Oregon City School Board member Pamela White was the sole vote against upholding the school district's investigation into an equestrian coach who recently was convicted on violations of state law.
White dissented on the vote as School Board Chair Martha Spiers apologized for the "clunky" complaint process, as revealed by a newly released audio recording that the Oregon City School District wanted to keep secret, but was forced to disclose by state law.
School board members voted to retain the coach despite state laws prohibiting such decisions during closed-door meetings. A Clackamas County prosecutor forced the school district to disclose the audio to the public this month.
Listen to this portion of the meeting here:
School district officials released only the mandated-minimum five minutes of the more than hour-long recording of the meeting, but the audio provides various clues about how oversight of school employees might be improved so that the district never again decides to retain a coach who is in violation of state laws.
Only one school board member voted against the district's decision to retain Wacker, despite the coach's alleged online bullying of students and a district investigatory report's acknowledgment of "some evidence that social media posts should not have been made." During the meeting, White said that the district needed to reexamine its complaint and social media policies.
"Our goal is coach success; our goal is kid success," White said. "So maybe there are other things we could be doing to support that."
Board member Anna Farmer reluctantly voted to sustain the district's conclusion to keep Wacker after Superintendent Larry Didway didn't allow Farmer to include a provision about social media training as part of the vote.
"That's a separate conversation," Didway said, explaining that board members had the option to vote "yes" to sustain the district's findings on Wacker or "no" against sustaining.
After voting no, White explained that she didn't want her vote to speak personally to the decision of district staff or the support of Wacker by former School Board Chair Evon Tekorius, whose daughter was on the equestrian team. Given her bias, Tekorius recused herself from the vote and had Spiers lead the meeting.
"Again, this is nothing personal," White said, explaining her vote. "I just didn't like the process."
At the conclusion of the closed-door meeting, Spiers said she was "grateful" to be able to return control of the public portion meeting to Tekorius.
Most of meeting remains secret
As previously reported, Oregon City High School equestrian coach Angie Wacker appears to have written portions of the athletic director's investigatory report that led to the school board's decision. In January, Wacker was convicted on four violations of state law related to self-dealing.
Earlier this month, Clackamas County Deputy District Attorney Brian R. Powell determined that the school board "exceeded the proper scope" of state law and ordered that the Oregon City School District disclose its investigatory report on Wacker to the public, along with the audio of the illegal portion of its closed-door meeting when elected officials voted to retain Wacker.
School district officials had tried to keep the information secret by rejecting this newspaper's public-records requests for an audio recording and the athletic director's written findings.
According to the agenda for the December 2019 meeting, Spiers took five minutes to introduce everyone and lay out ground rules, followed by the superintendent's five minutes to introduce the complaint.
Fifteen minutes of the meeting agenda were set aside for complaints against Wacker, which was the only section of the meeting that the county prosecutor said that the school district had to redact. However, district officials chose to retain secrecy on the entire first hour of the meeting, including 10 minutes of rebuttals to the complaints, and the time set aside for the board members' questions and deliberation.
School district officials chose to keep most of the meeting secret, except for the five minutes that a county prosecutor mandated they release at the conclusion of the executive session, when they violated state law by voting to adopt the findings of the investigative report and therefore take no disciplinary action against Wacker.
'Take full responsibility'
Complaints against Wacker had a friendly ear in White, who said she knew one of the complaining families as a fellow member of the Oregon City Chamber of Commerce. After her vote, OCSD's superintendent strongly advised White not to talk with them.
"But Pamela, that would be really inappropriate for one board member to reach out to one of the complainants," Didway said.
Oregon City Athletic Director Andy Jones provided the report to school board members prior to their decision to retain Wacker, who apparently provided comments in her defense that Jones lifted without attribution or changing pronouns for the report. It remains unclear whether the school board members noticed these errors prior to their illegal vote, since the school district redacted the audio portion of their meeting during which they deliberated on the complaint.
White said she would have liked more time to consider the complaints before voting, and it's unclear how long before the meeting the board had received Jones' report.
State laws prohibit school board members from making final decisions in secret. These board members are now the subject of a related Oregon Government Ethics Commission investigation into the board improperly taking the vote during a closed-door meeting, a violation of Oregon's open-meetings laws for which elected officials could receive civil penalties of up to $5,000 each.
White was one of the newest board members, having taken a seat on the board less than six months before. However, she said that she should have taken the time to read up on laws for elected officials in Oregon when they participate in executive sessions.
"I take full responsibility for that, and I have personally asked for us to get trained in the law and Robert's Rules of Order," White said.
White said that she puts in more than 20 hours a week in the volunteer position and occassionally misses crucial information. She said she remains passionate in supporting the district's children in any way she can.
White questioned the district's process for addressing the complaint during a case in which the district appears to have violated its own policy in several ways. According to the official OCSD Complaint Procedure the superintendent, not the athletic director, should have written the report prior to the school board hearing a formal appeal.
The complaint policy lays out a timeline of five to 10 business days after complaints are made for administrators to investigate complaints and make determinations in each step. This timeline was put in place to expedite resolutions in cases when formal complaints are made.
However, it was more than two months after the initial formal complaint that the school board took action and more than a month after the initial complaint about Wacker was filed, OCHS Principal Carey Wilhelm responded to questions about delays in responding to original complaint.
Wilhelm and Didway never produced their own evaluations of the complaints, as district policy suggests they should have. District officials said they will respond by the end of this week about why it appears that the district violated its own policy in the Wacker case.
By Raymond Rendleman
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