Education

4 West Ada trustees face choice: resign or stand for recall

Critics seeking to recall four of the five West Ada School Board trustees got enough signatures to force a May 17 recall election, Ada County elections officials say.

Trustees Julie Madsen, Russell Joki, Carol Sayles and Chairwoman Tina Dean will have five business days from the time they receive written notification from the Ada County elections office to either resign or face recall, Phil McGrane, chief deputy Ada County clerk, said Friday afternoon. His office reviewed the petitions to certify the signatures.

“I’m not surprised,” Joki told the Statesman Friday. The threshold for recall for trustees is low, he said. Joki said he will think about resigning because, for the months leading up to an election, people will be wondering about how every school board vote he makes is related to the recall.

Three other trustees did not a return phone call or an email Friday, but both Madsen and Dean have said they would considering resigning if the recall election is set.

The recall comes as Joki and Sayles sought to block an election with a lawsuit challenging the petitions used to launch the vote.

Fourth District Judge Deborah Bail rejected a request for a temporary restraining order to halt progress on the election.

The judge set a hearing for 3:30 p.m. March 9 on the request for a preliminary injunction to stop the recall, rescheduled from March 2.

Joki and Sayles are challenging the number of signatures required on petitions to launch a recall effort. Recall supporters had gathered about 2,000 signatures — 1,600 were verified by the elections office — based on the number of people who voted in each of the trustees’ previous elections. Joki and Sayles say the number required should be closer to 10,000, based on the number of people who voted in the district election in November to renew a $28 million supplemental levy over two years.

In denying the temporary restraining order, Bail said the request “contains only boilerplate assertions that the plaintiffs would suffer damage to their reputations and their right to continue to serve as trustees.”

Ada County officials have 15 working days to determine if the signatures are enough to hold a recall election May 17. Trustees who are targeted for a recall election will first have an opportunity to resign.

If a legal challenge cancels the May 17 election, recall backers say they will continue their efforts and gather enough signatures for a later election.

“This job needs to be done,” Reid Olsen, a co-chair of the committee which gathered signatures, told the Idaho Statesman editorial board earlier this week. “We just keep going.”

Reid Olsen, co-chair of the West Ada Schools recall effort, explains why he and others are seeking the removal of four of the five trustees.

“We believe (the lawsuit) is a delaying tactic,” said Christine Donnell, a former West Ada superintendent who launched a recall effort last fall.

Joki denied the lawsuit was a delaying tactic. It appears that the law governing trustee recalls can be read two ways, Joki said, so they went to the branch of government charged with sorting it out.

McGrane said district officials must have recall ballot language by March 18 in order to make a deadline for a May 17 election.

If the recall misses the May election, it would likely go to the August ballot where, at the moment, there are no other votes planned.

Recall backers say the board has lost the confidence of many of its patrons, wasted taxpayer money and has not been transparent.

What about the money recall backers are raising and spending?

Critics have accused the recall effort of raising tens of thousands of dollars, much of it from out of state.

Reid Olsen, a recall co-chair, said the committee has raised $6,500 — $500 of it from himself to open the checking account. Christine Donnell said she donated a bit more than $100. The committee received two donations from a developer and a contractor. None of the money has come from out of state, Donnell said.

Donations are not required to be made public under Idaho law.

Critics pointed to campaign materials such door-hangers as a sign of the amount of money the committee is spending on the recall. Caroline Merritt, a parent supporting the recall, said she paid $346.16 cents for the door-hangers which she ordered from Vistaprint with a 25-percent off coupon. She said she will submit the bill to the committee for reimbursement.

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