It took Nampa School District trustees less than 10 minutes to approve the two main items on their Wednesday night to-do list: approving a 2017-18 labor agreement with teachers, and again hiring Paula Kellerer as the district’s new superintendent.
Trustees hired Kellerer on May 9 — in a meeting in which trustees identified the Northwest Nazarene University dean only as “Candidate A.” Idaho Education News filed a complaint over the meeting, saying the process violated Idaho’s open meeting law.
Nampa trustees have maintained the May 9 meeting was legal. Last week, the Canyon County prosecutor’s office declined to take further action against the trustees, with the understanding that they would void their initial hiring decision.
Trustees did just that Wednesday night on a 4-0 vote; trustee Brian McGourty was absent. But before they did, board chairman Mike Fuller criticized Idaho Education News’ coverage of the hiring process — saying the process was not secretive, and saying Wednesday’s action did not represent a “do-over.”
Idaho Education News’ complaint, said Fuller, was “a gross misrepresentation of the action we took.”
In their motion to void their May 9 decision, trustees say they were acting “out of an abundance of caution, and to insure full and complete transparency of the process.”
Moments later, trustees again approved Kellerer’s contract, unchanged from the agreement reached three weeks ago. Kellerer — who will replace retiring David Peterson, effective July 1 — has a three-year contract at a salary of $144,200.
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The timeline — and the paper trail
The dispute over the hire began hours after the May 9 meeting.
Here’s a timeline, with links to the key documents.
May 10: Idaho Education News filed a formal complaint with the Canyon County prosecutor’s office. The complaint alleges the trustees’ unannounced hire violated Idaho’s open meeting law, which says that “the formation of public policy is public business and shall not be conducted in secret.”
Later on May 10, the district introduced Kellerer as its hire.
May 11: Nampa district spokeswoman Kathleen Tuck confirmed Kellerer had been Nampa’s “Candidate A.”
May 18: The Nampa district says its decision to withhold Kellerer’s name was made to protect her confidentiality.
“The matter was fully discussed in open session and the final vote on the decision to offer someone the job was made in open session,” wrote Scott Marotz, an attorney for the district. “Everything undertaken by the board was in compliance with the statute.”
In a separate letter to the district and Idaho Education News, deputy prosecutor Samuel Laugheed says state law doesn’t specifically require agencies to name job candidates — but it doesn’t specifically allow the use of pseudonyms. This gray area “might at most raise an open question of law appropriate for judicial resolution pending legislative clarification.”
May 23: By using pseudonyms, the Nampa district had made it impossible for the public to observe the hiring of a superintendent, “a public policy decision of considerable import and public interest,” said Tim Fleming, an attorney for Idaho Education News.
“The public could see and hear that the board was deliberating, but could not see or hear what the board was deliberating,” Fleming wrote in a letter to Laugheed. “All the public attendees got for their time and trouble in going to the public meeting was watching a mere formality, the substance of which was not to be revealed until sometime unknown, and then not at a public meeting but through a press release.”
May 26: Canyon County decides not to seek “formal enforcement proceedings,” provided the Nampa district rehires Kellerer in a public forum, Laugheed said in a letter to the district and Idaho Education News.
“Such remediation, even absent acknowledgement of actual violation, is sufficient to this office’s inquiry as it removes the taint of impropriety from the action, regardless of whether such impropriety exists in law or public perception,” Laugheed wrote.
Laugheed said that Idaho Education News’ complaint is “neither frivolous nor unreasonable,” but said the district made a sincere, open and honest attempt to comply with the letter and spirit of open meetings law.