After the recall....

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board December 14, 2012 01:01 pm

The Baker School Board recall election is over, and the voters have spoken.

So what did they say?

Most clearly they said they want to retain Lynne Burroughs as board chair, and Mark Henderson as a director.

We suggested in this space last month that defeating the recall was part of what we consider to be the best outcome.

But that’s also not the only message that comes from Tuesday’s special election.

This was a long ways from a landslide.

In Henderson’s case, 43 percent of voters believed he deserved to be recalled from office.

As for Burroughs, 45 percent were in favor of her being recalled.

These aren’t majorities, obviously, but neither are the percentages so small that they should be ignored.

Baker City Herald Editorial Board

A significant number of their constituents aren’t satisfied with the representation of Burroughs and Henderson.

We suspect the overriding reason for the dissatisfaction is that Burroughs and Henderson voted this spring, along with director Andrew Bryan, to impose a punitive censure against director Kyle Knight that has cut off Knight from some information related to the school district’s operations.

We believe this was a mistake, and one that reduced Knight’s ability to represent the people who elected him in May 2011.

But we also believe that the circumstances that led to Knight’s censure can be prevented from recurring, and that the board can, if not fully repair its rift, at least put in some sutures that will hold.

The incident that prompted Knight’s censure, and led to both the campaign to recall Henderson and Burroughs, and to Knight’s pending civil rights lawsuit against the district and the two board members, was Knight’s decision, in March, to forward to the Herald and other local media an email from Superintendent Walt Wegener to board members. The email from Wegener (who’s also a defendant in Knight’s lawsuit) explained that a school district employee, Carol Srack, had been placed on administrative leave and that she was going to be fired for using district credit cards to buy personal items.

Srack was fired, and she was convicted both in the school district case and on similar charges related to her work with the Baker Rural Fire District.

Burroughs, Henderson, Wegener and others contend that Knight, by forwarding what they deem a “confidential” email, violated a number of state and federal laws as well as the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of due process.

We’ve seen no compelling evidence to support those claims.

However, there’s no doubt that Knight acted unilaterally in divulging the contents of Wegener’s email. That’s not a legal issue, but it does affect the relationship between school board members.

There’s evidence that forwarding the email wasn’t Knight’s first choice, though. He initially asked Wegener, in an email, whether the board would convene in an executive session (closed to the public, but open to the media) to discuss the Srack situation.

That session didn’t happen.

But now that the recall is over, the board should have a meeting — one open to the public.

The subject of that meeting: How the board should handle future cases that involve public records which some officials consider confidential — Wegener’s March email being an obvious example.

Such cases are rare, to be sure.

But when the next one arises, the board should schedule a meeting to talk about when records must be available to the public. The board should have on hand for that meeting a copy of the Oregon Attorney General’s manual for the state’s public records and meetings laws.

There’s no guarantee, of course, that all five board members would agree. But at least such a meeting would allow for a frank discussion that could lead to a compromise suitable to all, and that avoids having Knight or another individual board member act separately.

Which, by the way, would eliminate any need for the punitive censure to continue.