School board chair urged to resign post

Controversy roils small Mount Pleasant district

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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In the build-up to Mount Pleasant School Board's meeting next week, Superintendent Lisa Slattery and two board members have called for Chairwoman Dolores Nelson to resign her post in the tiny K-6 district.

But Nelson said Thursday she would not resign at Tuesday's board meeting and planned to finish out her term, which ends in December 2013.

The feud over Nelson's status centers around her actions after longtime bus driver Cheryl Randall's alleged use of a school credit card to purchase $500 in gas for her personal vehicle in October. Randall faces a misdemeanor third-degree theft charge and has since resigned. She confessed to the crime, authorities said.

Nelson's position as chairwoman is expected to be a topic of discussion during Tuesday night's meeting, members said. The exact wording on the agenda was unclear Thursday.

The board does not have the ability to force Nelson's resignation. However, board member Thomas Schlatter wrote in an email to The Columbian he hoped public outcry would lead Nelson to resign.

Nelson's opponents allege she engaged in a cover-up campaign after the allegations against Randall surfaced. Then, following Randall's resignation, Nelson stonewalled efforts by the board to hire a lawyer and fill a vacancy on the board, her opponents alleged.

Nelson denied both accusations Thursday, describing Slattery's comments to the board about her as "lies."

Schlatter alleged that Nelson is unfit to lead Mount Pleasant, a district on the Skamania County side of Washougal that has five employees and 55 students.

"De's actions indicate an abuse of the trust and power given to her by the public," Schlatter wrote, going on to say he believed she acted "unethically" with regards to keeping Randall employed for several months after theft allegations arose against her.

"I'm totally aware of what's going on," Slattery said of calls for Nelson's resignation, "and I'm in support of it, too."

Slattery declined to elaborate further, noting she had to be careful what she said.

Board member Karl Kanthak also spoke vaguely in his support for Nelson's resignation.

"There's been some information come to light that we can do better," Kanthak said.

'Get facts straight'

Nelson, who has served on the board 15 years, said she had not heard anything about Tuesday's agenda. Her detractors, she said, "should get their facts straight."

Nelson sought to postpone interviews to fill the board's vacancy for a week or two, she said, because she anticipated it would be difficult to hold them with all the hoopla surrounding the meeting. The board has had four members, since former member Phil Caldwell resigned once allegations against his neighbor, Randall, arose.

Schlatter wrote in his email that Nelson advised Slattery during a private meeting, in which no advance notice was provided, that the interviews would not be held on the evening district residents were told they would. Nelson dismissed what she termed as Schlatter's third-hand information.

"She's been lying to the board, and she's been lying to me," Nelson said of Slattery.

Fellow board member Peggy Carroll accused Slattery of attempting to sweep Randall's alleged actions away.

"We've got some new people who have personal agendas," said Carroll, an 18-year board member and former superintendent, "and they're ruining the school, and it's a great school."

Lost in the shuffle, Carroll noted, was Randall, a valued employee who made a series of mistakes. The district should have waited until the State Auditor's Office came back with its finding, Carroll said, before going public on Randall's alleged actions.

"We lost the best employee we ever had, all because (board members) couldn't sit back" and wait for the audit, Carroll said.

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; www.facebook.com/raylegend;www.twitter.com/#!/col_smallcities;ray.legendre@columbian.com