Oregon City School Board in turmoil after voters unseat majority
Newly elected Oregon City School Board member Mandy Philpott said she was honored to be named the board's chair, in a controversial 4-3 vote that split the four new officials with the three elected in 2019.
As an attorney licensed in Oregon since 2002, Philpott believes she's qualified to serve in the chair position and ran for election with the intent to be as active as any past or present school board member. Newly elected board member Michael Canchola was named vice-chair in a separate 4-3 vote.
"I have experience that lends myself to step up into this role," Philpott said.
Steven Soll, who had served as vice-chair of the previous board, protested his demotion. Soll said there's a "good reason" that the vice-chair of the Oregon City School Board has traditionally served for a year before taking the chair position, as the vice-chair and chair work with the superintendent to set meeting agendas.
"It's really important that we have a smooth, efficient and fair process, a process that abides by public-meetings law and our own policies," Soll said.
Anna Farmer was among the veteran board members who targeted Philpott for taking the gavel at board meetings just after receiving the oath of office.
"How would a new board member know the history of the multiple policies that we are currently undertaking?" Farmer asked.
Philpott responded that she plans to "work as a team" with the other school board members. Oregon City's previous board supported delays in reopening schools, a rallying cry for campaigns of newly elected board members, who pointed out that the Oregon Government Ethics Commission recently found that the previous board members were in violation of public-meeting laws with regard to making a decision in a closed-door executive session.
"I hope I will always serve my fellow board members to fill them in, bring them up to speed," Philpott said. "My hope is that existing board members would fill in any chair, whether they're a new board member or an existing board member, on what the policies, work and procedure of the board has been to this date."
Pamela White said she immediately experienced a feeling that the four new board members were not planning to work with the remaining three members, despite earlier assurances.
"Having someone who has not served on the board serving as chair is not serving our students well, nor is it bringing our best to the board meeting and the board work," White said.
White joined the other veteran board members in begging the new board to at least keep Soll on as vice-chair.
"Steven has been very active," White said. "He understands the process, though it has been difficult at times."
When the new board members nominated Canchola as vice-chair, White said it was "arrogant, quite frankly, that the four of you have decided beforehand," and suggested that the newly elected board members may have broken public-meeting laws that call for decisions of public agencies to be made in public settings.
"You better be careful you didn't … break any laws, in deciding together that you were going to vote for the people you ran with," White said. "I'm having trouble being nice, so I apologize to the public."
Philpott denied the accusation and shot back at White with her own assessment.
"I find those comments unfortunate and frankly unprofessional," Philpott said. "All members here are duly elected and free to nominate, including themselves."
Interim Superintendent Kyle Laier, who just took the top staff leadership position on July 1, had his own assessment of the situation.
"I know that was an interesting discussion to start your first board meeting off with, but I also know that we have seven very capable and very dedicated community members serving students of the Oregon City School District," Laier said.
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