Why Olson is missing: There’s no point in showing up
EVERETT - The Everett School Board is often missing its most vocal contrarian these days.
School board member Jessica Olson skipped more than half the board meetings last year, a Tribune tally shows. She’s missed six of the board’s seven meetings this year.
Olson said she hasn’t given up, but she said last week there’s no point going to the meetings anymore. The other four board members tend to vote in lockstep and introduced measures that Olson said squelched her ability to dissent.
The school board can’t kick her off the board unless she misses four regular meetings in a row, board president Jeff Russell said. Olson hasn’t yet.
Olson is making sure she meets the four-meeting rule to keep her seat and is ready if something arises she has to fight for, she said. She’s up for re-election in 2015. She hopes someone with a similar viewpoint will be elected to join her on the board if she’s re-elected.
She claims other board members are privy to more information than what she gets from the district.
Olson said she is serving her constituents by posting updates on Facebook pages following the district, including her own public page.
“Here’s the thing: If I hear from constituents it’s important I’m there, I will go,” Olson said. “I’m serving my constituents by letting them know what’s going on.”
Board members Russell, Pam LeSesne, Ed Petersen and Carol Andrews, combined, missed two regular meetings last year. LeSesne had perfect attendance according to the Tribune’s review of the minutes of each regular board meeting.
Asked if missing meetings is justifiable, Olson replied, “I think I’ll turn over the question: What is the problem with the missed meetings?”
“There’s no added benefit to me being at the meetings,” Olson said, “If people want to know what’s my opinion, they can go to my Facebook. My vote does nothing.”
Olson’s relationship with the board has been tenuous ever since she was elected. People rallied behind her as the sole anti-administration voice on the board, especially on issues such as the district’s $20-plus million new administration building largely paid for with tax dollars and district reserves. The public’s support reached a climax in 2011 shortly after a scuffle between herself, Petersen and then-board member Kristie Dutton occurred in a closed-door executive session and ended with police being called. At the next meeting, people protested in support of Olson.
Olson thinks the public and press have since become apathetic on school district issues. She also said the board made new rules to silence her from dissenting on issues.
Since last year, the board pushed more policy decisions onto its consent agenda, which requires one vote on a slate of items. An almost $600,000 increase in construction costs for the new administration building, for example, was included in the consent agenda at the Jan. 22 meeting. (The building was expected to come in $2.4 million under budget according to last year’s estimate.)
The board doesn’t vote on the items individually unless two board members agree to take them off the consent agenda. With nobody else on her side, Olson is stuck. Olson responded by trying to introduce written concerns into the record, but Russell denied her request.
“After experiencing 3 years of extraordinary efforts by the district oligarchy to deprive my constituency of anything that might be relevant to the purposes of the office, I’ve come to the conclusion that attending most school board meetings under the current board majority is of little value; most board meetings these days are lengthy, vapid sessions where the real business is quickly approved via the so-called ‘consent agenda’,” Olson wrote in an e-mail.
Most board meetings today mainly consist of presentations on school operations and staff retirement ceremonies.
Olson is a known advocate for open government, but her efforts have landed her in trouble before.
The 2011 scuffle started after Olson refused to shut off her video camera in a closed-door executive session evaluating the superintendent under protest the discussion should have been done in the open. She said the state’s open records laws allowed her to record it as long as she didn’t release it.
The board also censured Olson in 2011 for releasing private legal invoices she obtained as a board member. She considered them public records. She was censured again that year on accusations she intimidated staff members.
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