Archive for Tuesday, August 11, 1998

MOVEMENT AFOOT TO OUST MEMBERS OF OTTAWA BOARD

August 11, 1998

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— A recall drive against Ottawa school board members gathers steam. A challenged member says: Bring it on.

Organizers of a drive to oust three Ottawa school board members said Monday that they have collected about half the petition signatures needed to force a recall election.

More than 500 of the roughly 1,200 signatures needed before a recall ballot can happen were collected this first week, said Betty Sue Shumway, a retired Ottawa school teacher and a member of the so-called recall committee, which has about 20 members carrying petitions.

``Collecting signatures is no problem at all,'' Shumway said. ``People for the most part are incensed with the board. People are furious. The minute I say I'm carrying a petition they say: `Give it to me. I want to sign it.'''

The recall petitioners complain that board members Sam Sheldon, Cal Lantis and Marlin Kimball took part in board actions that included: misspending bond-issue proceeds meant strictly for a new middle school on improving the high school track and violating state open-meeting laws by abusing executive or closed session privileges.

``I think some people are embarrassed -- I know I'm embarrassed - that we've let things go on this way so long,'' Shumway said.

Patrons also are upset about board relations with teachers.

Ottawa teachers worked all last year without a new contract because sour relations with the board created an impasse that even outside arbitrators couldn't penetrate.

That and other board-approved actions have caused teacher morale to plummet, Shumway said.

``We've lost 20 teachers because of the way they were treated,'' she said. ``First thing, the new superintendent fired all the principals and vice principals except for one. With the new crew in charge, things just went from bad to worse and worse and worse, and the board didn't seem to be attending to it.''

Shumway said the unhappy petitioners would like to remove all seven of the current board members, but are limited by law to recalling no more than three. She said she missed the meeting where it was decided which three of the seven members would be targeted.

Board members, including some who aren't targeted, say the specific charges made against them in the petition are false; that the money spent on the high school track was for sorely needed improvements and certified legitimate by board attorneys.

Closed-door meetings that petitioners complain about also have been declared OK by the board's attorney, the county attorney and the state attorney general, they said.

Sheldon, who was board president during last year's contention over the teachers contract, said if a recall election comes to pass he will welcome it as a referendum on the board's performance.

``I don't have problem with the general idea of getting people's opinion on this,'' he said. ``In fact, I celebrate that as a believer in democracy. But I will quibble with the specific grounds. I think they're ridiculous. I won't shy away from hearing what the people want to do; whether they want to continue with a board that wants accountability or whether they want to turn the board over to the teachers' union to run it. That's really the key issue right there. I would love to have a referendum on how this community feels on the direction this board is going.''

Petitioners said they would prefer board members resign rather than force a recall election. But that seems unlikely to happen.

In the case of Kimball, a retired Ottawa elementary school principal, resignation is no more likely than ``a cold day in June,'' he said.

``I was elected for four years,'' he said. ``And I'll serve for four years or until the citizens tell me otherwise.''

``I haven't made any statements,'' said Lantis, the third targeted board member. ``I haven't fought the petitions because it's clearly false. I'll wait and see if we have to have a recall.''

-- Mike Shields' phone message number is 832-7144. His e-mail address is mshields@ljworld.com.

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