Board members offer justification for Crane payout
In front of a packed house, and under intense pressure from an angry public (some even asking for the board's resignation), Blackfoot school board members offered some, but not all, of the details as to why they chose to pay former superintendent Scott Crane $220,000 in a separation agreement and hiding it from the public.
All five board members still hold firm to the belief that "it was the right thing to do at the time" and "they did not realize they were breaking any laws." In a surprising twist, the board voted to obtain new legal counsel in the new year, replacing Dale Storer, the attorney who admittedly drew up the agreement between the district and Crane, saying "it was legal and it was what both parties wanted at the time."
"We know what was done, now tell us why," said local attorney Jared Harris, who represented Joyce Bingham throughout the Bingham vs. Blackfoot School District lawsuit. "I'm offended by what you did. Tell us please. Why? Why?"
[Dale] Storer, who was present at the meeting, urged the board to "explain themselves to their constituents," even though "difficult and thorny issues still remain."
"Now is your opportunity to come clean," said patron Richard Johnson.
After some tense moments facing the public, the board contemplated going into executive session when trustee Taylor Johansen evoked a round of applause by adamantly declaring, "Absolutely not! Let's get this aired, open and out in the public. Let's run this through so the people understand."
After a brief intermission, the board returned with a partial admission justifying their decision to pay off Crane and hiding it in a personnel file.
Board chairman Scott Reese said Crane approached the board after the board voted 3-2 'not' to renew his contract saying he wanted out and wanted to pursue a buyout of the two years left on his contract and look for another job.
Reese said, that while all the details can not be revealed, the board's decision to buy Crane ultimately saved the district about $300,000 'above and beyond' what his payout was.
"At the time it felt good," Reese said. "I felt at the time and still feel today that our decision saved the district a lot of money. We were under contract not to release the information or to speak to the press about it until we had to release it."
Trustee Jenny Hong expressed her relief that the information has finally been revealed to the public. "I feel strongly that we made the right decision as a board. This has been difficult for my entire family..I appreciate that it's finally out."
Mary Jo Marlow added, "This has been very difficult. I am glad to see the people here. I wish you would've been here months ago so that you could see that our board was at a point of 'dysfunction...' before we came to our critical decision."
Two of Crane's attorneys, Justin Oleson and Bryce Lloyd, were present at the meeting but did not make any statements on Crane's behalf. The board is likely facing more litigation now that the separation agreement has been deemed 'null and void" since Idaho Open Meeting Laws were broken when the decisions regarding Crane's agreement were made.