LOCALLY PRODUCED NEWS by Tim Bodony
2016 Galena Recall Election Forum
If a majority of voters say yes in the recall election, Kim Kopp would be removed from the school board as soon as the election results are certified. After that, the remaining four members on the school board can appoint a replacement to fill the seat, and state law dictates that they cannot appoint the same person who was just recalled. The appointed board member will serve until the next regular city election next October.
If a majority of voters say no, Kim Kopp retains her seat on the school board, and another recall petition targeting her cannot happen for at least six months.
Polls will be open at Galena City Hall on Tuesday December 6 from 8 am to 8 pm. Absentee early voting is also available on the weekdays leading up to the election.
-Jenny Bryant's recall statement, as presented on the recall petition
-Kim Kopp's rebuttal statement
-mp3 version of the Recall Election Forum, as heard on KIYU
Transcription of recall forum interviews, as heard on KIYU on December 1, December 4, and December 5.
Jenny Bryant interview transcript
Q: Why did you choose to initiate a recall on Kim Kopp?
A: I got on the school board about 3 years ago, with the expressed intent of representing our little local community SHS school, which seemed to not have enough representation, and decisions were being made that were affecting our school. Parents, teachers, community members were really unhappy with how things were going, and I thought I would jump in and try to make a difference, and was summarily silenced. It was really, really difficult to participate. I don’t feel like I was accepted as a school board member – not just that I wasn’t heard, but that I was completely dismissed in many cases. And it wasn’t just me. I was elected and I was representing the community the best way that I could, and I was told it was just me – that I was the only one who felt the way I did. Even when people came forward and spoke up, they were dismissed also. A lot of times, the excuse was ‘well, these people don’t come to meetings, or these people don’t say anything’ – even though they were talking to me and I was passing it on. It just wasn’t being heard at the upper levels, or even acknowledged in a lot of cases. So I felt like I had to do something else. So once I got off of the board, once I quit, I felt like we needed a really serious change in how the board operated and how it was run.
Q: Would you say that the system is broken?
Q: It certainly sounds like it from your description there. The government of the school district is broken?
A: Yes, absolutely. The way it is run now and the structure with the leadership at the top – it is a closed leadership structure, and it is fairly insulated from outside influences or outside opinions. If you don’t agree with the current direction that the board wants to take, or their ideas or opinions, you have no influence at all. It just doesn’t make it into the decision-making process.
Q: Let’s move on to what you wrote, that went along with the petition, what’s called the recall statement. There are no specific dates or times. In the recall that took place in Nome, it had specific dates and times in which illegal meetings took place, where a majority of the board gathered. And that was presented in the ballot statement as evidence – on this day, at this time, these individuals did this. There are no specific dates or times of any improprieties or anything illegal or anything like that…should there be, in order to make a strong case for someone to be recalled?
A: One of the choices for a recall was incompetence, and that was the choice that I used and went with. I don’t think she was doing anything illegal or anything like that, and it’s not about whether or not she is a nice person or whether or not she volunteers her time. The reason I chose incompetence is because of her performance on the school board, as a school board member, and also as the School Board President, and about her educational leadership as a member of the school board, and her actions running meetings and tight, rigid control of communication – how that affects our SHS school and our community. Under her leadership, our little local SHS community school has undertaken a drastic downturn in educational and academic support, and this is a topic that has been aggravating parents, teachers and community members for the past five or six years, at least. And parents and teachers have come forward and continuously expressed their disapproval of administrative decisions that affected our school. And they were silenced and dismissed and ignored – and that is the level of incompetence. In my three years on the board, I came to the conclusion that not only is she unwilling, but she is also, in a lot of ways, unable to hear and understand and accept other people’s opinions and other people’s educational expectations for their kids, particularly local community parents. Most of the community members that I talk to, that I have known my whole life, are really, really unhappy with what is happening in our school. And she absolutely refuses to listen to it, believe it, see it, and change any decisions that have been made. So that’s why I chose incompetence.
Q: The last part of the recall statement alleges a conflict of interest involving Kim Kopp’s position on the school board and the Galena Bible Church and related efforts such as Galena Young Life. Could you explain that conflict of interest as you see it? Why is it a conflict of interest? How did it manifest itself? What did that conflict of interest do that was harmful to education?
A: For most of the people that signed the petition, that was the one resonated the most with them. And I chose Young Life – I didn’t know that she was no longer in charge of Young Life here in Galena – because it is everywhere in our school. It’s pretty prevalent and it makes a lot of local parents uneasy. They are not happy with the amount of involvement [by Young Life]. Not that anybody’s against a Christian religion that is trying to do something positive, but the way it is implemented, and in the past, her involvement with that…it’s just really, really pervasive and bugs a lot of people in the community.
Q: If Kim Kopp is no longer the president or local leader of Young Life, why is it still an issue?
A: I think she has more of a social focus and priority, that doesn’t put academics as a priority. It is greatly affected by the way she sees things, with what education can do, particularly at GILA. Her main focus there is on social change and social improvement. And it was ending up harming the academic and educational priorities at SHS. We were taking some big hits at SHS, because the focus was shifted towards different things over at GILA. And she was unable to see the collateral damage – the effect it was having on our local elementary school particularly. We would bring it up, that if academics were our priority, then we wouldn’t be cutting these programs in the elementary school to hire a driver’s ed teacher back at GILA, just as an example to throw out there. And one of her chief arguments that she would make is that SHS kids don’t need as much because they are at home with their parents, whereas GILA kids are not, and that academic performance in the elementary school is high. Our SHS school is an awesome school, but it could definitely be better, and she didn’t share that idea of pushing it further and improving it and always making things better. She ran along the lines of ‘it’s good enough.’ And that for me is unforgiveable for how you are going to manage your school. If academics are our priority, then there is no way we should have made those cuts.
Q: In another part of the recall statement, you say “Kim Kopp regularly misuses the chain of command to deny or avoid responsibility for critical problems with the system of authority.” Can you explain what that means?
A: The system of management in our school…there is a lot of mistrust, there’s a lot of fear and retaliation among teachers and parents. So when you bring forward these complaints, and another school board member and myself continually brought them forward, we never really discussed the real issue, the broken system issue. All we ever got was that we didn’t bring these forward using the proper chain of command. Even when we brought it up that it was not going to come through the proper chain of command, because the chain is broken, it never went anywhere. And a lot of parents ran into that too, where they would come forward with an issue, and they are either met with silence, or they are met with ‘thank you for that comment, thank you for your concern.’ A lot of times there was no follow through or it would just be ‘you didn’t follow the proper chain of command, you need to go to your teacher, you need to go to the principal, and then you have to go to the superintendent.’
Q: But that’s how school board members are trained, right? That you as a school board member are not supposed to promise… when you meet someone in the grocery store and they present an issue to you, you as a school board member are not supposed to say ‘I’ll take care of that for you.’
A: And you shouldn’t. A lot of the communication policies and procedures are in place to protect public servants. When they are used correctly, when the system works and you trust the people at the top and to make sure that everybody along the line is protected to bring concerns forward, [attempts to communicate] are not going to come back and get them. They are not going to pay a price for it. But when that is not in place, it all falls apart. The system is broken and you can’t use that structure to protect you and make sure you are heard.
Q: Taking a step back to look at the big picture…this is a recall election with one school board member’s name attached to it: Kimberly Kopp. Is the recall election really still about this individual, or has it become a sort of referendum on how the school district is doing in general? About priorities, allocation of resource issues – which you have been talking about. Is that really what this is about? Did you want to bring about an election to have a community vote about the way the school district is going? Or is it really about one person’s job?
A: It is not personal. It’s not about whether she is a nice person, or how much time she volunteers. It’s not about any of those things. It’s about her performance on the school board, and the results through that with the performance of our school, of our district. It does come down to that, because if the community doesn’t have a say, isn’t part of the decision-making process, then that district is ineffective in representing the community and making sure that everybody is part of the system. That it is our school. We’re ready for a change – a big change. We have to vote Kim Kopp off of the school board in the upcoming recall election, and then we have to get to work repairing the lost trust that has been so pervasive over the past few years.
Q: Thinking about the process here…the way that the law is written and what you had to do to get a petition going. Are there any shortcomings or weaknesses that you see in this recall process? Are there strengths?
A: I don’t really have anything negative to say about it. The things that I really liked about it are that it was easy to do, that the process was pretty simple once we figured it out. And one of the things that I really appreciated about it was that, after three years on the school board, I have seen first-hand how rules, policies and procedures can just kill ideas, kill open discussion and debate, and just curtail the effort to make a change. And this was pretty easy to do, and it happened. It’s cool. It’s going to a vote and the people get to decide. That’s the way it is supposed to work.
Kim Kopp Interview Transcript
Q: What was your first reaction to seeing or hearing about a recall petition with your name attached to it?
A: The first thing I thought was ‘what does a recall mean?’ So I set out to do some research to find out exactly what that meant. I think the biggest thing is that because there was not a lot of particularity in the recall statement, I really didn’t have a way to respond.
Q: We’ll touch on the notion of particulars a little bit later. There are a variety of allegations or accusations in the 200 word recall statement and I want to give you a chance to refute or discuss a few of them. The last one is probably the most controversial and I’ll start there. It alleges a conflict of interest involving your alleged position with groups affiliated with the Galena Bible Church and your position on the school board. So, have you used your position as a school board president to advance programs affiliated with the Bible Church, such as Young Life Club, or any other programs, as the recall statement alleges?
A: I never have done that. In fact I have always been very careful, especially when I was working for Young Life. I haven’t worked for Young Life for over a year and a half. But when I was, I was very careful to not even make announcements on behalf of Young Life. Sometimes during board comments, people will make announcements about the various things that they are involved with. But I believe that the only time I ever said anything about Young Life was after each after-prom party, then at that next meeting I would thank the school for partnering with Young Life to put on a safe after-prom party. But I am 100 percent confident that I have never voted for anything that would benefit the Galena Bible Church or any of its programs.
Q: Have you ever recused yourself from something that possibly presented a conflict of interest?
A: Not regarding the Bible Church. There was one [vote] that involved my husband’s contract as an administrator [from which] I recused myself. The only thing that has ever come up that had anything to do with church was when we did the property use [policy]– when any organization wants to use any school properties, such as the gym or the theatre. We talked about those rules and regulations. It came up because there was a concern about Bible Church activities, but it was discussed as a policy regarding any facilities use. And because it wasn’t to the benefit of any one organization, I did vote on that with the rest of the Board. [There were] unanimous decisions to make changes to the charges that we charge the organizations, and rules for cleaning and all those kinds of things.
Q: A separate allegation…There is a sentence in the statement about creating a culture or low trust, low morale, and fear and retaliation in the school. Is there a culture of low trust, low morale, and fear and retaliation in the school, as the recall statement alleges, in your opinion?
A: Well, it is an opinion-thing, because the statement is so vague and doesn’t give any specific actions that I may have taken that would have contributed to that. We have over a hundred staff that are employed by the school, and everyone has differing levels of job satisfaction or lack thereof, or positive relationships with administrators or ones that could use some improvement. Some areas have more resources; some have less - not because of any kind of favoritism or anything. Just sometimes that is how things shake out. But I believe in general, based on the communications from the majority of people that most people are pleased with the education we are providing for our children.
Q: Has it been a board issue that you have dealt with – low trust, low morale, fear and retaliation from staff?
A: Not that has been brought by staff through the chain of command. There have been individuals on the board that have made general comments about low morale or lack of resources. But there would never be any specific names or situations for either the superintendent or for school board members to address. So that made it kind of a challenge. We had heard about things, but because there were not specifics, there wasn’t a way to address them. So the superintendent could never be directed by us to say ‘hey, this teacher is really having a hard time because of ‘x’, would you please take care of that?’
Q: This next question is kind of a small town politics question. We’ve never had a recall that anybody can recall…[chuckle, chuckle]… that anybody can remember in Galena. This a small town, there’s a relatively small number of voters. And do you think that this recall election has become, or could be perceived as a big, broad referendum on the school? That it’s really not so much about you as a person, but it’s going to be basically a vote on how the school is going? What direction is the district going? What are the priorities that the Board is pushing or endorsing? How are resources allocated? Big, broad issues…do you think that is what this has become?
A: I do believe that. However, if that were truly the perspective, then it seems like all of the current school board members would have been on the recall petition. In my studies of other recalls throughout the state from the past 25 years or so, that has been the general way of doing things. The board majority voted a certain way, and so the whole board was being recalled. Perhaps it is a combination. I think there is a message being sent in a different way about one group’s unhappiness with how school business is done. However, I feel that in the past three years since I’ve been chair, we have instituted a lot of really positive ways for people to have communication opportunities. But we can’t force people to engage and to share their concerns. Sometimes it is hard to have a conversation that shares what you don’t like, whether it is with your administration or with anyone in leadership. That can sometimes be kind of scary. But we have tried, through online opportunities for board comments, or town meetings for people to share in a safe environment without an agenda, on the board’s part.
Q: You are not all the way through it yet, but has this whole process in your mind brought up any shortcomings or weaknesses in the way that the recall process is spelled out in city law? You mentioned earlier that you would like to have seen a threshold that required specific dates and allegations to be levied – I would imagine that you would address that now. But is there anything else that you feel like is a shortcoming or weakness in how the recall process is written into law?
A: I definitely agree with that. I’ve spent hours and hours researching this, because it just didn’t seem logical to me that these kinds of statements could be said and then have an election be based on that. You could come up with nonparticularities and accusations against just about anyone who is in public office, and demand a recall as a result. So I definitely feel like there is a big gap in both municipal statute as well as state statute. The professionals I have shown this statement to – whether it was the Division of Elections, or the local business specialist, attorneys, the School Board Association, the ACLU – everyone says this document should not have been approved because it lacked particularity of accusation. Regardless of how this turns out, regardless of how the voters decide, I really would like to be a part of making the law tighter. Not because I would have any antagonistic feelings about the whole thing, I would just like to make sure it doesn’t happen to someone else in the future.
Q: Are there any allegations in the recall statement that you would treat as constructive criticism?
A: The part about listening was kind of interesting – that I don’t listen to understand, but that I listen to respond. That was probably one that I took to heart the most. Sometimes, when people come to me, I know what they are going to be concerned about or complaining about, so I already have ideas in my head. It’s not that discount what they say, but I am ready with a response. That part was a good learning, reflective thing for me. I believe that when people [bring issues to me] I try to give “puzzle pieces” to help them be able to solve their problem. Because the reality is, as a school board member, I am not privileged to solve every problem that comes to me. I can just direct our employee, the superintendent, to address the issue. So, my job as an elected official is to help bridge the gap between the community and the school. If a community member comes to me with a situation, and I realize that there a couple of puzzle pieces that they do not have, my job is to respond with information that will help fill in the puzzle pieces.
Q: Your final thoughts – anything else you want to communicate about the recall process?
A: I would like to say that I am saddened by the fact it came to this. I’ve seen a lot dissention and disunity throughout the community as a ripple effect of this action, and that makes me sad because I’ve always seen Galena as a community that really comes together when there are challenges, that we set aside our differences and look at all of the facts on the table and work together to find a solution. I’ve worked really hard as a school board member to have a strength-based approach to tackling our challenges, and have tried really hard to find things to celebrate. In Galena we have 501 things we can celebrate about what we are doing with excellence and make us a beacon of educational hope for the entire state. While we have our challenges, it is a lot easier to address our challenges when we regularly celebrate the things we are doing well, because you get energized by the good things and it gives you what you need to work on the things where there are holes. I believe I have helped bring an open and transparent process to school board interactions. I’ve heard from a lot of people who have been actively engaged in school board meetings and stuff for the past 20 years, and they really feel like there is a lot more openness and transparency in what is going on. I would really love to be able to see us sit down with everyone, recognizing that we have 4300 students in our school district that we are responsible for. We are only elected by the parents of about a hundred, but we have 4200 extra students whose parents don’t vote for us, that we are responsible to listen to and meet their needs as well. I think that as I’ve attended school board trainings, and have tried to learn from other school boards about their successes and challenges, I really have come to see that the majority of the state has come to see Galena as an example that every district would like to follow. And to me that says a whole lot. It doesn’t say that we don’t have problems, but it says that we are doing a lot of things really well. I would like to see us work together to fix our problems for what is best for all of our kids – all 4300 of them.