Resignation requested: Board authorizes investigation into complaint

December 2019 Posted in News, School

By Brenna Wiegand

Silver Falls School District has hired a third-party investigator to review a formal complaint brought against five Silver Falls School Board members at the board’s Nov. 25 work session.

Directors Shelly Nealon, Lori McLaughlin, Janet Allanach, Jennifer Traeger and Jonathan Edmonds are cited in the document, signed by 112 community members.

Ken Hector and Lesli Kaufman read the complaint to the board which, they say, is the result of public record requests and “a growing public concern regarding verbal and written communication between board members, community members and members of special interest groups.”

The complainants request that Director Shelly Nealon resign due to “the severity and quantity of violations that demonstrate deliberate and continual disregard for board policy and for the overall well-being of the Silver Falls School Board and District.”

Additionally, it calls for the immediate censure and further training of directors Traeger, Edmonds, Allanach and McLaughlin and a review of the complaint by a third-party investigator.

“Should this investigation uncover additional occurrences of improper conduct and/or policy violations, we ask for the immediate resignation of those board members involved,” Hector read.

The report cites “an organized effort by a small group, including board members, aimed at changing the culture and practice within our District to further their own agenda.

“This appears to include ending site-based budgeting and decision-making, closing small schools and mandating certain curricular programming which may be contrary to student, teacher, principal or site choice,” the complaint continues. “These communications also suggest a theme of undermining or removing board and committee members and administrators who stand against them.”

The complaint includes about 90 pages of documentation – mostly emails – that reference about 20 community members and indications of gatherings and other communications outside of and prior to board meetings in a manner “entirely contrary to the platform of transparency they claim to champion.

“Finally, information found in the request clearly demonstrates that certain board members have worked behind the scenes with members of the public to influence the resignation of former Superintendent Andy Bellando, a steadfast supporter of the values and vision of Silver Falls School District,” the complaint continues. “In addition, they continue to discount those who share these same values…

“This overall undermining of leadership and community vision is most concerning given the legacy of exceptional high performance that our district has demonstrated and modeled for other districts statewide.”

The complainants claim that each cited director’s conduct violates “one or more district policies found in the Silver Falls Board Governance Policy manual, the Board Superintendent Working Agreement, the Superintendent Employment Contract, Agreement for Confidentiality Covenants in Hiring, State of Oregon Public Meeting Laws, State of Oregon Public Records Laws and State of Oregon Executive Session Laws.

“These violations include pursuing personal vendettas against district staff by conspiring with each other and with members of the public to influence employment, utilizing personal email and text messaging for board business to conceal communications from the public.

“These violations… put our district at great risk of falling into dysfunction that will disrupt student achievement for years to come,” Hector read. “We have listed a total of seven policies violated by one or more of the five board members named in this complaint.

“Of particular concern, two listed for Director Nealon with regard to violation of Executive Session Laws and Confidentiality Covenant for Hiring may in fact constitute Ethics Laws violations.”   

“Based on the preponderance of evidence presented in this complaint and from statements made by board members to members of the public, we believe overall trust in our current board has been compromised,” the complaint states. “The recent public information requests cited in this complaint contain incomplete email conversations and transcripts of texts rather than actual screenshots, suggesting the redaction of pertinent information. Furthermore, information from Executive Session meetings has made its way into the public domain.”

Attorney Jollee Patterson of Miller Nash Graham & Dunn, Portland, has been tasked with an initial review of the allegations.

“Ms. Patterson has over 25 years of legal experience working with a wide range of education and public institutions, including public and private universities, community colleges, school districts, private schools, special districts and other public entities,” Silver Falls School District Superintendent Paul Peterson said.

“She will review the complaint, associated exhibits and the other documents related to or referenced in the complaint… and provide the District with a written report that will be provided to the school board and made publicly available, including the identification of any matters requiring further investigation or follow-up.

“The role of Ms. Patterson, and anyone subsequently hired to complete a further investigation, will be to produce an objective, independent review and investigation ensuring a transparent and thorough analysis and full report to the public, not to advocate for or take up defense of individual board members,” Peterson said. “If there are matters requiring further investigation, the District will contract with another independent investigator from another legal firm to complete that work.”

“I am going to wait to see the results of the independent investigator’s preliminary report,” Shelly Nealon said. “I would suggest that the press look into a false narrative being spread by a person or a group of people about the board wanting to close our outlying schools, removing site-based budgeting and having an ultra-liberal agenda.

“This kind of rhetoric only creates chaos, confusion and fear for our district and community,” Nealon added. “Our new board is working hard to move forward after a difficult period and I am committed to that as well.”

Those wishing to view the document submitted to the district in its entirety may request a copy through the district office, 503-873-5303.

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