Editor’s note: This column is in response to a letter to the editor in the Jan. 24 edition, entitled “In response to ethics column” written by community member Bill Spencer.
Thank you, Bill Spencer, for expressing your thoughts in last week’s edition regarding the findings of the Creswell School Board from the Oregon Ethics Commission (OEC). Public discourse is important, and we welcome all opinions and views in this section.
We do, however, have some clarifications to make that may help diffuse your view of The Chronicle.
In your letter last week, you wanted to know if he Chronicle would “apologize for making our schools and school board members spend resources over an issue that you chose to take as a personal insult.”
Please understand that if there was an error, we’d take it on the chin and apologize.
For instance, The Chronicle recently screwed up a story about the middle school taking an educational trip. When we were made aware, we scooted down to the school, apologized left-and-right and corrected the issues immediately.
Mistakes happen for sure, but we were not wrong in filing the ethics complaint.
This complaint went through several phases, and if we were wrong to file the complaint, it would’ve been dismissed from the get-go.
The OEC Preliminary Review said, “There appears to be substantial objective basis to believe that violations of the executive session provisions of Oregon Public Meetings Law may have occurred on March 14, 2018 when an executive session was held by the (Creswell School) Board from which a member of the media was excluded and may have been held improperly.”
After being reviewed, and after being preliminarily investigated, the OEC voted to launch the 180-day investigation, validating The Chronicle’s actions taken in this matter.
You see, it is not a matter of taking the issue as a personal insult (which I would correct as me taking my job responsibilities as watchdog seriously); there was a “substantial objective basis” to believe something was off about that meeting.
I will also add that the anxiety you mentioned I made the board feel certainly went both ways, as did the legal expenses. The Chronicle also incurred many sleepless nights and legal fees as a result of this issue, and it certainly would have been easier not pursue this at all.
In your letter, you also said, “you chose to quote legal language without summarizing in layman’s terms that our Board could have said it better but was not guilty of an ethics breach.”
I twice contacted OEC before writing the follow-up to translate the document into layman’s terms, but they would not go on record. For that reason, I felt uncomfortable straying too far away from the document rhetoric in my last column without proper attribution.
It’s complicated, but what it boils down to is: while the OEC investigation found that the reasons for which they held the meeting were ultimately permitted, the statutes listed on the agenda that night were incorrect.
Those listed statutes were all The Chronicle had to go by from that meeting, and I was correct in identifying that press was permitted under the statutes listed on the agenda.
Furthermore, when I met with the board chair and the superintendent after the incident, I reported that the materials they provided me from that meeting did not sync up with the statutes on the agenda. That was also correct, and that is because the statutes were misused on the agenda.
I even flat-out asked OEC if I was wrong for filing this complaint and they said, “no, absolutely not.”
Journalists pay special attention to Public Meetings Law and are trained to ensure that all government entities operate in the sunshine — and if they’re not, to do something about it.
The Chronicle is solely responsible to the public — not to the school district, nor to the city, nor to the state. It is our role to defend these laws for the public, even if that means your friends may find themselves in the crosshairs sometimes.
Though volunteers, school board members (same goes for council, fire board, et cetera) are elected into their position and have responsibilities to uphold. Just because they are not paid does not mean they do not need to adhere to the rules, or be familiar with them. I’m sure everyone involved is vastly more acquainted with the proper usage of Public Meeting Laws now, myself included.
At the end of the day, it is a learning experience for everyone involved.
You said, “I am convinced that you see the board and administration as bad or hopelessly incompetent, but you did not win and now you should give them credit for not being what you said in your March 22, 2018 issue.”
Rather that surmising what The Chronicle feels about the board, the proof is in the pudding — or rather in our pages. Just a few weeks after the executive session incident, Board Director Mike Anderson was on the front page of our newspaper being interviewed about drone classes at the schools.
More recently, our school reporter mentioned Board Director Lacey Risdal’s passionate moment regarding school disinvestment during the November board meeting. “THAT’S the story; follow her passion,” I said, and we sat down and worked out the “Fighting Failure” series that launched this month. Director Risdal was the center of the first story and it certainly didn’t paint her or the board as “hopelessly incompetent.”
There are many other stories just like those, and there will continue to be more. But we won’t report through rose-colored glasses — those lenses are not accurate, does not stimulate change, an does not serve the public’s best interest.
You also said, “I call for our school administration to be open and willing to meet to resolve differences. This whole press access issue should have been resolved with minor conflict. ”
We agree. Since the incident, our schools reporter has not had issues accessing executive sessions and the district and board has reportedly been in good communication with our reporter.
I myself am in contact with the district on a pretty regular basis as well and the communication does seem to be improving — especially with the implementation of the new board chair, Tim Rogers, so that’s a win for everyone.
It has been nearly a year since this incident occurred, so you’re right in saying that my excitement is not quite as high as it once was. But I am happy to meet you, sit down and chat about this, or any other qualms you may have, over a cup of coffee.