In response to a complaint filed by Idaho Education News, the New Plymouth School Board admitted last week to violating Idaho’s open meeting law and then took a do-over hiring new Superintendent David Sotutu.
According to draft minutes of the July 12 board meeting, board chairman Dave Brogan made a motion recognizing that the board violated open meeting law back on June 18. The board then voided all action from the June 18 meeting, including the hiring of Sotutu.
Idaho’s open meeting law requires school boards and government agencies to conduct their business — such as hiring a new superintendent — in public. The law also requires that boards provide proper legal notice of all meetings through a publicly posted agenda that lists with specificity each item of business that the board will consider.
The agenda for the June 18 meeting did not list any plans to discuss or vote on hiring a new superintendent — even though that is exactly what the board did June 18. That prompted Idaho EdNews attorney Tim Fleming to file a complaint with the Gem and Payette county prosecutors’ offices alleging a violation occurred.
A common way for school boards to address an open meeting violation is to acknowledge the violation occurred and then “self-correct” the problem by voiding action from the meeting when the violation occurred and re-doing everything after posting proper notice and adhering to the open meeting law’s requirements. That appears to be what New Plymouth did last week.
After admitting to the violation July 12, board members voted unanimously to hire Sotutu to serve as superintendent under a two-year contract that pays him $93,000 per year.
The open meeting violation is the latest controversy in a year marked by turmoil in New Plymouth. The district and community have been embroiled in turmoil for much of the year as a clash between a former high school principal and the district’s previous superintendent played out in public.
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- In January, then-Superintendent Kevin Barker announced that former high school principal Clete Edmunson resigned suddenly and voluntarily.
- The next day, Edmunson said he was pressured into resigning and rescinded that resignation. Edmunson ultimately resigned amid investigation.
- Meanwhile, the New Plymouth Education Association called on Barker to resign, calls he initially resisted.
- On April 25, after accepting a buyout, Barker announced he was resigning effective June 30.
- 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 School District the day after Barker announced his resignation.
Idaho EdNews data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report.