In a special meeting with Special Districts Association of Oregon counsel Eileen Eakins, Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District board members peppered her with questions about what their role is and how they interact with the public.
Board member Celeste Bodner said members have experienced “personal attacks, litigation threats and coordinated misinformation coming from a small group of individuals,” and sought guidance from Eakins regarding how the board should respond to individuals.
Eakins listened as board members expressed frustration at communicating their message regarding the purchase of Broadway Middle School. The district has negotiated a deal with the school district for a purchase price of $2.25 million for the former school, which closed to students after construction of the new campus on Spruce Drive.
“The thing that bothers me the most is I’m understanding one of our City Council members and maybe more than one are part of this,” board member Su Coddington said. “I think there is some legality, but I don’t know enough. I think (executive director) Skyler (Archibald) was the one that said it was a bunch of lies.”
The district board invited Eakins to attend the meeting to provide technical assistance regarding how board members should be working together. The topics covered during the session included policies and practices relating to public meetings, executive sessions, record retention and record requests and communications with public.
Last Wednesday, Skyler Archibald, the executive director of the park district, said he is aware of the Taxpayers for SEPRD Transparency Facebook group but hadn’t seen the details of the page.
He said he did not comment to Coddington on the content. “When she stated that last night, I was surprised because we did discuss it, but I could not speak on the content,” Archibald said.
City Councilor Tita Montero, a founder of Taxpayers for SEPRD Transparency, responded with an email after the meeting.
“When I listened to your comments tonight about the Facebook postings by Transparency for SEPRD Taxpayers, I was disappointed that you have been misled to understand that everything contained there consists of personal attacks and lies,” Montero said.
Montero, who said she is acting as a private citizen, forwarded copies of postings and attachments in her response.
“I have the right to speak out with questions and opinions in relation to any of these governmental bodies,” Montero said. “While speaking out about SEPRD I have made it very clear that I am acting as a private citizen and not in my capacity as a city councilor — which would be improper.”
Board member Erika Marshall acknowledged that public input had proven useful while the district considers the potential purchase of Broadway Middle School.
“We are getting some really great questions from the public,” Marshall said. “A lot of what we are hearing contributed to our decision to wait another 30 days. There are people really committed to seeing a positive outcome to this and I appreciate that. There’s a balance with the community, and the most important thing is we collaborate and work together to find solutions.”
Eakins urged park district directors to develop a “thick skin.”
“People are entitled to their opinions,” Eakins said. “You can correct falsehoods. But there is rarely going to be a reason to take legal action. ... For the most part I would let people say whatever they are going to say. Respond with whatever you want to respond but don’t scream back at them.
“Stay in control of your public meetings,” Eakins added. “Don’t have people trying to impose their will on the meeting.”
Board members authorized Archibald to renegotiate terms of a potential purchase agreement for Broadway Middle School Tuesday night.
The district has offered $2.25 million for the former school, but after due diligence, that offer may be adjusted. The park district must return to the school district to accept or renegotiate the offer by Dec. 31 at 5 p.m.
The board also unanimously authorized Archibald to enter into a lease purchase or loan of up to $2.5 million, with the appointment of special counsel and municipal adviser Hawkins, Delafield & Wood LLP of Portland.
“I think this is going to succeed,” board member Michael Hinton said. He compared the school purchase to the purchase of The Prom in 1920, which faced “vigorous opposition.”
“I think our community will not let us down,” Hinton said.
In September, the park district board authorized Archibald to work with a real estate agent and deliver an offer discussed in executive session to the Seaside School District.
In November, the park district authorized an extension and presented a revised bid. Since that time, the park district has used consultants to review the building’s condition and remediation needs.
The middle school, located off of U.S. Highway 101 and Broadway, is among the school properties relocated to the new Spruce Drive location outside of the tsunami inundation zone.
“Let’s work together,” Marshall said. “Let’s work in partnership with the city and work in partnership with the school district. There’s an opportunity for these three groups to come together, and you’ll see we’ll all come together. Let’s try to make this work, let’s not undercut it.”