The Blaine County School District spent around $43,000 on legal fees last school year, bringing its four-year total to just over $250,000, split among nine firms, according to an accounting by staff requested by Trustee Rob Clayton.
Last year’s expenses were a decrease for the district, which spent $67,500 on legal counsel the year prior, according to District Finance Manager Bryan Fletcher.
On Tuesday night, the board unanimously agreed to renew contracts with both the Boise-based firm Anderson, Julian & Hull and local attorney Rick Allington to represent the School District in 2019-20.
The vote came minutes after finalizing an $18,061 payment to Anderson, Julian & Hull for about 95 hours of work between June 13 and July 16, part of the $36,500 it paid the firm during the 2018-19 school year.
That charge coincides with a settlement agreement between the district and former Human Resources Director Shannon Maza, breaking her contract with three weeks to go, and quashing three internal grievances and a pair of potential lawsuits against Superintendent GwenCarol Holmes alleging bullying and slander.
The payment—$125,000 paid out of the district’s general fund—was agreed to on June 11 by a 4-0 vote of the board, and finalized 3-1 on Tuesday.
Clayton, who recused himself from the initial vote at the request of his colleagues, voted against the consent agenda approving the bill.
“I’ve been pretty well sought out by constituents out in the community to name names,” he told the board. “I haven’t been able to respond to that, but I think [the payment] jumps off the sheet. The questions I receive are, ‘Was this owed?’ ‘Was this to keep silent?’ I haven’t said anything, but I think you should know that these questions are coming up.
“As far as being board members—and the oversight committee for the district—we need to have that awareness.”
For Clayton, it extends to legal costs.
Firms represent the district, not individual employees, but the district is required by state law to represent any employee involved in action stemming from their job with the district, Superintendent GwenCarol Holmes said. Holmes also told the board that public records requests are referred to Anderson, Hull & Julian’s Amy White, who checks that documents are redacted in compliance with Idaho code.
“That was news to me,” Clayton said on Thursday. “I have concerns that we are being overcautious at the taxpayers’ expense. What does it say about our operation, that we don’t do anything without being coached by an attorney?”