An attorney for the Blaine County School District has advised trustees against granting a special school board meeting sought by critics of the district to hold a vote evaluating the performance of Superintendent GwenCarol Holmes, according to Chairwoman Ellen Mandeville.
Now backed by almost 1,200 online signatures, Ketchum resident Barbara Browning asked for a closed-door meeting with the trustees to present the names on the petition—and make the case for firing Holmes—during and immediately following the school board’s regular meeting on June 11. Her petition, launched during a “crisis meeting” called to voice criticism toward district leadership on June 3, aims to fire Holmes with cause prior to the start of the next school year, citing a “waste of taxpayer dollars” on legal fees, “consolidation of power,” “ignoring the community” and “questionable ethics.”
Its immediate goal: a vote, with each trustee publicly supporting or opposing the superintendent.
Mandeville sought the advice of the board’s law firm, Anderson, Julian & Hull, after Trustee Rob Clayton requested a meeting late last month. Clayton’s request was backed by Trustee Ryan Degn—which, by board bylaws, would trigger scheduling of a special meeting.
But, a lawyer for the Boise-based firm recommended not granting Browning a closed executive session to air complaints, and said that, per Idaho code, employees cannot be evaluated in open public sessions.
“I’m the type of person who listens to the lawyers,” Mandeville said, adding that she believes personnel have a right to privacy. “I don’t want to subvert the process.”
In an interview with the Idaho Mountain Express on July 18, Clayton stood by his request—though Mandeville said all five trustees were included on emails from counsel advising against it.
“These people deserve to be heard,” Clayton said. “I’m looking to the chairwoman to schedule it, because a request has been made.”
Browning and a handful of other critics reiterated the request during the school board’s regular monthly meeting on July 16, unfurling a 15-foot long printout displaying the names of the signatories. At the time, Browning was unaware that Mandeville had sought a legal opinion regarding her request.
Of the names, a few dozen “seemed suspicious,” according to Max Gardenswartz, a student at Wood River High School who tallied the signatures and supported the effort against Holmes.
His count: 1,147 valid signatures.
In the absence of a special meeting, Gardenswartz said the next step falls to voters.
“It’s in November,” he said. “There’s going to be three seats up for election.”