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WBCSD board OKs hiring outside counsel

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | June 27, 2023 1:00 AM

▶️ Audio story available.

PRIEST RIVER — Recesses called by West Bonner County School Board chairman Keith Rutledge lasted almost as long as the meeting itself. In the end, the board approved the motion to hire outside counsel in a 3-2 vote.

The meeting saw its first pause after board chairman Keith Rutledge called for a "housekeeping measure" that would place the authority to determine the final contract if consensus wasn't reached by 9 a.m. Tuesday.

After trustees Margaret Hall and Carlyn Barton, who were appointed to the negotiation committee along with Rutledge, both questioned the move. Hall asked why the motion was needed if the pair had already come to an agreement on how to handle any difference.

"This is just a tie-breaker," Rutledge said. "If there were to be a stalemate, this breaks the stalemate."

The comment prompted Barton to also question why the clause was necessary when they had come to a conclusion on how to handle any differences. When Rutledge responded that the matter was simply "housekeeping," Barton said she disagreed.

"I don't find it housekeeping," she said. "I find it disheartening because we came up with a conclusion with Mr. Durst and now you're wanting to change them?"

Shortly after, Rutledge call for the first recess, which lasted more than seven minutes, disappearing into the superintendent's office.

After Rutledge returned to the main room, Hall again questioned the need for the verbiage, saying she had reservations and that it did not appear to be in good faith.

The motion passed in a 3-2 vote with Rutledge, and trustees Susan Brown and Troy Rainbold voting in favor. Hall and Barton voted against.

The board then took up the item specified on the agenda for board action: consideration and approval of retaining independent counsel for general purposes.

Barton immediately called to amend the motion by Brown to instead send the matter out for bid as has been board practice and would follow its standard protocol.

Rutledge instead called for the second recess. When he returned more than six minutes later, Barton repeated her motion to change the motion to instead go out to bid.

"I think we need to follow standard protocol and go out to bid," she said. "So that it's not just the discretionary of the chairman. It needs to be a committee if we are going to do this."

When Hall asked for clarification on the scope of the retainer and what was sought in terms of general counsel. She also asked the board chairman to clarify who recommended the need for general counsel but didn't appear to get a clear answer.

The motion to amend the proposal failed in a 3-2 vote. Rutledge, Brown and Reinbold all voted against it; Hall and Barton voted in favor.

As debate began on the original motion to hire a general counsel under Idaho Code 33-506, subsection 3C, for general purposes, a question from the audience on contracts prompted the meeting's third recess. When the meeting resumed, Rutledge said the motion was to hire an attorney with an inclusive budget of up to $5,000 of the initial retainer of legal counsel.

Hall again objected, saying she was against relinquishing her responsibility on the matter as a trustee. Barton agreed, saying she didn't think the matter "should be left up to just one person."

Hall and Barton questioned Rutledge on where the recommendation had come from — and who the board chairman had stepped out of the meeting several times to talk with.

Rutledge's denial was met with scoffs and laughter from the 34-person capacity crowd in the district office's small meeting room.

The board chairman's response was to call for another recess, the fourth and final one of the night. In total, the recesses consumed about 22 minutes of the 45-minute meeting.

When the meeting resumed four minutes later, Rutledge said the move had been recommended by the Idaho School Board Association, something Brown said was on the association's website.

The motion to hire outside counsel was approved by the board, 3-2. Reinbold, Brown and Rutledge voted in favor. Barton and Hall voted against.