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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

West Bonner recall results certified, officially ousting two trustees

West Bonner County Superintendent Branden Durst, left, at a board meeting in the Priest River Lamanna High School cafeteria on July 26.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

The Aug. 29 election that recalled two West Bonner school board members was certified Thursday, after the board had twice attempted to hold last-minute meetings and violate the terms of a restraining order.

The Bonner County commissioners, acting as the board of canvassers, signed off on the results late Thursday morning. The results were unchanged from election night reporting.

School board chair Keith Rutledge was recalled with 762 voting for and 454 voting against. Vice Chair Susan Brown was recalled 624-to-322.

With the official certification, Rutledge and Brown are removed from their seats on the board. The remaining three board members will appoint their replacements.

The board sought to meet Wednesday night even after a judge approved a restraining order prohibiting the board from taking any action that would financially or contractually obligate the district until the recall was certified.

Wednesday’s agenda included executive sessions for superintendent and board clerk evaluations, and reaffirming board actions from June 28 and Aug. 22 related to the superintendent’s contract.

The meeting was canceled Wednesday afternoon.

Trustee Margaret Hall had sent a notice to Rutledge and Superintendent Branden Durst that she would not attend the meeting because she would be in contempt of court.

Hall wrote in her email that holding evaluations on the second day of school was premature.

“Any reason for holding such evaluations appears to be for the sake of being able to check the box that an ‘evaluation’ is done and a contract may be renewed,” she said.

On Monday, Durst posted a long Tweet that encouraged defying court orders in various situations. It read in part, “Unconstitutional court orders should be defied. A tyrannical judicial branch must not be tolerated.”

Durst, a former Idaho Freedom Foundation staffer with no prior experience as an educator, has been a divisive figure since the board hired him in June. Recent attempts to modify his contract would make it more difficult or costly for the future board to fire him.

Attorney Katherine Elsaesser, who represents constituents Dana Douglas and Peggylee Smith in the restraining order against the board, also sent an e-mail to the board ahead of Wednesday’s canceled meeting saying the agenda items were unnecessary and did not meet the requirements for a special meeting.

“You are not only violating a court order but your actions will be null and void,” she wrote.

On Tuesday, Rutledge signed an addendum to Durst’s contract that was approved by the board on Aug. 22, but contained changes Hall said she was not made aware of and that were not approved by the full board.

In an email to The Spokesman-Review, Elsaesser said it was inappropriate for Rutledge to sign the addendum since the Aug. 22 action was not noticed on the agenda and a draft was not provided to the trustees to vote on.

The addendum removed a provision that would have allowed the board to fire Durst if he does not obtain a superintendent certification.

Durst applied for an emergency provisional certificate from the Idaho State Board of Education last week. If the state board does not approve his application, the district will be fully responsible for funding his salary, Elsaesser said.

Another version of the addendum that appeared on the agenda for another meeting that was canceled last Friday included a line that would have required the district to pay his full salary if he was terminated for any reason.

Durst’s base salary is $110,000.

“Almost all rushed items were set forth for the sole benefit of Mr. Durst,” Elsaesser said, “and that is really unfortunate that the recalled trustees pursued those actions while claiming to the public to be fiscally conservative.”

James Hanlon's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.