Everett School Board Plans a Meeting About Meetings

On November 25, 2011, Sharon Salyer of The Herald reported on Everett School Board planning to hold a forum early next year to discuss open government. The following is a reprint of the article in full:

Controversy has swirled around the Everett School Board all year over openness and transparency.

The school board now plans to hold a forum early next year to have outside experts discuss issues such as the state Open Public Meetings Act and the steps involved in getting records from government agencies.

Ed Petersen, school board president, suggested during a meeting Tuesday night that the school district contact a nonpartisan group, such as the League of Women Voters. The group could help select the experts who would speak on the state's open-government laws.

The goal is to have the event in January or February, Petersen said. It would give the public an opportunity to talk about openness in government.

"The benefits we're looking for are a better informed community and information from those who attend to help us in our operations," he said.

The idea for the forum was first proposed in September, as the School Board was wracked with controversy following a scuffle among three members, Petersen, Kristie Dutton and Jessica Olson.

Olson has often been at odds with other board members since being elected in 2009. Fellow board members have censured her twice this year.

At the same meeting that the school board was considering Olson's second censure, planner Reid Shockey of Everett suggested the special public meeting, which would include a panel of experts discussing open government and the state Open Public Meetings Act.

In other business during Tuesday's School Board meeting, board members discussed whether to grant a request from Olson to see unredacted copies of legal invoices or bills since June from a Seattle law firm which advises the school district.

Board member Jeff Russell said he was concerned about Olson's request to view unredacted invoices because they contain private and confidential information about staff, students and families.

"We rightly place conditions upon the viewing, copying, reporting or moving of such records," he said.

Dutton asked for Olson to sign a document saying that she would not remove any of the documents or post them on social media sites or in other way violate the privacy rights of those involved in legal issues.

"We have had Director Olson's assurance before that she would not copy or take the invoices and she did exactly that," said board member Carol Andrews.

Olson asserted that the legal invoices are not confidential. "They're the public's documents," she said.

Student names are abbreviated or initials are used, she said. Her earlier review of the legal billings showed "there was not one piece of information ... required to be redacted."

"We're telling the public that the invoices belong to the district and not the public," she said. "Each one of us is duly elected by the citizens. We have the right to go in and look."

The School Board voted not to allow Olson to see the unredacted invoices. However, Andrews later suggested that the board allow all board members regular access to redacted attorney invoices.

The motion was made after Olson left the meeting after approximately three hours due to a scheduling conflict. That motion was approved unanimously for the four remaining board members.

 Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.
 

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