By Terri Harber
A majority of Baker School Board members voted Tuesday to have an attorney look into whether the district should sue the Baker City woman who filed the recall petition against board chair Lynne Burroughs and member Mark Henderson.
The purpose of such a lawsuit would be to recoup the cost of the Dec. 11 election from petitioner Kerry McQuisten.
Voters decided not to recall either Burroughs or Henderson. Those two, along with board member Andrew Bryan, voted in favor of the motion Tuesday to consult with an attorney about a possible lawsuit.
County Clerk Tami Green said this morning that although she hasn't calculated the cost of the recall election, she expects it will be around $10,000.
That bill would normally go to the school district.
Board members Kyle Knight and Jim Longwell voted against Tuesday's motion.
As an interim step, in case the board ultimately decides not to file a lawsuit, the board voted 5-0 to pay the county for the recall election costs.
The district has "no legal grounds" for filing a lawsuit, McQuisten said in a telephone interview after Tuesday's meeting. "It's a misguided need for revenge."
"We're going to fight this," she said.
McQuisten also questioned why Burroughs, Henderson and Knight were allowed to vote on this matter because they all have conflicts of interest.
The board's decision in April to censure Knight was the impetus for McQuisten to file the recall petition.
Potential grounds for suit
Superintendent Walt Wegener presented the proposal to the board and said the attorney would look at whether the district has legal grounds to sue McQuisten under Oregon Revised Statute 260.532.
The potential grounds for such a suit, Wegener said, is the section of the recall ballot where McQuisten stated the reasons she sought to recall Henderson and Burroughs.
The state statute deals with a candidate or political committee publishing falsities "with knowledge or with reckless disregard" according to the first subsection of the statute.
"Any candidate or political committee aggrieved by a violation of this section shall have a right of action against the person alleged to have committed the violation," the law states in subsection 5.
The district has 30 days after the election to take action, the statute stipulates.
Wegener, in his most recent weekly report that he sends to board members, district staff and the media, wrote that McQuisten's statement in favor of recalling Burroughs and Henderson, which was printed on the Dec. 11 election ballot along with the two board members' responses, "in tone and intent is absolute fabrication."
Wegener also wrote that each of the 10 allegations McQuisten listed in the statement "is either objectively false or a seriously biased opinion with limited credibility."
(McQuisten's statements are printed below.)
Originally the question about whether to consult an attorney was an addition to, and part of, the board action authorizing the district to pay the county for the election.
But Knight asked that the board vote separately on the matter of the election payment to the county, and the attorney's review about potential for litigation, as both he was opposed to the latter motion.
It's a "huge deal what you guys are about to do," Knight said Tuesday. "You're spending taxpayer dollars."
Burroughs countered by pointing out that if the district can't recoup the election cost from McQuisten, it will have to pay the bill with money that "comes out of the student fund."
Doug Dalton, the district's chief financial officer and business manager, said the money would initially come out of the district's general fund. It could ultimately be taken out of the contingency fund if the budget comes up short, he said.
McQuisten would have to pay for the election and the district's legal costs if the court were to find in favor of the district in a lawsuit.
The judgment also could require that a retraction of any false statements from the recall ballot be published.
Wegener said he spoke to Alana Cox, an elections compliance specialist at the Oregon Secretary of State's office, which oversees state elections laws.
He then followed up by contacting an attorney, Nancy Hungerford of Oregon City, before bringing it to the board.
Both Cox and Hungerford suggested the district consult an attorney, Wegener told the board.
Knight said he talked to Cox as well and that she didn't tell him the district needed to speak with an attorney.
Wegener, in his weekly report, wrote that the "person at the Secretary of State's Office" told him the district has a "constitutional responsibility to properly manage funds ... if 'objective, willful, material misrepresentation of facts' have incurred quantifiable damage to the District."
Separately, Knight and McQuisten questioned the estimate Wegener provided the board regarding cost for an attorney review: $500 to $1,000. They believe the amount would be much greater for an attorney to review and report back on this type of legal question.
"You're spending taxpayer dollars to figure out if you want to sue someone?" Knight asked.
"Someone else spent taxpayers dollars to figure out whether they wanted the two of us recalled," Burroughs said.
Knight then said: "The taxpayers did. Over a thousand of them."
Knight and Burroughs verbally sparred a while longer.
Knight then said, "This is ridiculous."
"Whatever," Burroughs replied. "You have a choice to vote on this right now."
In other business, the board:
andbull; Heard that the district's financial audit by Oster Professional Group turned up no deficiencies or issues of noncompliance.
Longwell asked about the case that resulted earlier this year in the firing and subsequent conviction of former employee Carol Srack, who used a district credit card to make personal purchases.
Longwell asked how the audit detects and details incidents of fraud. He wondered if earlier instances were missed.
"We're confident we know when it started," said Mitch Saul, CPA. "We didn't find other transactions to question."
Each transaction on the credit card is verified. Paperwork authorizing each transaction is reviewed, for example. Deviations are a signal for the audit to go deeper, Saul said.
The purchases Srack made weren't large enough to require it be reported in the audit, Saul said.
Knight voted against accepting the audit.
andbull; Found out that task force members will meet early next month to look at Brooklyn School's need for realignment.
Wegener said it might occur next fall but that the task force would have to work hard to make that happen.
andbull; Learned that Baker High School is collecting items to help needy families. They seek peanut butter and jelly; canned foods; underwear and socks for youths; and, hygiene items.
STATEMENTS PRINTED ON DEC. 11 RECALL BALLOT
"Mark Henderson acted in excess of his office's power and kept the public from information per its legal right. He voted in favor of actions that violated United States Constitution, specifically that another Board director must sign a statement forfeiting his First Amendment Rights in order to avoid censure. He withheld information regarding theft of District funds from the public by declaring it confidential; it was not by law confidential. When another director followed his oath to "respect the right of the public to be informed" regarding this theft. Henderson censured him. He supported an administrator pay increase authorized without a full vote, after cutting teachers and student services. He violated public meetings law by declaring anything damaging the District image confidential. He advocated closed meetings or meetings including only himself and Lynne Burroughs, ignoring the spirit of public meetings law. He violated his oath to "respect the right of other Board members to have opinions and ideas that differ" by publicly accusing another director of wanting to "gain power at the expense of our kids." Finally, he abused his authority by removing the responsibilities and informational access bestowed upon another director by the voters, substituting his own will."
"Lynne Burroughs repeatedly exceeded her office's power and kept the public from information per its legal right. She voted for actions that violated the United States Constitution, specifically that another Board director must sign a statement forfeiting his First Amendment Rights in order to avoid censure. She withheld information regarding theft of District funds from the public by declaring it confidential; it was not by law confidential. When another director followed his oath to "respect the right of the public to be informed" regarding this theft, Burroughs censured him. She violated her oath to respect other members, publishing a letter attacking another director and claimed he committed criminal acts, yet could produce no example of laws broken. She violated State Budget Law, appointing a Budget Committee without the input of the board. She authorized an administrator pay increase without a full vote, after cutting teachers and student services. She violated public meetings law by declaring anything damaging the District image confidential. She advocated closed meetings or meetings including only herself and Mark Henderson, ignoring the public meetings law intent. Finally, she abused her authority by removing the responsibilities and informational access bestowed upon another director by the voters, substituting her own will."