Board approves subcommittee to evaluate superintendent
EVERETT - The Everett School Board approved the framework for a three-member committee that would leave two members out of the process to conduct the superintendent’s closed-door evaluation last week.
Board president Jeff Russell is scheduled to select the committee’s members at the board’s Tuesday, March 13 meeting.
Russell told the Tribune previously that the committee is being created because of outspoken board member Jessica Olson’s refusal to follow a district policy that bans electronic devices from closed-door meetings. He also said Olson “most likely” would be excluded from the committee.
The board voted 3-1 to approve the committee. Olson dissented; board member Carol Andrews was absent.
The five-member board tried to produce the evaluation behind closed doors last August but that failed. Olson attempted to video record part of the closed-door session under protest the discussion should have been done in open session. The incident resulted in a minor physical scuffle between board members followed by a brief police investigation that resulted in zero charges.
Olson said two weeks ago that trust between her and the other four board members likely can’t be repaired after the August incident.
Olson again criticized the committee idea last week. She also is likely to give Superintendent Gary Cohn a negative review. Russell said previously that Olson’s opinion of Cohn doesn’t matter as to whether he would pick her for the evaluation committee.
“If you folks pass this, we’re probably going to cement the board’s reputation as the laughingstock of this state,” Olson said.
Board member Pam LeSesne supports the idea. LeSesne initially suggested it in January.
“If we cannot solve the problem as the whole board … Why not use a committee to evaluate the superintendent,” LeSesne said.
Olson questions whether forming a three-person committee to evaluate Cohn is legal under the Open Public Meetings Act.
Russell put forward language to create the committee because he’s worried the district will miss a state deadline to evaluate Cohn if the process is stalled any further.
The board was unable to conduct a midyear evaluation in January because of Olson’s refusal to comply with the board’s closed-door meeting policy on electronics. The relatively new policy prohibits cell phones, computers and cameras from closed-door and executive session meetings.
Olson disagrees with the policy. She calls it a double standard that district staff can bring in the same electronics that board members can’t.
Olson wants to use her laptop to take personal notes during closed-door meetings.
The district’s attorney Valerie Hughes went further in her interpretation. Hughes wrote Feb. 14 that “if the Board wishes to preserve the confidentiality of the matters that the law allows to be discussed in closed or executive sessions, the best practice for Board members is not to take notes during executive or closed sessions.”
Olson challenged the advice, stated Hughes is “out of her mind” and called on district officials to reconsider Hughes’ position as district attorney.
Forming the committee can be seen as the next step furthering the rift of Olson versus the board.
During last week’s board meeting, LeSesne quoted a newspaper article on civility and pushed for board members to be more civil.
In the same discussion, Russell brought up manners and made a pointed comment at Olson to stop filing her nails.
Olson had been filing a fingernail for many minutes during the meeting. Olson told Russell she had a hangnail.
By MICHAEL WHITNEY
Published March 7, 2012