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State commission moves forward on ethics complaint
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State commission moves forward on ethics complaint

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GAPS STOCK PIX

Greater Albany Public Schools district office

The Oregon Government Ethics Commission will proceed with a full investigation of a complaint filed against Greater Albany Public Schools alleging violation of state executive session laws during a meeting earlier this summer.

The ruling kicks off a 180-day timeline that could result in the seeking of a negotiated settlement or movement to a contested case hearing.

The complaint concerns a June 7 meeting of the Albany School Board that resulted in a contract extension and a raise for Superintendent Melissa Goff.

In its July 23 meeting, the five-member state commission agreed to proceed with a full investigation of the complaint, voting unanimously to move forward with investigations involving each of the five members who served on the school board at the time: Kim Butzner, Michael Thomson, Eric Aguinaga, Jennifer Ward and Justin Roach.

The commission said it had received two identical complaints. The names of the people who had filed were not given as part of the meeting, but North Albany resident Tom Cordier forwarded Mid-Valley Media a copy of his complaint on its filing.

The school board had called an executive session on June 7 under ORS 192.660 2(d), which allows members to go behind closed doors to discuss labor negotiations. The initial public agenda did not mention a change to Goff's contract.

Later, after adjourning to public session, board members passed a consent agenda without comment or formal vote. The next day, Goff's contract addendum appeared as part of the consent agenda. Both agendas now can be found on the district's website.

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Cordier's complaint alleges the board members reviewed the draft addendum during the June 7 meeting and made a final decision on it, in violation of executive session law.

On June 21, board members took a formal vote in public session to affirm it had accepted the contract addendum on June 7. Butzner, then board chair, said some concerns had been received about its approval as part of the consent agenda and recommended a separate vote "in an abundance of caution."

In their staff report July 23, members of the Oregon Government Ethics Commission heard the board believed it was operating under a separate segment of the executive session law that allows discussion of records exempt from public disclosure.

A superintendent's contract is public record, but the attorney for Greater Albany Public Schools argued that because the addendum was drafted by legal counsel, it falls under attorney-client privilege and is therefore exempt, commissioners were told.

Neither the complainant nor any district representative spoke at the July 23 meeting. Cordier said in an email following the meeting that he's encouraged by the agreement to investigate and hopes the board faces a substantial fine.

GAPS representatives said they had no comment when the ethics complaint was first filed and were not immediately available to comment on last week's ruling.

Cordier was present outside the June 7 meeting, protesting the board's decision not to allow people to come inside for public comment. Had he been allowed, he said, he would have urged the board to let incoming board members, who were to take office on July 1, make decisions about the superintendent's contract.

The three new members voted July 14 to dismiss Goff under a no-cause clause in her contract and to buy out the year that had been added at the June 7 meeting. Incumbent Michael Thomson voted no and Aguinaga abstained.

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