Knight planning to sue school district

By Chris Collins June 13, 2012 10:51 am

By Chris Collins

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An attorney representing Kyle Knight, the Baker School Board member who has been censured by a majority of his fellow board members, has filed a formal tort claim notice against the district.

In a letter dated Monday, Tyler Smith of Canby said Knight is planning to file a federal lawsuit against the district as a result of its efforts to deprive voters of Knight’s “full school board representation” and for retaliating against Knight for exercising his right to free speech.

“We warned you to cease and desist your actions a few weeks ago and you have actually escalated your mission to deprive Mr. Knight of his authority as a duly elected government official,” Smith wrote. “You should have listened.”

Smith warned the district not to further compound the damages “which will be sought against you by any further actions or retaliation against my client."

In an email to the Baker City Herald Wednesday, Knight wrote that he has tried unsuccessfully to work with the district and feels that he had no choice but to take legal action.

“The fact of the matter is, I am an elected official serving the people who elected me,” he said. “This district has made it impossible for me to represent the people of this district.

“I have been restricted from everything and anything this district could think of, even general information.”

The 20-year-old director was elected in May 2011, defeating the former board chair, Damien Yervasi. Knight took office in July 2011.

He has been in conflict with the majority of the board on several issues, most notably a proposed weapons policy that would have prohibited people with concealed handgun licences from taking handguns on school property. The policy later was revised to comply with state and federal laws.

Knight was censured by the board in April after board members and district administrators accused him of releasing confidential information regarding an alleged employee theft.

Since then, the board has declined to share information it deems confidential with Knight and has barred him from attending certain committee meetings. 

A two-person subcommittee was appointed to hear an employee grievance in executive session last month. Directors threatened to call police when Knight attempted to attend the closed session to which the media had been invited.

Knight said the threat from Wegener and director Mark Henderson to call police was the final act that led him to consider a lawsuit.

Knight said in a telephone interview today that he believes the district had hoped to force his resignation.

“I’m really not a board member any more,” he said, adding that the packets delivered to him in advance of board meetings do not contain much of the information provided to the four other directors.

And the only email he has received regarding district activity since the censure was one that contained the date and time of the high school graduation, he said.

“I’m elected. I should be treated like every other board member,” Knight said. “They don’t like me — too bad.”

Knight wrote in his email that his responsibility lies with those who elected him.

“I hope to turn this private board back into a public board answerable to the people,” he said.

Community residents have begun an effort to recall Lynne Burroughs, board chair, and director Mark Henderson as a result of the censure against Knight. Director Andrew Bryan also voted in favor of censure, but he is not included on the recall petitions. 

The fifth board member,  Jim Longwell, voted against censure.

Dan Van Thiel, a Baker City attorney who provides legal advice to the district, declined to comment on the tort claim notice. Superintendent Walt Wegener and Burroughs did not return phone messages in time for this story.