[UPDATE 5/12] -- Action News has just learned that the Richland School Board members, and their attorney, plan to file an appeal to the Washington State Supreme Court regarding the recall decision made by a Benton County Superior Court judge on Wednesday, May 11.
There is no date set for when the Supreme Court will take a look at the case. We are told that this matter will take priority over other matters that the court is considering. A judgement on this matter will be announced in the coming weeks.
In another matter, the school board has decided to settle a lawsuit out of court that alleges that members of the board violated the Open Public Meetings Act. In a statement sent to Action News, the board denied any wrongdoing.
The statement from the board states:
On February 23, 2022, Arthur West filed a complaint against the Richland School Board, Richland School District and Board members Audra Byrd, Semi Bird and Kari Williams. Mr. West’s complaint alleges that Richland School Board members Byrd, Bird and Williams violated the Open Public Meetings Act on February 15 and 16, 2022.
The named board members and the Richland School District have agreed to a settlement with Mr. West in this matter and have resolved all claims. The parties agreed that this settlement is a compromise of a disputed claim, charge or violation of the OPMA and is not to be construed as an admission of wrongdoing on the part of RSD and the Board members, who expressly deny any wrongdoing. Richland School Board Members Audra Byrd, Kari Williams and Semi Bird expressly deny any liability, and specifically deny that they violated the OPMA, but have agreed to settle this matter based upon their belief that it is in furtherance of their goal to act as good stewards of public funds. Specifically, Richland School Board Members Audra Byrd, Kari Williams and Semi Bird recognize that continued defense of the OPMA lawsuit will likely result in attorneys’ fees and costs that exceed the amount being paid to resolve the OPMA lawsuit. RSD and the Board members have therefore agreed to resolve the OPMA lawsuit, as it is in the best interests of the Richland School District community.
The school board approved this decision to settle the lawsuit unanimously.
RICHLAND -- A Benton County Superior Court judge has just ruled that the recall efforts on three Richland School Board members can move forward after several hours of arguments.
The judge ruled that she found legal and factual sufficiency on most of the ten recall charges against school board members Kari Williams, Audra Byrd and Semi Bird.
In the judge's decision, the judge stated that she found sufficient evidence that the board members did violate the state Open Meetings Act. The judge also ruled that the board members were unlawful when they voted to amend the mask policy within the Richland School District and violated Governor Jay Inslee's state masking policy. The attorney representing the board members told Action News that board members thought they had the right to make masks optional.
"The question is, did they intend to violate the law and I think the evidence is clear they did not. They were acting in good faith. I believe they acted in a way they felt was appropriate and safe and so they didn't intend to violate any legal requirement that is out there," the attorney said.
Brad Rew, one of the recall petition supporters, said it's about holding board members accountable for their actions.
"They not only violated many different things, but they just acted very recklessly and we can't let that continue. We can't let future boards tomorrow, next year, 10-50 years from now think this is okay," Rew said. "This type of behavior is not okay."
The group organizing the recall effort could potentially start gathering signatures soon to get the recall questions on the ballot. However, the school board members could appeal the judge's decision. The board members now have 15 days to decide on whether or not they will appeal this decision to the Washington Supreme Court.