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Ex-Bremerton School Board member Mitchell was upset with new members prior to resignation

Prior to his sudden resignation, former Bremerton School Board member Louis Mitchell was upset other board members were talking to each other outside of public meetings.

To him, it seemed like a step backward.

"Although we have new faces, it seems we again are confronted with old behaviors," Mitchell wrote in a Jan. 5 e-mail obtained Thursday by the Bremerton Patriot.

Mitchell's resignation was made public Feb. 11. He refused to discuss his reasons, saying only that he delayed his departure so as to not interfere with the district's levy renewal.

Voters approved the levy by more than 63 percent earlier this month.

Contacted Thursday night, Mitchell again refused to state his reasons.

Although documents obtained from the district do not contain explicit statements from Mitchell explaining his decision to resign, they show Mitchell was upset with the board's three new members, elected in the wake of former Superintendent Bette Hyde's departure.

He stated in the e-mail to Hyde's replacement, Superintendent Lester "Flip" Herndon, that Director Scott Rahm had spoken with the board's other new members, Dave Boynton and Carolynn Perkins, about electing new board leadership prior to the three taking the oath of office.

Mitchell said it constituted a violation of the state Open Public Meetings Act.

For his part, Rahm said Thursday there was no violation of the law, which says elected officials must hold discussions about public business at open, announced meetings.

There was no violation because he and Boynton had not taken the oath of office, Rahm said.

Perkins took the oath as an interim board member Aug. 6, 2009.

Rahm said he had been attending district meetings leading up to his term of office, and individually polled new members about whether they would accept a nomination to lead the board.

"I didn't want to nominate a person and have them say, 'No,'" Rahm said.

Mitchell was one of two holdovers from the Hyde era and a persistent critic of district decisions.

In the e-mail to Herndon, Mitchell characterized Rahm's conversations as intending to "arrange a public nomination" and that they were "reprehensible and an affront to the laws and procedures we are sworn to uphold."

Mitchell also indicated he wanted the three new board members to participate in a study session on the open meetings law.

At the vote on board leadership Dec. 10, 2009, the minutes indicated Mitchell "declined." Boynton was elected board president.

In Mitchell's e-mail, he said he spoke with Rahm a day after the meeting. That conversation, over the phone, lasted two hours and 33 minutes, according to the documents.

Rahm said he called Mitchell a day after the meeting because he appeared agitated at the vote and wanted to make sure he was OK. Rahm said he told Mitchell during the conversation he voted the way he did because he felt it was the best decision for the district moving forward.

"I have a hard time believing a person of Louis' caliber would walk away over this issue," Rahm said. "I would have expected there to be more of an effort, from all parties, to resolve it."

Boynton said the new members did not break the law because they weren't acting as board members until they were sworn in.

"At what point does that take effect?" Boynton said.

Perkins acknowledged the conversation, calling it a "general meeting" between the two, with Rahm inquiring about her interest in a leadership position.

"I said I'd be open to being vice president, but being so new in my tenure I wasn't comfortable in a role as president," she said.

Mitchell also wrote to an official at the state Attorney General's office, an e-mail included in disclosed documents.

In response to an inquiry about forwarded e-mails among board members, and how that could constitute a "meeting" as defined by the act, Assistant Attorney General Tim Ford urged caution.

"It is always a better practice to schedule a discussion during a regular or special meeting," Ford wrote.

Bremerton Patriot editor Andrew Binion contributed to this report.

This version includes correct information on when board member Carolynn Perkins took the oath of office. - AB

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