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West Bonner trustee skips meeting

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Hagadone News Network | September 21, 2023 1:00 AM

PRIEST RIVER — As the clock ticked closer to 6 p.m., the murmuring started as West Bonner County School Board trustee Troy Reinbold's seat remained empty.

"Is he here?" someone whispered at a table near the middle of the room. "Is he coming?" asked another.

Without Reinbold's presence, the remaining board members of Margy Hall and Carlyn Barton did not constitute a quorum and were forced to cancel the meeting.

"I apologize for all of you showing up, but … because we do not have a quorum," Hall told the crowd after conducting a roll call vote.

When a resident immediately asked where Reinbold was and what explanation he had given for not attending, Hall declined comment.

"He will have to speak for himself," she added.

Hall said she is hoping to hold a special meeting Wednesday, Sept. 27, in an attempt to move forward with the district's business.

Hall said she hoped the meeting would serve as an opportunity for all sides to put their differences aside and to work together in support of the district's schools and students.

"I think it would have helped move us forward in a positive way and be able to try to bring different groups together," she said.

Now, she's worried about how Reinbold's absence will affect the district and whether it might impact its insurance, especially if Reinbold's absence extends beyond Wednesday's meeting.

Reinbold can miss up to four consecutive meetings — through December, before the seat is declared vacant. Continued absences would prevent the board from formally declaring the two recalled seats open and begin the process of interviewing and naming replacements.

"Bottom line, if we can't function as a district, what does that mean?" Hall asked after the meeting. "What does that mean for our insurance? What kind of risk are we? Are they [Idaho County Risk Management Program] going to drop us? Is that going to be another financial burden to the district?"

Reinbold's absence also halted efforts to sign a contract with the district's certified staff, who are currently working without a contract, Hall said. An item was on the agenda to discuss the contract and hopefully move forward, she said.

Also on the agenda was putting out a request for bid for legal counsel, something the district is working without, Hall said.

Superintendent Branden Durst said he last spoke to Reinbold on Tuesday and attempted to reach him after the trustee left a message Wednesday morning with district office staff that he would not be attending the meeting.

"I asked him to be here, so I don't know," Durst said.

Hall and Durst both said they tried repeatedly throughout the day to reach Reinbold after he called the WBCSD office early Wednesday morning to say, without explanation, that he would not be attending the meeting.

Residents said they were disappointed by Reinbold's decision to skip the meeting, saying it harms those he was elected to serve — the district's students and their parents.

"I feel like it was a political move," said Ann Yount, who has expressed interest in one of the two seats left vacant by the recall. "I feel like that is the game they've been playing for two years, and that is just continuing. I hope he shows up next week, and I hope we can have a real board meeting and take care of the business we need to take care of."

Some noted they took time off of work or drove more than an hour to be able to attend the meeting and questioned why Reinbold could not make the same commitment.

"I think this was part of their bigger agenda," recall supporter "I think this was part of their bigger agenda," recall supporter Kylie Hoepfer said.

Candy Turner, a former teacher and board chair of the Priest River City Council, said Reinbold's decision to skip the meeting was disappointing for the community. It leaves them feeling that Reinbold, who is running for reelection, does not take his duties seriously, including paying bills and finalizing a contract with the district's teachers.

"So for him not to come in and do what he's been elected to do, tells me he has not taken this job seriously enough or the kids' education seriously enough to take care of business here at the district."

Durst said he shared the public's frustration, saying the district had bills it had to pay and business that needed to be taken care of — none of which can happen without the board's approval.

While he has authority as superintendent to do some things without board approval in an emergency, he did not know if Reinbold's absence qualified.

"But that becomes a very subjective test very quickly as to whether or not what I'm doing is an emergency or if it's just something I'm doing independently without approval," Durst said.

Efforts to reach Reinbold through Durst were not successful.

Durst said he would have a conversation with Hall and others about what needs to be done, expressing hope that Reinbold would attend a meeting next week.

Durst said the State Board of Education's decision not to consider his application for emergency certification was political in nature and discriminatory.

"They didn't deny it. I think that's important to note," he said. "They never denied it because they didn't have the authority to offer it, so it was never rejected on its merits, and I think that's an important distinction to make."

While surprised and disappointed, Durst said he wasn't worried about his future and was "pretty confident" that he would continue to work as the district's superintendent to do the work he was hired to do.

While he personally is disappointed that Rutledge and Brown were recalled, Durst said he does not expect it to change the job at hand.

"Of course, there's personal disappointment when you lose people that you're friends with, but we have a job to do here," he said. "And so that's what I'm committed to doing."

Durst criticized a District 1 court decision to approve a temporary restraining order, which barred the district from holding a pair of special meetings in the wake of the successful recall election.

"I think it's pretty clear the court overstepped its constitutional authority and they didn't have the right to [grant the TRO]," he added.