Tuesday, June 18, 2024

BOCC approves WBCSD board recall canvass

Staff Writer | September 8, 2023 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — Bonner County commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to accept the canvass of the votes regarding the recall of two West Bonner County School Board trustees.

The trustees in question, former chair Keith Rutledge and vice chair Susan Brown, were recalled during a special election Aug. 29. For the recall to be successful, at least 245 people needed to vote in favor of removing Rutledge from office, and have at least one vote more than those seeking to retain him. For Brown, those seeking to remove her from office needed to total at least 177 votes and needed one or more votes than those seeking to retain her.

At Thursday’s meeting, Bonner County Clerk Michael Rosedale said the votes to recall the pair almost doubled the votes to retain them. Official voting numbers, he said, only changed by four votes, as some individuals voted both for and against the recall on their ballots.

“We had a very clear outcome,” Rosedale said. “It was a very clean election. There were four people who overvoted, so the vote count is four fewer than the actual number of ballots cast.”

Officially, there were 624 votes to recall Susan Brown and only 322 to retain her. For Keith Rutledge, 762 voters supported his recall, while 454 voters wished to retain him.

“We had an overall turnout of 60.9%, which is very high for us,” Rosedale said. “That’s comparative to a presidential election.”

Without further questions from commissioners or the audience, Commissioner Asia Williams moved to adopt the canvass of the Aug. 29 elections. With a second from Commissioner Steve Bradshaw, the commissioners voted unanimously to adopt the official canvass.

However, some residents are still concerned about a potential temporary restraining order violation that Rutledge allegedly committed by signing an amended copy of Superintendent Branden Durst’s contract on Sept. 5. The temporary restraining order — which was filed by Peggy Smith and Dana Douglas and signed by a Bonner County judge Sept. 1 — prohibited any action from the recalled trustees that impacted the board structure, financially committed the district or contractually obligated it in any way until after the recall votes were canvassed.

According to Priest River attorney Katie Elsaesser, since the amendment was not properly placed on the board’s Aug. 22 meeting agenda and was also not reviewed by the board, it was improper for Rutledge to sign under Idaho Code.

“Additionally, as it was contractually obligating the district, it violated the temporary restraining order,” Elsaesser said. “Violation of a court order is grounds for a motion for contempt to be brought and Mr. Rutledge would have the opportunity to be heard on why he violated the court order.”

However, it looks like no legal action is set to be taken against Rutledge for his alleged violation of the TRO, as Elsaesser’s clients filed to dismiss the restraining order Thursday following the canvassing of the election votes.

“My clients would rather the focus be on moving the district forward and helping heal our community that has been through a lot in the last year,” the attorney said. “While this was unfortunate to have happened, I am proud that this brought people from all sides, religions, occupations and opinions together to stand up for our children, staff and district.”

What’s left of the West Bonner County School Board will have 90 days from the recall to appoint new members to the now-empty seats.

“My favorite thing I saw this morning online, after a very busy summer with school board concerns, was one district’s resident’s post that said #make-schoolboard-meetings-boring-again,” Elsaesser said. “A healthy board has very few meetings outside of the regular monthly meeting and special meetings are [rare] and often announced much earlier than the day before. I think I can speak for most of the community in saying I hope that returns.”