Three Kent School Board members, Meghin Margel, Awale Farah and Tim Clark face a civil lawsuit after they voted to pass a resolution that excludes Board member Donald Cook from labor contract negotiations. Superintendent Israel Vela and the Kent School District face the same lawsuit. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent School District

Three Kent School Board members, Meghin Margel, Awale Farah and Tim Clark face a civil lawsuit after they voted to pass a resolution that excludes Board member Donald Cook from labor contract negotiations. Superintendent Israel Vela and the Kent School District face the same lawsuit. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent School District

Civil suit against Kent School District, board moves forward

Efforts continue to end resolution that excludes one board member from all labor contract talks

A civil lawsuit against the Kent School District, three Kent School Board members and the superintendent that seeks to stop a resolution that eliminates one board member from participating in union contract discussions, will receive a hearing June 27 in King County Superior Court.

A motion for a temporary restraining order to halt Resolution 1669 was denied by Pro Tem Commissioner Amanda Williamson during a June 13 hearing at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent. But Williamson granted the request for a hearing where the attorneys for the district, board members Meghin Margel, Awale Farah and Tim Clark and Superintendent Israel Vela, must explain why the resolution should remain in place during the litigation.

Greta Nelson, of Renton, who has a student in the district, filed suit March 29 in King County Superior Court. Nelson told the board at its March 27 meeting she planned to file suit if it didn’t repeal Resolution 1669, approved on a controversial 3-2 vote Feb. 27. That measure created a Labor Policy Committee with four of the five board members, excluding Donald Cook because his wife teaches in the district. Cook filed a similar suit, which is part of the joint motion by Nelson and Cook.

Nelson said the June 27 hearing in front of a judge would just be a temporary result.

“The end goal of plaintiffs in this litigation is the diligent pursuit of a final determination of the court in the litigation,” Nelson said in a social media post. “Should the KSD (Kent School District) and its board drop Resolution 1669 before being forced by the court to do so, it won’t matter for plaintiffs’ strategy in this litigation. The damage to the public has already been done.

“Plaintiffs intend to pursue a final determination of the court that states that the KSD and its board have no authority to create a committee that becomes a second governing body of the district (because it contains a quorum of the board), and can never do it again.”

Nelson also hopes to get a court order during the process to allow the public to vote to recall Margel, Farah and Clark without having to file a separate measure.

“Plaintiffs’ respective (and eventual) amended complaints will be fleshed out to include a request for an order of sufficiency for board recall so that the public is then able to pursue a board recall of certain board members, without having to initiate a separate action in Superior Court in order to do so,” Nelson said.

Nelson argued (via Zoom) in court June 13 that the board isn’t allowed to create a second governing body with a quorum (at least three members) and that it only can create two-member committees. She said by excluding Cook from labor contract details he cannot fully represent the people that voted for him.

Andrea Bradford, an attorney with Foster Garvey in Seattle, argued on behalf of the school district, the three board members and Vela.

Bradford called the dispute “a political disagreement” rather than a judicial matter. She said the Labor Relation Committee isn’t another governing body and that the board was allowed to form it as a committee.

Cook has said he would recuse himself from any contract votes with the Kent Education Association (teachers union), but wants to be involved in contract details with the other labor partners.

Bradford said the committee was formed because the majority of the board believes having Cook involved in other talks could be a conflict of interest or show unfairness because he still might look at those negotiations and how agreements could benefit the teachers union.

No union groups in the district, however, have publicly complained about Cook’s presence in negotiations with labor partners other than the teachers union. Among the nine other groups are office workers, bus drivers and maintenance workers.

In fact, the leaders of seven labor groups, including the teachers union, submitted a letter at the May 22 school board meeting asking for the resignations of Vela and Margel. The letter listed nine reasons for them to resign, including the adoption of the resolution that excluded Cook from labor talks.

The newly formed Kent Labor Alliance said the vote was taken before the district talked to all labor groups and those staff talked to favored Cook’s involvement as long as he recused himself from the teachers union contract talks because his wife teaches in the district. Cook already had promised to step aside from any role in teacher contracts.

Instead, the board “silenced Cook,” according to the labor group.

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