longwell voted against censure.
“I really think Walt is under the misconception that he can just declare stuff we can’t talk about,” he said.
As Tuesday’s board meeting continued, Knight expressed dissatisfaction with Dalton’s response to his questions during budget meetings this spring.
“I asked questions during the budget and he said he’d get back to me and didn’t,” Knight said.
For that reason, he voted against appointing Dalton as the district’s chief financial officer/business manager and deputy clerk. Knight also voted against naming Dalton as the district’s budget officer and against appointing Wegener and Dalton as custodians of the funds and authorized signers on district checks.
Motions to approve the appointments were approved by a 3-1 vote.
Knight joined his fellow board members in unanimous approval of the remainder of the items on the reorganization list.
Directors were congenial for the remainder of the meeting, which ended just before 7 p.m.
Burroughs said afterward that she is trying to keep the board’s focus positive.
“I’ve never had to gavel (Knight) down like that, but he won’t stop,” she said.
“It’s just not pretty, but we’re going to go ahead and do the business of the district and do what we have to do,” she said.
The board will meet next for a day-long retreat beginning at 8 a.m. July 24 at the Eagle Cap Innovative High School at the North Baker campus at 2725 Seventh St.
Burroughs asked directors to come prepared to discuss their personal goals for the district and any other topics of interest. She also directed Knight, Henderson and Wegener to elaborate further on information they gleaned from the summer Oregon School Boards Association conference they reported on briefly at Tuesday’s meeting.