Friday, May 30, 2014

School board taps ‘newcomer’ as trustee

Unanimous vote follows interviews with 4 candidates

Express Staff Writer

Richard Roberts

     Four people applied for a vacancy on the Blaine County School District board of trustees. One is a native to the Wood River Valley, another is a 33-year resident and a third has lived here for 15 years. The fourth candidate is relatively new to the valley, having lived here only since 2012.

     Newcomer Richard Roberts told the board in an interview Tuesday that he would bring a new perspective to the board, and the board seemed to like that idea and voted unanimously to appoint Roberts to the post.

     “I’m new to the community with no preconceived notions about the school system, the community or the individuals in it,” said Roberts, an attorney.

     The other candidates were valley native Tom Bergin, also an attorney and currently Blaine County land use and building director, 33-year resident Carol Freund, a small-business owner and longtime volunteer for district activities, and David Wray, a 15-year resident and a former IBM employee.

     The four candidates filed for the position prior to the deadline of May 23. All four gave introductory statements and were interviewed by the board at a special public meeting held late Tuesday afternoon. Following the interviews, the board took a 15-minute recess then returned to the meeting to cast their votes, using special ballots that provided a space for a No. 1 choice and a No. 2 choice.

     “We have a clear No. 1 after the first vote and that would be Mr. Roberts,” said board Chairman Shawn Bennion in announcing the winner. A motion for approval of Roberts as the new trustee was then made and the board voted 4-0 in the affirmative.

     Copies of the ballots were provided to the Idaho Mountain Express on Thursday. They show that Bennion, Vice Chair Kathy Baker and Trustee Kathryn Graves all selected Roberts as their No. 1 choice and Bergin as No. 2. Trustee Elizabeth Schwerdtle chose Freund as her No. 1 choice and Roberts as No. 2.

     The board provided no explanation at Tuesday’s meeting as to why they so heavily favored Roberts for the post, but explained to the candidates that all four of them seemed to have the skills and dedication required for a school trustee.

     “I realize how all of your different strengths would benefit the board, so I appreciate you being here,” said Bennion.

     “After our first round of not getting any candidates, this is amazing,” said Graves, drawing a laugh from the other board members. “Anyone of you would make a great candidate.”

     Graves was referring to the fact that no candidates emerged in two different attempts to recruit a resident of Zone 4, where the trustee vacancy occurred with the resignation of former board Chairman Paul Bates in January.

     According to state law, if a resident of Zone 4 was not selected by the board to fill the post within 90 days of when the vacancy occurred, then the board could select a new trustee living anywhere within the district boundaries.

     Zone 4 mainly encompasses the west Ketchum area but also includes areas west of state Highway 75 from north Hailey to the Blaine County border with Custer County.

     Roberts will be sworn in at the next school board regular meeting on June 10. His term of office will run from then until July 1, 2017. He has the option of running for re-election when the position is up for election in May of that year.

     Roberts explained in an email to the Express that he is currently in the process of setting up a law practice in Hailey. He has been an attorney since 2001, having worked for law firms in Washington, D.C., for a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and for federal district judges in Texas and California.

     He has experience in federal appellate and trial litigation involving commercial, employment and other civil disputes and criminal matters.

     “I am incredibly honored to have been selected by the board to serve as a trustee,” Roberts wrote in the email. “I take that responsibility seriously and look forward to getting to work with such a dedicated group.

     “I want to note that I thought any of the other applicants for the position would have made an excellent trustee. Each individual brought a unique set of experiences and perspectives and a passion for education to the table.

     “I appreciate the confidence placed in me by the board and I am committed to the school district’s goal of striving toward educational excellence and enriching Blaine County’s learning community.”

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