Nyssa School Board member resigns over state ethics requirement

A Nyssa School Board member resigned over an ethics requirement, and the board chair said she might be next.

At the close of the school board’s meeting on Monday, April 8, Jeremy Peterson, a local farmer who has been on the board since 2019, told his fellow board members that he would be resigning because of the state’s requirements that school board members file a statement of economic interest by April 15.

The purpose of the filing is to guard against public officials using their positions for personal gain. The statements require public officials to list their major income sources, but not amounts.

Last year was the first year school board members were required to file such statements with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission. Five of Nyssa’s seven members quit last year over the requirement.

When the majority of a school board quits, the Malheur Education Service District Board has the authority to appoint replacements. The service district’s board reappointed four of the five members, along with all five members of the Arock and Jordan Valley boards who had also resigned over the ethics law.

However, this year, Mark Redmond, the service district superintendent, said he spoke to his and other school boards and encouraged members to complete the filing. He said the service district board would get involved if school boards lost their quorums.

Nonetheless, he told school boards he was concerned the state could yank the service district’s authority to reappoint if it was used to circumvent the ethics law.

“I do believe, as individual board members file and share their experience with others, that there seems to be enough momentum that the local boards will retain their quorums,” Redmond said.

Nonetheless, Peterson said the requirement to list significant income sources is an invasion of privacy, especially for his partners.

“I volunteered for this position,” he said, “but they didn’t.”

Pat Morinaka, the board chair, said she is considering stepping down because the statement of economic interest requires that she list her husband as an income source. For Morinaka, it’s a bridge too far.

“He’s not the public servant,” she said. “I chose to be.”

According to the state ethics online filing system, Morinaka submitted her statement of economic interest Saturday, April 13.

Peterson emphasized that he was not stepping down over the prospective petition to recall him and two other board members, Morinaka and Susan Ramos.

Last month, Jacqueline Cuevas, a lifelong Nyssa resident with children in the Nyssa school system, filed petitions with the Malheur County Clerk’s Office to force an election to remove the three members, who, along with Dustin Martinsen, a Vale attorney, voted to make Ryan Hawkins, the district’s former interim superintendent permanent.

Cuevas declined to explain why Martinsen was left out of her recall effort.

Ramos, a retired Nyssa school teacher who was elected to the board in 2021, said in an email Friday, March 22 that she does not intend to resign. 

County Clerk Gayle Trotter said Cuevas had not taken additional steps for the elections office to approve the recall process as of Thursday, April 11.

Peterson said he was “not mad” about the recall and wished he could “stick around” to see how the process plays out. He said he respects the need for “checks and balances,” but, he said, he does not respect people that initiate recall efforts when they are based on “lies and false accusations.”

Cuevas said she was disturbed by the board’s failure to ensure migrant Hispanic families could be part of the superintendent review process.

The district scheduled a meeting for families in the migrant education program at the same time as a community meeting was set up to allow citizens to meet the superintendent finalist from Portland. The district’s Facebook page showed the migrant program meeting was set for Tuesday, March 12. That was a time for families to get free English learning software to use at home.

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