RICHLAND, Wash. - After an executive session that lasted more than two hours Thursday morning, Richland School District agreed to pay a settlement and legal fees after a lawsuit brought against the district and board alleged violating the Open Public Meetings Act.
Arthur West brought the settlement against Richland School Board members Audra Byrd, Kari Williams and Semi Bird in addition to the Richland School District Board and Richland School District on February 23, 2022.
The official complaint filed in Benton County Superior Court under cause number 22-2-00248-03 alleged violating the Open Public Meetings Act when the three board members decided to vote masks as optional in Richland schools, hence this case being coined the OPMA lawsuit.
An allegation of violating the OPMA would mean accusing the board members of having non-public meetings (can be via text and email) prior to the vote of making masks optional.
The parties have agreed to resolve the OPMA lawsuit with the following:
Richland School District will pay Arthur West a total of $5,000, will schedule a OPMA workshop for Board members provided by the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, and will also retain all future Board-related text messages.
A couple of weeks ago, RSD bought new work phones for RSD board members after it was discovered Audra Byrd had deleted months-worth of text message with other board members.
Washington State Public Records Act considers texts and emails on a school district’s devices as public documents, making Byrd’s action a potential violation of the law.
In consideration of RSD’s settlement, Arthur West agreed to release and “forever discharge” RSD from “any and all claims alleged in the OPMA lawsuit.”
According to the official agreement, “West expressly agrees that he will not file or participate in pursuit of any claim, complaint, challenge, or grievance, either on his own behalf or on the behalf of any other entity or person against RSD.”
West also agreed to dismiss the OPMA lawsuit.
RSD, RSD Board, Bird, Byrd, and Williams also stated in the agreement that this settlement does not mean an admission of wrongdoing.
Bird, Byrd, and Williams deny any liability but have agreed to “base this matter based on their belief that is is in furtherance of their goal to act as good stewards of public funds.”
“Immediately after today’s executive session, in the open session, the Board took action and agreed to the settlement,” said Mick McFarland, the district and board’s attorney.
RSD agreed to pay all legal fees accrued in defending this lawsuit, attorney fees of the three board members, and the settlement to West.
This settlement is separate from the recall effort that was ruled on Wednesday by Judge Norma Rodriguez to move forward.
“The judge has made her decision and now this will be the people’s decision as they collect signatures and votes,” said President of RSD Board, Jill Oldson, “As far the recall effort goes, I think it’s important as a community that the process is followed, the process set forth by the state of Washington and let the community members make a decision since we are the ones held accountable to them.”