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Storey school board race gets heated

Karen Woodmansee
Nevada Appeal Staff Writer

The dispute between competing Storey County School Board members became clear at a candidates’ forum in the Virginia City Highlands recently when a school board member seeking election to a new seat blamed his opponent for causing extra expenses for the district.

Curt Chapman, who holds Storey County School Board 1B seat, is running for the 1A seat sought by former member Cathylee James. Chapman said James caused $8,000 in legal fees by filing a state Ethics Department complaint against then-board president Pamela Smith, and additional charges by filing an Open Meeting Law Violation complaint against the board.

Chapman said the board was cleared on all counts, but it was cautioned about some of its methods.

The attorney general’s office did not issue any sanction against the district, but did criticize several board procedures, including incomplete agendas and a lax meeting procedure. The board has since worked to add the attorney general’s office’s recommendations.

The much-publicized state ethics complaint over Smith demanding free waters for two guests at the opening of the 2007 football season, was a misunderstanding, Chapman said.

At the first game of the 2007 season, the booster’s club brought two players from the 1943 football team to watch football return to VCHS, and Smith went to get four waters for the former players and their hosts. Smith allegedly argued with the concessionaire over getting the waters for free.

Later, she paid $5 for the waters.

James alleged that Smith used her position as school board president to get something for free, and contacted the commission.

“We spent $8,000 on an attorney to defend it,” Chapman said. “I thought it was a political move, an embarrassment and an $8,000 hit to our district.”

He also criticized James for only being on the school board for 17 months before running for commissioner in 2002.

“Two years ago she ran for Assembly, she’s run for that twice, commissioner, now school board,” he said. “I can see where the priorities are. I have been on for eight years, beating away at this, she lasted 17 months before she filed to run for county commission.”

He pledged not to run for any other office.

“This is my focus,” he said.

When contacted, James refused to accept blame for the legal costs and defended her actions on both the ethics and open meeting law issues.

She said the open meeting law complaint was signed by more than 20 people, and the board could have avoided the whole thing had they just been responsive to the public.

“All they needed to do was be receptive to community concerns, but immediately they went to their attorney,” she said. “When they were asked how much it was costing, they said their insurance paid for it, so to say that it came out of district money is patently untrue.”

She said her role in the Ethics Commission complaint over the waters was limited to questioning the ethics of Smith’s behavior, that the commission was the one that decided the issue had merit.

“When you submit a question to the commission, it is completely out of your hands from then on,” she said. “I asked them a question and they ran with it because they felt it had validity.”

She said the reason she ran for the school board the first time was to reinstate the music program, which had been cut, and she didn’t seek re-election because she accomplished that.”

She said she ran for other offices because she was asked to, and ran because she thought she could fix something, and said this was the first time she faced negative campaigning.

“For any elected office it is important to look at the reason someone is running,” she said, pointing out that Chapman, who now represents Seat 1B on the board, by his own admission switched to 1A, the seat he is seeking, for the purpose of keeping her off the board.

– Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at kwoodmansee@nevadaappeal.com or call 881-7351.