RICHLAND — A court hearing is set for Monday morning on the proposed recall of three Richland School Board members.
Three ballot synopsis — two with six charges and one with seven — have been filed by Benton County prosecutors. And a Superior Court judge will have until May 11 to decide if signatures can be gathered to put the issue on the ballot.
Recall petitions against school board members Audra Byrd, Semi Bird and Kari Williams were filed with the Benton County Auditor April 11.
Attorneys for each will have a chance to make their case to the judge against the recall petition's allegations at the hearing.
They're the three school board members who voted in February to make COVID masks optional, thrusting the school district into risky legal territory and closing schools for two days.
The Benton County prosecutor's office filed the ballot synopsis with the court but doesn't make a determination on the merits of the allegations. Similarly, the Superior Court judge won't rule if the elected officials are guilty or violated any laws or policies.
The judge decides whether or not the charges meet Washington state's definition for recall. And the decision may not be made on Monday.
An open government activist, Arthur West, has filed suit against the district and three school board members, alleging their vote violated the Open Public Meetings Act. No decision's been made yet in that case.
And concerns whether public records, such as emails and text messages, are being properly retained also have been raised.
The three board members continue to maintain that their actions were just and within the scope of the law.
6 proposed charges
The six charges on the proposed ballot synopsis allege Bird, Williams and Byrd:
- Violated the Open Public Meetings Act by voting at a special meeting to take final action on a matter that had not been included in the published public meeting agenda.
- Held non-public meetings in violation of the Open Public Meetings Act.
- Voted to make wearing masks at schools optional, in knowing violation of the law and in excess of the powers of a school board, even after warnings from the state and from legal counsel.
- Unlawfully voted not to reverse the removal of the school mask mandate, thus extending temporary school closures.
- Violated the district code of ethics by failing to: uphold all laws, rules and regulations, and use legal and ethical procedures; ensure schools are well run; consult those affected by changes in policy; and support and protect school personnel.
- Violated district policies and procedures by failing to assure compliance with law and policy.
An additional seventh charge has been levied against Semi Bird.
It reads: "Violating free speech rights by censoring and deleting comments on a social media page maintained as a public forum."
Taxpayers could end up paying for the trio's legal fees, though only if the judge finds the charges insufficient.
The recall petitions were filed with the Benton County Auditor's Office by Richland voters Brian Brendel, Bradley Rew, Michael Lawrence and Tony Peurrung.
They claim in the petitions that the three board members as a result of their alleged misfeasance and malfeasance damaged the district's reputation and finances and should be held accountable.
If the judge agrees that one or more charges are sufficient for a recall vote, the petitioners would have 180 days to gather signatures to put it on the ballot.
If the signatures quota is met, recall election must then be held from 45 to 90 days following the conclusion of canvassing. Depending on the timeline, a special election may need to be called.
They would need to collect 25% of the total of votes cast in each of the school board members' last election.
That would be at least 5,000 signatures each, but varies between the board members. Bird and Byrd were elected last November. Williams was elected in November 2019.
Petitions that make it to the ballot need 50% of the vote plus 1 to oust an elected official.
Elected officials who are recalled must leave office by the date of the election's certification.