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Douglas school board ready for battle

by Sheila Gardner, staff writer

Teacher and school board candidate Randy Green is either dreamer Don Quixote tilting at windmills or civil rights figure Rosa Parks fighting for a better seat on the bus.

Either way, the Douglas County School District – anticipating the high school teacher will win Nov. 7 – plans to go to court for a decision on whether Nevada law precludes Green from serving on the board as long as he is employed by the school district.

At issue is a state statute that says, “A member of any board of trustees shall not be financially interested in a contract made by the board of trustees of which he is a member.”

As teachers, Green and his wife Karen are paid by the school district. However, board member Randy Wallstrum’s wife Anita also is a teacher.

At a school board meeting Thursday, school district attorney Bob Cox encouraged trustees to file suit in Douglas County District Court for a judgment on whether Green can sit on the board.

Cox painted a dismal scenario of canceled insurance policies, fines and legal challenges to all board actions if Green is elected and tries to serve.

“This is a Don Quixote-type of situation,” Cox said. “None of us wants an act of nullity or futility. I see Mr. Green fighting windmills at public expense.”

Cox said legal proceedings could drag out for a year or two if Green wins and there is a challenge to his ability to serve.

“You could be without a school board member for a substantial period of time,” he said.

n “Friendly lawsuit.” Cox recommended a “friendly lawsuit,” with Green participating, that would be decided by a district judge. No matter who wins, the loser is likely to appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court.

Both sides agreed the issue is unlikely to be resolved before the election. Cox also took the board through a chain of events where Green’s challenger, incumbent John Raker, could keep his seat even if he lost the election.

If Green is elected and the district can keep him off the board until all legal challenges are exhausted, trustees would name a temporary board member. That’s how Raker originally won a seat on the board. He was appointed in December 1998 over Green to fill a position created when a trustee resigned. This is the first election for both and Green earned twice as many votes in the primary.

Green said it would be a travesty for him to seek employment outside the district so he could serve on the board.

“I can’t believe I would have to leave Douglas to take the board seat. Even if I have to consider it some way, I would never feel right for what I would leave behind. I can’t tell you what I will do. I will allow the electorate to speak with their vote,” he said.

The 24-year school district veteran said he would be willing to put his salary in trust while he served on the board or not to earn any more money than he makes now, forgoing any raises or bonuses that would be approved by trustees if he sat on the board.

Green’s attorney, George Keele, pressed the comparison between Green and Wallstrum.

“It could not be possible that one of you can’t see the illogic that it’s OK for Randy and Anita Wallstrum, but not OK for Randy Green. He (Wallstrum) is infected with conflict … but the Legislature says, ‘It’s OK, we’ve carved out an exception for Randy Wallstrum.’ It’s about time somebody stood up and said, ‘This is not right.’

“Where would we be without people like Randy Green? Like Rosa Parks?” Keele asked. “They listened to their consciences and said, ‘This no longer works.'”

Thursday’s meeting, billed by the school district as “information only,” attracted about 50 people including teachers, former school district employees and parents.

n Manipulation. “I find it extremely upsetting that a public body is trying to influence the direction of this election,” said Kathy Garcia, a Jacks Valley Elementary School teacher. “I would have hoped the board would remain neutral for the sake of Mr. Green, his opponent and all the candidates. We’re talking about possibilities. Let’s run this election ethically.”

Douglas High School teacher Martha Mathews said she found it “much more frightening” than having a teacher on the school board that “an elected body would say the electorate should not decide. This is a democracy. The people of the community should make the decisions. No one should ever tell people who they should not vote for.”

School board President Don Forrester said he called for Thursday’s meeting because Green’s overwhelming majority in the primary indicated that the teacher would unseat Raker.

Forrester and Wallstrum are not seeking re-election.

“We’re not here to try to influence or manipulate the election. We haven’t filed an injunction in secret,” Forrester said. “A trustee has to do what’s best for the district despite what the people want.

“Randy, you put us in this position. You say you appreciate the legalities,” Forrester said. “I have to follow competent counsel’s advice. At the next formal board meeting, I want to put this on the agenda. I request that Mr. Cox go forward. I don’t want to wait until January. It’s not a good way to run the district. We may lose, but I don’t think we will.

n Good law. Forrester also rejected a suggestion by Green that they go to the Legislature to get the law changed.

“I won’t go forward with you (Green) to the Legislature. I think it’s a good law,” he said.

Trustee David Brady objected to comments that the board was trying to influence the election.

“I see this meeting as an opportunity to get the issue on the table. I feel we are being accosted as to what we are trying to do. The board is trying to communicate,” Brady said.