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Chatham School Board recall attempt may proceed

Petitioners need enough signatures to equal 25% of votes cast in election

Posted: Sunday, August 05, 2007

The state Division of Elections announced Friday that petitioners seeking to remove three members of the Chatham School Board may enter the next phase of their attempt to recall.

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Whitney Brewster, division director, advised recall sponsors in Angoon and Tenakee Springs that signature booklets should arrive on Aug. 7. For a recall election to proceed, the number of signatures gathered in the booklets must equal 25 percent of the number of votes cast for each seat in the last election.

Petitioners in the two villages seek to recall School Board members Edward Gamble Sr., Irene Paul and Shelly Wilson for what they called "misconduct in office, incompetence, and failure to perform prescribed duties."

"We've been anticipating this, it's a huge step forward for us," said Lillian Woodbury, petitioner and School District para educator.

The petition was filed in June after months of public, district-wide testimony from parents criticizing the board and Superintendent Vance Cortez-Rucker for not listening to community concerns.

In May, high school students in Angoon left class to protest a School Board discussion to fire a favored teacher.

"They chose not to listen. This is their doing," Woodbury said.

Gamble and Paul represent Angoon. Wilson represents Tenakee Springs.

Documents list reasons for the recall, including claims of hiring unqualified personnel, and violating the state open meetings act on six occasions.

The trio is accused of failing to adequately supervise Cortez-Rucker and failing to provide an adequate elevation system of teachers and administrators.

Wilson, Gamble and Paul allegedly hired two administrators without the required certificates in 2006 at the recommendation of Cortez-Rucker. In addition the petition claims the board failed to disclose the subject of five executive sessions in 2006-07, and failed on one occasion to inform an employee that he or she was the subject of an executive session.

Wilson said when the board agreed to hire Katherine Carl and Rita Ellen Robinson in 2006, she was not aware that certificates were required by the Department of Education and Early Development.

"Vance said we did not hire them as administrators," she said.

On Friday, Wilson could not recall the subject of the four executive sessions mentioned in the recall.

"I don't feel like I'm guilty of misconduct," Wilson said.

Cortez-Rucker and Gamble did not return calls Friday. No contact information was available for Paul, and she could not be reached for comment. The Division of Elections notified them of the pending arrival of the booklets.

The three board members stand accused of allowing Cortez-Rucker to provide rent-free use of district housing in 2006-07. The superintendent allegedly allowed a new minister and his large family to use a school apartment rent free.

The legal review conducted by the Attorney General's office found adequate legal grounds for the recall to proceed on grounds that the accusations are "factually and legally sufficient."

Wilson said that petitioners could have lied and still met the state standards for recall.

"It doesn't mean it's true," she said.

In the 1980s, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that election officials should not resolve factual disputes, stating, "The public should decide the truth."

"We want to be heard," Woodbury said.

Before voters get a chance to decide the truth by election, petitioners must collect 59 signatures to recall Gamble, 62 to recall Paul and 67 to recall Wilson. They have 62 days to collect the needed signatures.

Brewster said if all signatures are certified as valid a recall election would be held within 75 days.

"We will get the required signatures," Woodbury said.

• Contact Greg Skinner at 523-2258 or greg.skinner@juneauempire.com



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