By Mary Ollie
“The Establishment Strikes Back” sums up the goings on in West Ada.
Concerned Citizens of West Ada School District for Trustee Recall has begun an initiative to recall four school board members. The group which includes Christine Donnell and Reid Olsen, West Ada former superintendent and former board member respectively, and current board member Mike Vuittonet has targeted trustees Tina Dean, Carol Sayles, Julie Madsen, and Russell Joki.
Why? Recalls are generally associated with: anti-corruption campaigns; citizen grass-roots movements fighting a particular issue; and old political battles that are being rehashed. Recalls are often used by groups who saw their preferred candidate lose in a general election and hope that a do-over will have a different result.
In the case of West Ada, we may never know all the details but more information is coming to the surface. The wording of the recall petition, emails, and campaign messaging all provide clues.
The petition states as reasons for the recall: “failure to listen and respond to district patrons, unreasonable demands on district employees, disrespectful and disruptive behavior in board meetings, and lack of transparency and fiscal responsibility.” Let’s examine the credibility of each claim and ask if the allegations rise to the level that justifies a recall.
- Failure to listen and respond to district patrons: Since July, the board has posted patron questionnaires and held listening sessions on the busing situation, the levy, and the superintendent’s search. Board members have made public statements inviting patron participation.
- Unreasonable demands on district employees: To the contrary, the board has expressed concern over the time demands on administrators and teachers necessitated by the new teacher evaluation form.
- Disrespectful and disruptive behavior in board meetings: Patrons attending meetings have reported no disruptive behavior except for the public interruptions made by a State Senator and a Meridian City Councilman during the September 29 meeting. Patrons report that more questions are being asked and that the dialogue is productive.
- Lack of transparency and fiscal responsibility: The board moved to correct an open meeting law violation and has received additional training on Idaho’s open meeting laws. As for fiscal responsibility, the board has complied with transparency requirements and continues to deal with the failure of the previous group to exercise due diligence on the new Hillsdale Elementary site. This resulted in “unanticipated” costs about $1.7 million to build a road, deal with an irrigation ditch and to bring in utilities.
The reasons on the petitions do not pass the sniff test for a credible recall.
A look at campaign messaging from May and recently uncovered emails leads one to conclude that this recall is about a do-over. A series of emails discovered when a citizen filed a public records request to examine the correspondence of then-superintendent Clark reveals that Clark was engaging in dialogue with incumbent Ritter and elected officials regarding the board races. The files, which are too extensive to describe in this article, are posted on Facebook under “West Ada Files.”
Voters made the choice on May 19, 2015. Patrons did not want business as usual where the political class makes the decisions. Many understood the tangle of relationships and cronyism that overtook the district as elected public servants too long in office became career politicians. This recall is about a do-over – an expensive do-over. The decision is up to the voters. Do you want an accessible and responsive board that works for you or a return to business as usual and a board that works for the establishment?