Judge rules recall can proceed against three Richland School Board members

RICHLAND, Wash. — A Benton County Judge has ruled that a recall petition filed against three Richland School District Board Members meets the Washington State requirements.

M. Semi Bird, Audra Byrd and Kari Williams are at the center of a recall petition after their decision to make masking optional for the district, back in February.

According to the website, Richland School Board Recall, the three charges that could appear on a ballot are:

  • Violated the Open Public Meetings Act (RCW 42.30) by voting at a special meeting taking final action on a matter, to wit: masking optional, 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 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.
  • Violated the district code of ethics by failing to: (1) uphold all laws, rules and regulations, and/or (2) use legal and ethical procedures; and/or (3) ensure schools are well run; and/or (4) consult those affected by changes in policy.
  • Violated district policies and procedures by failing to assure compliance with law and policy.

Judge Norma Rodriguez ruled there was sufficient evidence to proceed with those claims.

READ MORE: RSD School board makes masks optional, what’s next?

However, according to Attorney Jerry Moberg, who’s representing the trio, the board members didn’t get to present evidence to dispute the claims and prove they didn’t intend to break the law. It’s a decision he said he doesn’t agree with, but as a former judge, Moberg said he respects Judge Rodriguez.

“That Wednesday morning hearing, the judge changed her mind and said nope, she was not going to hear any evidence from my client,” he said.

One of the core concerns from petitioners, Moberg said, is that Bird, Williams and Byrd held a secret meeting – he said that didn’t happen, but the three did exchange texts.

“The recall petitioners had no evidence of that they didn’t produce a date time or a place of the meeting they just said that that happened. She agreed there was no specific evidence of any particular physical meeting, where there was a private or secret meeting between the three of them which is the core allegation she did adopt the argument of the petitioners counsel, well there were text messages and they can constitute a meeting,” Moberg explained.

Additionally, petitioners claimed the board members violated OPMA by not providing detail on the public notice. Moberg said the February 15th agenda stated ‘Local Control’ which typically included masking discussions. He said the board members thought this included rescinding the mask requirement.

RELATED: Petition garners nearly 2,000 signatures, urging board members to step down

“All of the mask issues prior to that were referenced under a resolution related to local control,” he explained.

Regardless, the Judge said the charges met the state’s standards to proceed with the recall.

Next, Moberg’s clients have 15 days to appeal to the Washington State Supreme Court. He said recalls take priority.

“If we follow that path very likely we’d be in front of the Supreme Court fairly quick order. Either the 15 days expires and we don’t’ appeal or the Supreme Court issues out its opinion once that opinion is issued – if there are any recall charges that are still left standing then the process of gathering signatures would begin and then the question of when a vote would be held,” Moberg explained.

According to the Richland School Board Recall website, upwards of 5,000 signatures, per board member, would be needed to get the recall either on the November ballot, or a special ballot.

KAPP KVEW has reached out to the attorney representing petitioners, but we have not yet heard back.

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