West Ada Trustees recalled after vote

Posted at 5:29 PM, May 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-18 19:29:17-04

In a pair of closely watched recall elections — which reverberated from the West Ada School District’s Meridian board room to the Idaho Statehouse — two trustees were voted out of office Tuesday night.

And despite the bitter, high-profile campaign, and a turnout that far exceeded normal school board elections, the outcome was in little doubt.

By the time all 145 Ada County precincts were reported, 2,242 voters favored recalling trustee Carol Sayles, while 1,315 voters wanted her to stay in office. In the other recall race, 1,849 voters supported recalling board chair Tina Dean; 1,125 voters wanted to retain her.

With the recalls, the district’s three remaining trustees will appoint two people to fill the vacancies now left on the board. That task will fall to Mike Vuittonet, a trustee since 2001; and newcomers Philip Neuhoff and Rene Ozuna, appointed in February and April, respectively.

The newest appointees will serve a one-year term, and would face re-election in 2017.

After the results became final, recall organizer Christine Donnell called the results an important step in ending the chaos that has plagued the state’s largest school district.

“As we’ve gone door-to-door and talked with our friends and neighbors, we heard a community who was ready to put an end to the politics and dysfunction that had overtaken our board during the past 10 months,” Donnell, the district’s former superintendent, said in a statement. “Tonight marks the first step in getting our district back on track and returning the focus to what’s best for the children in our classrooms.”

In order to succeed, Donnell and fellow recall organizers needed to clear two hurdles, and they accomplished both with relative ease.

First, they needed to get a majority of support from voters. The Sayles recall had 63 percent support, while 62 percent of voters supported recalling Dean.

Second, recall organizers were required to collect more votes for recall than the trustees received in their last election. Recall organizers easily passed this threshold; Sayles received 339 votes in 2013. Dean received 185 votes in a three-person race in 2013.

Tuesday’s recalls came after 12 months of turmoil in Idaho’s largest school district.

In May 2015, new trustees Julie Madsen and Russell Joki were elected to the board, with Madsen upsetting longtime trustee Anne Ritter.

In October, superintendent Linda Clark abruptly resigned in the middle of a contract year, after 11 years on the job.

At one point, all five trustees faced recall campaigns. Madsen and Joki resigned earlier this year, under the threat of a recall. Organizers eventually dropped a recall against Vuittonet — the district’s senior trustee, and Clark’s strongest backer on the board.

Led by Donnell, and with Vuittonet’s backing, recall organizers continued to press their case against Dean and Sayles. They eventually collected recall endorsements from Gov. Butch Otter and first lady Lori Otter, Meridian Mayor Tammy de Weerd and the Meridian Chamber of Commerce.