Friday, February 14, 2014

Former trustee still wants to serve district

Bates does not currently plan to apply for board vacancy

Express Staff Writer

Former school board Chairman Paul Bates, shown here at a 2013 meeting of the Blaine County School District board of trustees, says he still wants to serve the district, regardless of his decision last month to resign. Photo by staff files

    Former school board Chairman Paul Bates would like to continue serving the Blaine County School District, perhaps even again as a trustee, but Bates said in an interview Wednesday that he does not currently intend on filing for the trustee vacancy that his own resignation created.
    “At this point in time, I haven’t thought about it,” Bates said. “At this point in time, I’m not going to apply. I want to do what’s best for the district and until I know what that is, no action is the best action.
    “If it would serve the School District, I would do it, but that would be up to the school board to determine. I have not lost my enthusiasm.
    “This has always been about what’s best for the district, not about me. It’s about how can I best serve the community and the School District.”

I want to do what’s best for the district and until I know what that is, no action is the best action.”
Paul Bates
Former school board chairman

    Bates’ comments on Wednesday followed a Tuesday night school board meeting in which 10 letters from district patrons or teachers were entered into the public record of the meeting. All 10 letters praised Bates for more than five years of service as a trustee and for his integrity and dedication. All 10 letters also express regret that he tendered his resignation. Three of the letters requested that the school board reinstate him as a trustee.
    His resignation took place during a series of school board executive sessions, with the first held on Friday, Jan. 17, followed by two more on Monday, Jan. 20, and Tuesday, Jan. 21. His resignation came following complaints from some parents that underage people drank alcohol at his mid-valley home during a Dec. 31, 2013, New Year’s Eve party.
    In his letter of resignation, submitted to the board on Jan. 21, Bates acknowledged that the allegations were true, stated that he had gone to bed early and was unaware that guests had arrived at the home with alcohol. He acknowledged that he was responsible nonetheless.
    According to minutes of five school board meetings held in late January, Bates’ resignation wasn’t officially accepted by the board until a special meeting was held on Jan. 29. At the same meeting, the school board declared that a vacancy existed on the board in trustee Zone No. 4 and determined that anyone interested in filling the vacancy had until Feb. 26 to file a letter of interest with Clerk of the Board Laurie Kaufman.
    Although the resignation was officially submitted on Jan. 20, Bates said Wednesday that the actual decision was made at the board’s first executive session on the issue on Jan. 17.
    “That decision was on the table and the weekend was spent reflecting on it,” Bates said. “But the decision was made on Friday. I made the decision at the first meeting.”
    Bates said further that he does not regret the decision and that it was the right one to make given the circumstances. He also said he was not pressured by other board members to resign.
    “It was absolutely my decision,” he said. “I’m absolutely standing by the decision.”
    Regardless, some district patrons and employees think Bates made the wrong decision. Of the 10 letters filed regarding Bates at Tuesday’s school board meeting, only one was read aloud during the public comment portion. That letter was written and read by Hemingway Elementary School teacher Tracy Atwell, who lives with Bates as his domestic partner but was out of town when the New Year’s Eve Party took place.
    “Every single day since Paul resigned, one, two or three people have come up to me either to tell me to thank Paul for his service, complain that he resigned or let me know how sorry they were that he wouldn’t be representing them,” Atwell said at the meeting. “I think I would have let all this go a month ago if it weren’t for the daily reminders I get from people who are unhappy that Paul resigned.
    “As a citizen and teacher, I have to admit that I am very disappointed with his decision to resign,” Atwell said. “What I find difficult is that one group of citizens did not approve of Paul’s actions and Paul chose to resign before he listened to everyone on this matter.
    “Those of us who thought he should not resign over this dispute were not heard from and an important discussion did not occur. So if this process could work backward, a majority of us believe that Paul’s choices on New Year’s Eve are forgivable and in no way diminish his outstanding work on the school board.”
    Bates said Wednesday that he was not involved in Atwell’s decision to write the letter and to read it at the school board meeting.
    “She needed to get that out of her system,” he said.
    Bates, a longtime volunteer in the School District, even before his election as trustee in 2009, said that regardless of what the future brings for him that he wants to continue his volunteer service to the schools, students and community.
    “If there’s something I can do to help the district, I’m all over it,” Bates said. “I would hope they can find some way to use me.”

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