EdNews files legal complaint against New Plymouth

Idaho Education News filed a complaint Thursday with the Payette and Gem County prosecuting attorneys alleging the New Plymouth School Board violated Idaho’s open meeting law.

Idaho EdNews attorney Tim Fleming is asking prosecutors to review the school board’s process for hiring Superintendent David Sotutu earlier this month.

In a letter Fleming sent to prosecutors Thursday, Idaho EdNews alleges that trustees violated open meeting law by not listing on their June 18 special meeting agenda that they would consider taking action to hire a superintendent.

Instead, the agenda indicated the board would meet in executive session to consider an existing personnel, evaluation or disciplinary matter. Draft minutes of that meeting reflect the board met to discuss hiring a superintendent. Fleming’s letter also notes that in an email to Idaho EdNews, Sotutu says he was offered the superintendent’s job on June 15 — three days before the board met to consider the hiring.

Idaho’s open meeting law requires government agencies and school boards to conduct their business, such as hiring a superintendent, in public. Agencies must first provide notice of the business they intend to conduct in an itemized and publicly available agenda. Idaho Code 74-201’s provision states “the formation of public policy is public business and shall not be conducted in secret.”

“These are not minor violations,” Fleming wrote. “These violations have broader and more serious policy implications that if not addressed could seriously impair the public’s right to open and transparent government.”

Sotutu wrote in a June 21 email to Idaho EdNews he had been hired as New Plymouth’s superintendent. School board chairman Dave Brogan confirmed the news the following day.

If the board is found guilty of violating open meeting law, any action taken during the June 18 meeting could be invalidated.

The district has been embroiled in turmoil throughout the year as a clash between a former high school principal and the district’s outgoing superintendent played out in public.

  • In January, outgoing Superintendent Kevin Barker told Idaho EdNews that high school principal Clete Edmunson resigned suddenly and voluntarily.
  • The following day, Edmunson said he had been pressured into resigning and announced he had rescinded his resignation.
  • Amid investigation, Edmunson eventually resigned for good.
  • The New Plymouth Education Association called on Barker to resign, calls he initially resisted.
  • On April 25, Barker announced he was resigning effective June 30 and taking a buyout.
  • Shortly thereafter, Idaho EdNews obtained a contract through a public records request that showed Barker would receive $400,000 from a private donor who encouraged him to resign.
  • On May 2, Idaho EdNews obtained bank statements through a public records request that indicated an entity controlled by local businessman Scott Moscrip transferred $400,000 to the New Plymouth district the day after Barker announced his resignation.

Clark Corbin

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