Two Washougal residents are spearheading a public effort to remove all five Washougal School Board members from office, claiming the elected officials violated a variety of federal, state and local laws during a public meeting on May 11.
According to their site, washougalmoms.com, Patricia Bellamy and Melissa Mcilwain are preparing to file a lawsuit against the district for a variety of charges, including discrimination, violation of civil rights, libel and defamation of character after being issued trespass warnings by the Washougal Police Department on May 11.
“With (its) actions, WSD opened Pandora’s box,” Bellamy and Mcilwain wrote in an “open message” to all East Clark County elected officials. “This was all a result of their abuse and aggression against the people they are supposed to serve. Every lie will be exposed. Every child and parent that was harassed and belittled will be brought to the surface and help take down these tyrants. All illegal and unconstitutional policies, committees and agendas will be brought to the surface. On May 11, the WSD (leaders) effectively signed the ends to their political and public careers. All that remains now is a matter of when. We will take every single step necessary to hold public officials accountable.”
Bellamy and Mcilwain spearheaded a gathering of about 400 people at the Black Pearl on the Columbia event center in Washougal on June 22, to conduct a “public redress of grievances and tribunal” and address “the repeated offenses of elected public officials violating their oath of office, harassing and intimidating their constituents, violating state laws and violating multiple board policies.”
Guest speakers criticized the school district’s COVID-19 safety protocols and recently approved equity policy. According to the washougalmom.com post, 87 of the attendees “overwhelmingly voted in favor” of removing board members Chuck Carpenter, Cory Chase, Jim Cooper, Angela Hancock and Donna Sinclair from office.
Mcilwain and Bellamy said they plan to present their evidence of the district’s “maladministration” to Clark County Sheriff Chuck Adkins, Clark County Superior Court clerk Scott Weber and Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey.
On their website, the Washougal Moms group cites RCW 42.30.130, and falsely claims the sheriff’s office “has the right to relieve elected board members of their duties based upon RCW 42.30.130.”
The law cited by the group relates to the state’s Open Public Meetings Act, not the procedure to recall elected officials.
RCW 42.30.120 states that violations of the Open Meetings Act are subject to civil penalties but “do not constitute a crime.”
Kimsey said the only process to remove elected officials in Washington he knows of is the process of filing charges with a county superior court, collecting signatures on a petition and holding a special recall election.
The Revised Code of Washington, Chapter 29A.56, explains the state’s recall process for removing elected officials. The first step legal Washington voter prepares a charge of malfeasance or misfeasance — any wrongful conduct that affects or interferes with an official’s duties — against an elected official.
Those hoping to initiate a recall must file the charges with an election officer, who will certify and transmit the charges to the prosecuting attorney, who will prepare a ballot synopsis of 200 words or less, describing the charges against the official.
Within 15 days of receiving this synopsis, a Clark County Superior Court judge conducts a hearing to determine if the acts described in the charge are enough to satisfy the state’s criteria for beginning a recall petition. The court may hear arguments from both sides regarding the sufficiency of the charges at this point in the process.
If the superior court judge finds the charges meet the state’s criteria, the Washougal Moms group would need to collect supporting signatures “equal to 35 percent of the total number of votes cast for all candidates for the office to which the officer whose recall is demanded was elected at the preceding election.”
An elections officer would need to count and verify the signatures. If the recall petitioners have enough verified signatures, a recall election would be held within 90 days, but no sooner than 45 days after the signature certification. The recall election may not take place between a primary and general election, which would mean the soonest a recall election could take place — if the petitioners are able to get that far in their recall efforts — is after the Nov. 2, 2021 General Election.
The Open Public Meetings law cited by the Moms group also has a provision for elected officials who need to deal with interruptions like the one school board members have said occurred at the May 11 meeting. RCW 42.30.050 states: “In the event that any meeting is interrupted by a group or groups of persons so as to render the orderly conduct of such meeting unfeasible and order cannot be restored by the removal of individuals who are interrupting the meeting, the members of the governing body conducting the meeting may order the meeting room cleared and continue in session or may adjourn the meeting and reconvene at another location selected by majority vote of the members.”
Officials are only allowed to discuss matters appearing on the agenda if this happens and must allow members of the media — unless those members were participating in the interruption — to attend the re-instated meeting.
“Nothing in this section shall prohibit the governing body from establishing a procedure for readmitting an individual or individuals not responsible for disturbing the orderly conduct of the meeting,” the RCW states.
Washougal School Board members ended their May 11 meeting prematurely after Camas resident Tatyana Stepanyuk — who had been asked to leave the in-person gathering after she refused to wear a face covering in accordance with the school district’s COVID-19 safety protocols — began writing on district windows and board members’ cars parked outside the meeting room.
Washougal Police Department officer Ashley Goulding issued Stepanyuk a disorderly conduct citation and a trespass warning that barred her from the district administration building for one year. Goulding gave identical trespass warnings to Bellamy and Mcilwain, who police said were, along with Stepanyuk, attempting to re-enter the meeting after causing a disruption.
On May 25, Mcilwain and Bellamy sent a packet of 70 notarized affidavits to the district office, accusing district leaders of discrimination, bribery and treason, among other offenses. They also claimed that the district violated open-meeting laws by voting “to end (and) adjourn the meeting.”
“To reschedule the meeting, they have to give 20 days’ notice to the public,” the grievance states. “The meeting they restarted was illegal.”
Les Brown, the district’s director of communications and technology, told the Post-Record that Chase called for a vote to recess the meeting, then ordered the meeting room cleared per RCW 42.30.050.
“The board did not adjourn the meeting,” Brown said.
On June 17, the Washougal Police Department officer Zane Freschette notified Mcilwain, Bellamy and Stepanyuk that the trespass orders had been rescinded at the request of the school district.
The following day, on June 18, the women emailed and hand-delivered an eight-page grievance letter to the district administration office and invited the board members to the town hall event at the Black Pearl to “defend” their actions. Three days later, the women received a reply from the school district’s superintendent, Mary Templeton.
The Washougal Moms group has posted Templeton’s letter on its website. Templeton confirmed she wrote a letter responding to the Moms group.
“You have attempted to coerce the district and have engaged in idle threats. … You have tried to coerce appearance at your event by stating that failure to ‘properly’ respond to your email means ‘acquiescence that all our claims are true.’ Your statement is false and your coercion is ineffective,” Templeton wrote.
“Similarly, you engage in an idle threat by asserting that failure to appear will be just cause for summary expulsion,” Templeton stated in her letter to the group. “There is no legal authority whatsoever to support any such threat. Engaging in idle threats and making attempts to coerce compliance is simply no way to have civil discourse about disagreements. Given the above, the district has no interest in continuing to communicate with your group.”
The Washougal Moms organizers have not responded to The Post-Record’s requests for interviews.