Petitioners close to goal

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As the deadline for gathering signatures draws near petitioners are close to having enough signatures to recall two members of the Central City board of education.

The closing date for gathering signatures in the recall effort against board president Dale Palser and board secretary Steve Belitz is Tuesday, Aug. 13. A third board member, Kent Malm, has also had papers filed against him for a recall but as of this writing he had not yet responded to the letter of intent.

According to recall spokesman Kip Lenhart the committee “has over 400 signatures for sure” as of Monday morning, with a goal of 500 or so, allowing for a 10 percent “cushion” over the 449 required needed to get the recall on a special ballot.

Recall committee members have collected the signatures in a variety of ways, including “signings” at the downtown gazebo, a stand at a local business and door-to-door visits by committee members, including Lenhart, who says “five or six” volunteers have been most active in the collection process.
“People have been receptive and there has been no mud slinging, by either side. People are taking time to listen to our reasoning for a recall and making up their own minds,” says Lenhart.

The recall was brought about following a series of hotly contested meetings following the firing of CCHS football coach Darin Garfield. In the aftermath of that decision by administration a number of other subjects were brought into the spotlight, including a perceived lack of oversight over administration by certain school board members, leading to the decision by committee members to seek a recall.

Lenhart says the primary reason three of the board members are being recalled instead of all six, when the vote was 6-0 earlier this year to offer contract extensions to all members of the school administration, was board experience.

“We feel those three members (Palser, Belitz, Malm) have been on the board the longest and with their experience they have let things slide the longest, bringing us to this point. There were some members of the (recall) committee who wanted to recall just one board member but the decision to seek recall of all three was to raise awareness of their decision making.”

Lenhart reiterated the committee’s stance the recall effort was not a personal matter, adding that he could see how it would be perceived as such. “Nobody wants to be the bad guy and there are many people we have approached who wanted to sign but didn’t because of the fear of repercussion,” says Lenhart. “We also want potential voters to educate themselves about the issues around the recall and make up their own minds.”

Lenhart added that while all six members should be held accountable for what the committee believes was an unwarranted vote of support for the administrative contract extensions, the experience held by Palser, Belitz and Malm made them candidates for the recall effort.
Both Palser and Belitz have filed official statements of defense.
Palser’s centered around five topics, including:
* “My values center on faith and family.”
* “Priorities are striving for a fiscally responsible and positive learning environment for student achievement.”
* “Responsiveness to concerns has to ensure my responsibility to uphold proper protocol and not legally compromise the district.”
* “Work with administrators and the public for the common good.”
* “Leadership by making tough decisions that may be unpopular.”

Belitz offered the following official defense statement:
“I am saddened to hear that some believe I have lacked responsiveness, leadership and oversight. I have always placed the needs of our students first, and I have done my best to help the district through incredibly difficult times.

“Though these recall efforts are unfortunate, I sincerely appreciate show by the citizens of our district.”

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