West Ada trustees addressed public concern about their recent appointment of new trustee Rusty Coffelt, but ultimately kept Coffelt on the board. They also self-reported a potential violation of open meetings law related to emails shared between trustees in December.
The board voted to add Coffelt as the Zone 4 trustee on Tuesday, Jan. 19. Afterward, patrons complained about the appointment process, Board Chair Amy Johnson said. Trustees discussed Coffelt’s appointment with the Idaho School Boards Association and the district’s legal counsel to ensure that they did not break any rules during the process, Johnson said.
“Legal counsel has advised that there was nothing ‘illegal’ about the process the board followed for appointing the Zone 4 trustee,” Johnson said, reading a prepared statement. “However, we need to acknowledge there is a public perception and trust issue because of the confusion.”
In her statement, Johnson discussed some of the issues that members of the public have brought up regarding the appointment process:
- The extension of the application deadline.
- Concerns about off camera communication during the board ranking and before the board action.
- Concerns about the visual display of the final rankings not being shared for the public.
- Trustee eligibility, qualifications, roles and responsibilities.
- The board process for written interview questions.
Johnson said the extension of the deadline was done to help get more candidates during the holiday season. Board Clerk Cheri Newbold confirmed that Coffelt’s application was turned in prior to the extension.
Johnson added that there was no off-camera communication among board members during the Jan. 19 meeting, which members addended remotely.
After her statement, Johnson did report a possible violation of open meetings law, related to December emails that were shared between board members.
Johnson said that legal counsel discovered the potential violation when reviewing Coffelt’s appointment process. She described it as a “separate issue” from Coffelt’s appointment.
Johnson said she has just finished her first year of being a member of the board, and said they have not been able to have any formal open-meetings laws training in that time. She said she wants trainings with the ISBA to be a priority in the coming months.
West Ada Chief Communication Officer Char Jackson said any penalty regarding the violation would be enforced by the Ada County Prosecutor.
Following the discussion, the board decided to take no action on Coffelt, all deciding that they made the right choice last week.
“I have respect for the process and I am comfortable with where we landed,” Ozuna said, adding that the board needs to work more on communication with patrons of the district, which is where concerns from district patrons are coming from.
The addition of Coffelt is the latest in the year’s series of changes in West Ada:
- On Oct. 13, board member Ed Klopfenstein resigned as chairman but retained his school board seat.
- On Oct. 27, board member Steve Smylie resigned after saying volunteer trustees are under enormous pressure because high-stakes reopening and closing decisions have been kicked to local school boards.
- On Nov. 17, Sheena Buffi was appointed to the Zone 3 vacancy.
- On Dec. 8, board chair Philip Neuhoff announced he will resign rather than face a recall election.
- On Jan. 5, Superintendent Mary Ann Ranells announced her resignation, which will be effective June 30.