The Herald of Everett, Washington
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Published: Sunday, February 20, 2011, 12:01 a.m.

Everett School Board member Jessica Olson faces censure

Other Everett School Board members often disagree with Olson and plan to vote on her censure Tuesday.

  • Jessica Olson

    Jessica Olson

EVERETT -- Everett School Board member Jessica Olson, who twice before has been publicly criticized by her four fellow board members, now faces a move to censure her.
"It's a reprimand by four colleagues against one who's behaving outside the norms," said Ed Petersen, board president. "It's a clear and more direct message to her and the public that we've got a problem."
Olson, meanwhile, said that even if the other four board members approve the censure, she has no plans to change her behavior.
"It's not going to matter to me," she said. "But it's unfortunate that they want to keep a war going.
"The only way I can modify my behavior is to stop asking questions."
A censure is a largely symbolic measure, a type of formal reprimand.
If the censure of Olson is approved by the board, it would not prevent her from carrying out any of her duties as a school board member.
"As far as state law is concerned, there is no legal effect," said Dan Sytman, a spokesman for the state Attorney General's office.
School board members first raised the issue of a possible censure in November.
The decision to formally consider the action follows Olson being in the news over a land deal involving the school district that could allow Washington State University to start a branch campus in Everett.
Olson posted comments about the proposal on her Facebook page.
Olson has clashed with fellow board members since she was elected in November 2009.
She won office campaigning on open government issues, unseating longtime school board member Karen Madsen.
Last year, the Washington Coalition for Open Government gave Olson its Key Award in recognition of her work to make government in Washington open and accountable to the public.
Differences between Olson and fellow board members boiled over in November. Petersen accused Olson of bullying Superintendent Gary Cohn and warned she could face censure if she didn't change.
Last month, board members again publicly discussed their criticisms of Olson during a board meeting.
Jeff Russell, the board's vice president, accused Olson of violating district policies, including sharing information she learned in executive sessions.
Following that meeting, Petersen again warned that Olson could be censured if she didn't change her behavior.
At its Feb. 8 meeting, Petersen said he asked the other three school board members who were present if they would like the censure added to board's Tuesday's agenda and they agreed to do so.
Olson was not present, but came to a later study session.
Petersen e-mailed Olson the next day to formally tell her that the censure resolution would be put on the agenda.
Tuesday's meeting, at which the censure will be discussed, begins at 4:30 p.m. and will be held at the Educational Service Center, 4730 Colby Ave.
Public comment on this or any other matter is expected to begin about 4:45 p.m., Petersen said. The censure is not expected to be discussed until about 7 p.m., he said.
Board members discussed, but ultimately decided against, moving the item higher on the agenda for the convenience of anyone wanting to hear the debate, Petersen said.
Items requiring formal board votes, such as the resolution, typically are discussed near the end of its meeting agendas.
On Friday, Olson sent an e-mail to her fellow board members requesting copies of all records and communications relating to the board's decision to put the censure resolution on Tuesday's agenda.
"She's polarized people so much that nobody wants to support her any more," Petersen said of the overall cause for the proposed censure.
Olson maintains she is fighting for openness and has vigorously questioned what items can be discussed in executive sessions, which are closed to the public.
Petersen and Russell both say that what they view as her disclosure of confidential information from executive sessions violates district policies.
"These are people that don't ask questions and seek to effectively silence someone of the minority view," Olson said of her fellow board members. "Why would I value that opinion?"
"I'm not supposed to perform to their expectations," she said. "My job is to perform to the public's expectations." Fellow board members, she said, "would do well to remember that."
One of the most recent clashes centered on what could be publicly disclosed about a proposed land deal that would have had the school district buy the 289,000-square-foot Frontier Communications building in Everett for use as a new administration building.
Earlier this month, school leaders confirmed, for the first time publicly, that talks took place with the city of Everett about leasing space to Washington State University to plant the seeds of a four-year university.
The disclosure came as part of an announcement saying that the school district had ended negotiations to buy the Frontier building.
Even before that announcement, however, Olson posted information about the pending negotiations on her Facebook page and in online comments to articles in The Herald.
It is rare for a Washington school board member to be censured, but it does happen, according to the Washington State School Directors Association.
One of the most recent occurred in Snohomish County in June 2010. Marysville School Board voted to censure board member Michael Kundu and called for his immediate resignation.
The board took the action after Kundu, in e-mails to school officials, argued that racial genetics were a "definitive factor" in learning ability.
Ultimately, Kundu resigned.

Meeting Tuesday
The Everett School Board is scheduled to discuss the censure of board member Jessica Olson at its meeting Tuesday, which begins at 4:30 p.m. at the Educational Service Center, 4730 Colby Ave.
Story tags » Everett School District

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