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Seat opens on Shoshoni school board

Dec 2, 2012 - By Christina George, Staff Writer

Investigation shows trustee had been absent from nearly every meeting in the last calendar year.

A seat on the Fremont County School District 24 Board of Education opened last week after an investigation into a trustee's residency resulted in him being removed from the Shoshoni board.

Superintendent Tammy Cox said the district launched an investigation into Sean Walker's residency after hearing he was no longer residing in the area and had been absent from nearly every board meeting in the last calendar year.

"We became aware that he was a non-resident and had been for some time. ... He owns property in town, but we heard he had been gone for some time," Cox said Thursday. "It is the responsibility per statute of the board member to have to notify the district, and he never did that."

Walker could not be reached for comment.

Cox said the district's attorney Joel Vincent suggested an investigation a few months ago, which was at the district's expense.

According to unofficial minutes from the Nov. 19 board meeting, Vincent said an investigation concerning Walker's residency revealed Walker does not have a physical address, telephone number or employment in Fremont County, nor has he for some time.

Walker was elected to a four-year term in 2010 as a write-in candidate.

Cox said Walker was notified by certified mail that he is no longer qualified for the elected position.

According to state statute, a vacancy occurring on a school board shall be filled within 30 days by action of the remaining members of the board. The vacancy was declared Nov. 19.

Candidates seeking the vacant seat are asked to send a letter of interest to the school district no later than 4 p.m. Monday, Dec. 10. They must be residents of District 24.

Candidates need to arrive at the administration office at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 11, to complete a short written questionnaire. The board will review the completed questionnaires during their special meeting at 6 p.m. Cox said board action concerning an appointment will occur at the Dec. 17 regular meeting.

The individual selected to replace Walker will serve until December 2014. The seat will appear on the election ballot in November 2014 for a four-year term.

Community members expressed concern about the timing of Walker's dismissal as well as how the district should proceed in finding his replacement.

Emily Jarvis, who was elected to the board in the Nov. 6 general election, read a letter to the board concerning the situation.

Jarvis later clarified she was speaking as a community member at the time and had not been sworn in as a trustee.

In her letter, Jarvis said the timing of Walker's removal appears to be questionable.

"The fact that this is coming forth shortly after elections conveys to this community that you, the school board and this administration, will take such drastic measures to ensure that the newly elected board members remain the minority," her letter stated. "Instead of rising to the challenge, your actions, and the actions of this administration, thus far, have clearly demonstrated that your agenda has been threatened by the results of the election."

Jarvis suggested the board appoint Garry Smith to the vacant seat because he was the next popular vote in the general election.

Jarvis, Wedge Fike and incumbent Kelly Gardner were elected to four-year terms in this year's general election. Jarvis and Fike replaced Tracy Spence and Teffany Fegler.

The next top vote-getter was Smith, who came in a close fourth with a reported 265 votes compared to Fike's 272 votes.

Others who lost in the election were Fegler, Spence, Becky Zent and Monica Gabriel.

"Because (Walker's) said removal from the school board is coming on the heels of the Nov. 6 general election, it should stand to reason that the only person who should fill the vacant seat is that of the next popular vote; the individual who received the fourth popular vote," Jarvis's letter read. "Cut and dry. Very simple, and there really is no need to second guess it. Common sense tells us this is what needs to happen."

Jarvis said she felt compelled to speak as a community member at the meeting because of concern about the board not following the process.

"I think the community is trying to put it out there that if there are people who are interested, they should apply," Jarvis said.

Cox said the district sent special invitations to those who ran for school board this year.

She also said state statute doesn't specify how a board appoints an individual to fill a vacancy.

"The board really wants to be inclusive, they want to be transparent," Cox said.

She said some in the community would have been upset if the board automatically appointed the candidate with the next highest popular vote.

"We're just trying to be as open as we can be," Cox added.

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