Director Kyle Knight, Baker 5J's youngest board member, was censured last Tuesday in an open board meeting. Knight, who refused to sign a document agreeing not to speak to the public on matters the district deemed confidential, denies any wrong-doing.
The censure comes as a culmination of events that have transpired over the last nine months. Director Knight has been at odds with the Baker 5J school district since he was elected by popular vote, ousting Board Chair Damien Yervarsi.
The first, and perhaps most contested issue, came when the district attempted to implement a weapons policy that would ban any person from bringing a firearm onto school property, even if that person had a Concealed Handgun Carry Permit issued by the state. The Oregon School Board Association and PACE stated that any allowance of firearms on the campus would increase liability risk, subsequently raising the potential premium and leaving the district liable for damages in the event of an accident. Director Knight, who is a member of the Republican Party and founder of the Baker County Tea Party, stated that he would be in favor of no policy that limited the right of individuals to bear arms. He furthermore stated that implementing such a policy would open the district to other liability, as both state and federal statutes allow for a person with a concealed carry permit to be armed on school property.
Knight then took issue with teachers having to work on a federal holiday, took the issue up the the State's Attorney General, and was reprimanded by Board Chair Lynne Burroughs in a letter to the editor.
The subsequent issue to take the public by surprise was when Director Knight stated that there was a misappropriation of funds, claiming that the district's contingency fund was too big in comparison with surrounding districts. Knight then stated that the district "cried wolf" last year when lay-offs were imminent, and when the district had a bond placed on the ballot, thereby "putting the staff on the front line."
The latest action by Knight that seemed unusual to some was Knight's disclosure to the press that a district employee had been placed on leave for using a district purchase order to acquire personal items. This led to a meeting which was originally scheduled as a closed meeting, but was open to the public at the last minute, on March 29th. When the meeting ensued, Board Chair Lynne Burroughs had declared that it was an open public meeting. Director Knight then stated that the meeting was illegal because the district had not notified the public 24 hours ahead of time about the meeting. Knight then walked out of the meeting. Director Burroughs continued the meeting and stated that if Knight is censured, the board would next seek his immediate resignation. If he declines, the board would encourage a recall of Knight.
In the special meeting held last Tuesday, Board Chair Lynne Burrows stated: "The majority of the board publicly condemns his conduct and actions. He will no longer have access to any confidential information, be allowed to interact with district employees, serve on committees or attend executive session meetings of the board, which are closed to the public."
“Unfortunately, a majority Board now finds, that Kyle Knight continues to take actions and conduct himself in ways that are outside the proper and professional role of a School Board Member.”
Burroughs read the charges that she said led to the board’s decision to censure Knight, which were, "violating his oath to support the Constitution of the United Sates, the Constitution of the State of Oregon and the laws thereof, and the policies of the Baker School District.”
She added, “It is clear that you have had no intention of abiding by your oath, violating it again and again over the last nine months."
Burroughs then stated the Knight had violated the state's Bureau of Labor and Industry laws by releasing the information to the press. She said, "You took information legally designated as confidential and given only to Board directors, and you disseminated it to the press before any investigation had been completed.”
Knight attempted to counter Burrough's statements, but Director Henderson sternly said to Knight, “Stop! Are you going to let her speak or not?" raising his voice to Knight. “You will have your chance and so will she."
“You have refused to honor your oath and you insist upon distracting board and district employees from the education of the district’s children by slander of district employees, by disrespect of your fellow board members and district teaching staff, by disrespect of the board’s adviser — the superintendent, and by personal self-aggrandizement.”
Burroughs then chided Knight for releasing information before any investigation was complete.
Knight Countered, "“I talked to the press after this person was fired."
Burroughs then stated that he had sent emails to the media before the employee was fired.
When given another chance to sign the document written by the district, Knight stated, “I will not sign under the current format as I said before."
Carmen Ott, a retired teacher who was in the audience Tuesday night, was momentarily allowed to speak. She said, "“I do know that the information (about the former employee) was released on the day this person was released from the office," (by other employees). After another denial that anyone other than Knight released a name to the press, Ott said, "“I think something’s being covered up, then. You should talk to some of the other employees who released the name.” The Baker City Herald reported that the district will handle any inappropriate statements made by other employees about the investigation involving the former employee.
The vote was taken to censure Knight, and it passed 3-2.
Knight further took offence to an email sent to both Knight and other board member on the Sunday before scheduled meeting. In it, Superintendent Walt Wegener made reference to Knight's religion, stating:
“Also, Kyle claims to be part of the LDS church. I think many of those good people would be deeply concerned about a church member who actively lies in public and regularly violates his oath to God.” Read all of email here.
In response, the Baker City Herald published an editorial on Wegener's comments, stating that what he said was "indefensible." The Herald further criticized the meeting and how it was handled, stating:
"The LDS comment isn’t the only dubious phrase in Wegener’s email.
He also implies that Knight shouldn’t express his opinion about school board business unless he has the approval of the rest of the board. Wegener wrote:
Each time Kyle signs his name or claims to be a “Member of the Board” when he publicly shares his opinions he violates his oath.
Now, we’re all for elected officials working together.
But the notion that no individual official’s opinion is worthy of a public airing until it’s been vetted by all seems positively Orwellian in its embrace of group-think."
Knight has stated that he has spoken with an attorney regarding both the censure and Wegener's statements.