Communication: Board grapples with ‘transparent’ way to handle issues

July 2016 Posted in News, School

By Kristine Thomas and Hannah Kloft

Silver Falls School Board Member Aaron Koch is disappointed in how fellow board member Todd White has conducted himself and is concerned his actions may be a liability to the board and district.

At the July 11 school board meeting, Koch asked there to be a discussion on board member roles and responsibilities.

Koch accused White of neglecting his duties as a board member by failing to communicate efficiently and being deceptive, which ultimately led Koch to feel “disappointed in the way things turned out.”

The heart of the matter was White filing an ethics complaint against board member Tim Roth.

White stated in the complaint he thinks it was a violation of the ethics policy for Roth to receive free dirt from the artificial turf project at McGinnis Field.

While Koch said it’s within White’s right to file such a complaint, he believes White should have brought hisconcerns to the board first, before filing a complaint. The school board met June 13 and White filed the complaint on June 15.

Durning the July discussion Koch also pointed out to White that when fellow board members have had questions about things he has said or done, they brought their concerns to him at a board meeting giving him the opportunity to explain.

Roth was not given the same opportunity, Koch said, adding he feels the board was “blindsided” by the filing of the complaint. I don’t feel that you gave Tim the same courtesy that has been given to you.” 

Although White exchanged emails with Silver Falls Superintendent Andy Bellando, and he copied in Roth, White did not directly speak to the board about his concerns about a possible ethics violation.

“I see this dirt as district property, so there is a protocol,” White said at the school board meeting.

White said his emails were seen by fellow board members and the superintendent, adding Roth could have responded to his emails. When he didn’t hear anything from fellow board members after a week, White decided to take the next step and file a complaint with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission. He believes the dirt should have been available to the public.

“Tim was cc’d (copied) into the email conversation and he chose not to reply,” White said, adding when he contacted the ethics commission he was told it was something they would be interested in investigating.

Koch contends questions should have gone to the board first at a meeting, and then if he wasn’t satisfied with the answers a complaint should be filed.

“It’s your job as a leader to bring up a problem and have it discussed by the board,” Koch said. “There were some ambiguous emails, then boom an ethics complaint. With what went on there was no transparency.”

If White had requested the topic be discussed at a board meeting, information about the district’s policy on gifts would have been provided.

Bellando said the artificial turf project was organized and funded by the Silver Fox Foundation as a gift to the district. The decision of where to place the removed dirt was up to the foundation.

Koch also questioned White on how the Salem Weekly newspaper learned of the matter and asked if White contacted the paper or if he asked someone else to contact the paper. White responded he did not contact the paper, nor did he ask someone to.

Koch said it’s the board’s responsibility to present the community with the facts. Between what was trending on social media and the article in the weekly, Koch said there is a “misrepresentation of information.”

“Social media has been down right cruel. I am appalled,” Koch said.

White has argued he filed the complaint with the ethics commission because he believes the school board needs to be more transparent.

Koch said what White did “…stands in the face in terms of open communication.

“I think if we have a concern, it is part of our role as a board member to discuss it,” Koch said. “If we want to have openness and transparency, we have to bring it up.”

Board member Ervin Stadeli said he would like to see White censured.

He said board members have given White adequate time and space to change but his behavior is “only getting worse.”

“I think you’re a liability to the district, to the school board and to yourself,” Stadeli said, looking directly at White while speaking. “You put a black mark on the gift. It’s embarrassing.”

Both newly-elected board chair Wally Lierman and Koch, who was elected vice chair on July 11, said they are close to considering censuring White.

“I am concerned he is a liability risk,” Koch said.

“Me, too,” Lierman said.

The day after the board meeting, Bellando said censure is rarely used. He said it is a formal action to separate the governing body from the “inappropriate actions of one of its members.” He added it is his understanding “that censuring a board member minimizes or eliminates liability to the board as a result of inappropriate actions of one of its members. It also states to the public the disapproval by the board.”

Board member Tom Buchholz said he doesn’t think anything illegal or unethical took place in the dumping of the dirt. However, he said, the board has to be aware that it might appear its disposal was part of the “good ol’ boy network.”

During public comment, Silverton High School Football Coach John Mannion thanked the Silver Fox Foundation for its work and for the generosity of the companies who donated equipment and labor to the turf project.

Mannion said he was disappointed Roth was being challenged on ethics, a man he described as having “unquestionable integrity.”

“It’s such a shame. When I think of integrity, you look somebody in the eye, you agree to disagree, and you shake hands,” Mannion said. “I’ve been in this town for six years now and 99 percent of people are just like this.”

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