On March 25, the Scappoose School District board chair entered into and signed a contract with Interim Superintendent Paul Peterson for $12,000 a month, plus PERS benefits, for three months. This all took place 2.5 months before it was disclosed to the public and two board members — me and Tim Brooks.
Surely Peterson knows the school board chair, Philip Lager, cannot commit the district to a lucrative contract for himself without a public vote of all board members.
Also on March 25, the Scappoose School District was billed for 1.25 hours by the school district's attorney for emails and phone calls to/from Lager and a district employee — not the board secretary — for the Peterson contract. This happened the day the contract was signed.
All board members have a right to know the content of those email correspondences. Additionally, the public has a right to know what their elected officials are negotiating, especially outside of public view.
Days before the June 10 school board meeting a staff member asked me about the contract with Peterson. I knew nothing about it. I later obtained a copy of the signed contract, and the next day, in my board member packet, was an unsigned contract for two months — not three months, as spelled out in the signed contract I first received.
At no time during a public board meeting or in an executive session was there discussion about entering into a contract and hiring Peterson as a consultant. The school district's board secretary confirmed there are no minutes from any meeting or discussion about the subject.
Because it never happened!
Yet, four members of the board — Lager, Michelle Graham, Jim Hoag and Will Kessi — stated at the June 10 board meeting they were aware of the signed contract. Only Brooks and I were kept in the dark. Lager, Graham and Hoag feigned the contract was discussed in an executive session meeting, and Hoag even declared, "There was not a dissenting person" to the contract.
Had there been a discussion, I certainly would have dissented. I am not one to be intimidated by others into not stating my beliefs or views, and neither is Brooks.
Let's pretend for a moment that it did happen as they allege. There are numerous ethics violations that could be filed against the school board with the Oregon Ethics Commission that regulates executive session meetings. Some violation examples include setting a salary for an employee without public disclosure, signing a contract prior to a public vote, withholding information from the public for 2.5 months, and keeping no minutes of such discussions.
But since what the four board members allege never happened, there are no violations to file with the ethics commission.
There are, however, public meetings violations with this whole fiasco. Clearly a majority of board members discussed somewhere amongst themselves and decided to hire Mr. Peterson as an employee and consultant (one cannot be both and this may be a labor law violation). At the June 10 school board meeting a motion to "approve the temporary transition contract" was passed by a 5-2 vote. It was never stated at the time that the contract being approved was the revised two-month unsigned contract or the already signed three-month contract. Apparently, Peterson may have two signed contracts at this time.
After the board meeting, in the parking lot, board member Kessi asked me if I was sure Lager never called me, because Lager said he told me about the contract. To which I hastily replied, "All decisions are made in the boardroom, and I never would have agreed to
The Scappoose School District board voted at the public board meeting in April to hire Tim Porter, an exceptional candidate. The next day, Lager signed the contract on behalf of the board as appropriate after the vote.
So, why did Board Chair Lager, Vice Chair Graham, Paul Peterson or any of the other board members who colluded about Peterson's contract not bring it forward for a vote in public? Clearly they had the votes to pass it and all knew about it. They never mentioned it at any of the budget committee meetings, nor referenced the tens of thousands of dollars this will cost the district. They never put it on the agenda in April or May, and never brought it up for discussion. Never. Not at any time. And then — shazam! — it finally shows up on the June agenda, strategically placed in the consent portion of the agenda where items of a routine nature are voted on in bulk.
Why withhold this oversized contract for so long? Could it be three board members were running for re-election and didn't want to disclose it? Why the angry out-of-order interruptions from Hoag and Lager while trying to get to the facts about how the contract came about and why it was kept secret for so long? Claiming executive privilege is misleading and insulting to the public we serve. The chair ridiculing a board member trying to get answers, or while making motions, is completely unprofessional. Although, it should be noted that anyone who has sat through Scappoose School District board meetings in the past six years has witnessed similar behavior, time and again.
Scappoose School Board members need to be transparent with their duties, act with integrity at all times, make decisions in public view, treat all members with respect, and set aside their personal bias against other board members. Working through tough decisions with different views and opinions should not be contentious or secretive. There should be openness and collaboration to get to the best outcome for the students and citizens we serve.
Ultimately, it is the voters who need to hold their elected officials accountable for their actions and duties.
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