Responding to a formal complaint from Idaho Education News, the Caldwell School Board on Wednesday admitted to violating Idaho open meetings law.
The violations — and Idaho Education News’ complaint — stems from nine hours of closed meetings Saturday, and the board’s subsequent decision to hire Shalene French as the district’s new superintendent.
On Wednesday, the board passed what is called a motion of “self-recognition” of an open meeting law violation. What that means is that the board rescinded its job offer to French, and will revisit the hiring issue. The board has scheduled a meeting for 5 p.m. Monday to revisit the decision — and perhaps make another job offer.
What happened Saturday
Trustees met in closed executive session to interview three candidates for the superintendent’s job. State law allows a government body to hold an executive session to “consider hiring a public officer, employee, staff member or individual agent.”
However, the executive session law also is clear on a second point: “No executive session may be held for the purpose of taking any final action or making any final decision.”
The crux of the issue begins when Saturday’s executive session ended, and when trustees met in a 16-minute open session.
Immediately after going into open session, trustees call French to say they want to offer her the superintendent’s job. Only after they get French on the phone do trustees make a motion to offer her the job. During the conversation, Board Chairman Chuck Stout referred to a “unanimous vote” supporting the job offer — but at that time, the board had not yet voted in open session. Later in the meeting, the board does vote, unanimously, to offer French the job.
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What happened Wednesday
The Canyon County prosecutor’s office forwarded Idaho Education News’ complaint to the Caldwell district. Trustees held an executive session to discuss the complaint — joined by interim Superintendent Jodie Mills and district attorney William Gigray.
After the executive session, the board admitted to an open meetings law violation — but not to an illegal vote in executive session.
All five trustees took turns saying they did not vote in executive session. Referring to his remark Saturday about a unanimous vote, Stout said, “I did make an incorrect statement.”
Said trustee Kent Marmon: “I think the feeling among the board meetings was that we supported Dr. French, although nobody ever took a vote.”
Instead, the board conceded a “procedural error” pertaining to Saturday’s agenda. Gigray said trustees should have amended its Saturday agenda to reflect their plan to make a job offer — or wait until Monday’s regularly scheduled meeting to make the offer.
There was confusion in-house, said Gigray. District staffers didn’t expect trustees to choose a new superintendent Saturday.
“We shouldn’t really have a cloud over any selection of a superintendent at this point because of an open meeting law claim,” Gigray said.