A possible recall petition has been filed against Eugene School District 4J board member Laura O’Rourke after another tense board meeting and ongoing conflict between O’Rourke and other board members.
Disagreement during the match led to the delay of the victory of the volleyball team in the state championship. The petition was filed by Lisa Wood, a parent of a member of the Sheldon High School volleyball team who attended the Feb. 1 meeting.
In the petition, Wood wrote that O’Rourke’s conduct was “unbecoming of a public officer” and that O’Rourke had “behaved in an inflammatory manner at numerous board meetings.”
O’Rourke is the only black member of the board and has previously complained of racial harassment by fellow board members. In November, she filed a formal complaint outlining the specific circumstances in which she was targeted. He made similar claims in public meetings.
What happened at the meeting?
The board meeting started about 30 minutes late due to technical problems. The meeting was a hybrid, with three board members present in person and four virtually present, including O’Rourke.
The members of the board discussed the issues to be included in their agenda. They added two points: to demand an update of the legislative action and to take measures based on the complaint heard in the executive session.
O’Rourke asked to add a discussion about the council’s goals, which they have previously discussed at council meetings but have not yet formally decided on. Other board members, including Gordon Laffer, backed the addition of the clause, saying the board could discuss the goals at an upcoming work session.
Board members went back and forth about adding this item. O’Rourke said he didn’t understand why there was so much reaction to his stuff when the other two ingredients were added without proper protocol.
He said he was not given a formal opportunity to object to the article on the appeal process. The hybrid meeting method helped because O’Rourke had previously complained that he couldn’t hear council members when they weren’t speaking into their microphones.
“You’re singling me out now,” O’Rourke told Council President Maya Rabasa. “It’s unprofessional and not good. I want a real vote for all clauses. So we can be fair and not just single out Black councilors like you and Gordon do every meeting.”
Then the board doubled down, reconsidered the previous two issues and asked for any objections to be made to include them in the agenda. O’Rourke opposed adding a clause to take action on a complaint that was discussed in executive session.
Suddenly there was a cacophony in the boardroom. Rabasa announced that the parents and students of the Sheldon High volleyball team, who had gathered to celebrate their Oregon state championship win, left.
The meeting was called to order at 7:00 p.m., but didn’t actually begin until 7:32 p.m., and by then it was about 7:45 p.m. The newspaper reported that the board would recognize the team near the start of the meeting, after the show. invitation, pledge of allegiance, acknowledgment of land, review of the agenda and report of the leader.
Rabasa tried to call the question on a vote to take action on the appeal, meaning the board would vote to end the hearing. Instead, Rabasa called a recess to bring students and parents back into the boardroom. Board member Judy Newman said about 15 students walked out.
O’Rourke said he couldn’t see the audience in the virtual meeting, so he didn’t know what was going on.
“We do not take responsibility when a group of students walked out of the meeting,” Rabasa said.
After a break in honor of the volleyball team, the board returned to its agenda.
O’Rourke brought up the article again for the council’s purposes, which eventually passed with four members in favor and three against, including Rabasa, Lafer and Michelle Hsu. In the midst of a lengthy back-and-forth, O’Rourke said her voice was silenced and said she was being described “as an assaultive black woman.”
According to Lane County Clerk Dena Dawson, the potential recall petition is the first step in a long process:
- File a motion to withdraw that Wood made.
- Submit the petition pages he wants to circulate to collect signatures, which must comply with the law and be approved by the city clerk.
- Collect enough signatures to equal 15% of the people who voted in the 2022 gubernatorial race in the designated district.
- Submit the signatures to the regional secretary, who will then verify the authenticity of the signatures.
- Plan a recall election.
Dawson said her office has sent Wood information on how to put together the correct petition pages and is working to determine the number of signatures needed.
With a possible Feb. 2 filing, Wood has until May 3 to meet a 90-day deadline to submit all signatures to the county clerk’s office. If that happens, the clerk has 30 days to review the signatures and certify them, at which time the recall ballot begins.
However, Dawson said a potential petition would be submitted and then no follow-up to begin gathering signatures.
Dawson said: “4J is a very big district. “If the person who wants to recall a school board candidate never submits any petition (pages) to us, it’s basically kind of left behind.”
O’Rourke told the Guardian Register that she has been in a state of mental distress since the alleged plea was filed.
“I didn’t monitor the meeting. I couldn’t see anyone in the room,” O’Rourke said.
O’Rourke has previously said he doesn’t feel safe attending council meetings in person and would like to see more security protocols in place. This is related to the intensive meeting of the board on May 18, when the board discussed the issue of banning weapons on the property of 4J. The crowd who wanted to talk about politics gathered at the meeting. When they were denied public comment for not being properly registered, an audience member singled out O’Rourke, saying, “Is my skin the wrong color?”
This event led to seven months of virtual meetings. The board in November passed a security and disruption measure at board meetings that essentially allows the chair to call an adjournment, adjourn or adjourn a meeting based on health and safety concerns.
O’Rourke said she has barely left her home since the alleged plea was filed because she fears for her safety.
“It all goes hand in hand with racism in this city,” O’Rourke said. “There’s no way that could happen to a white man.”
Miranda Cyr reports on education for The Register-Guard. You can contact him [email protected] or find him on Twitter @mirandabcyr.