Our family's long history of involvement in the Helix community inspires me to write this op-ed with the hope it might provoke some thought and serve as encouragement to the Helix community, and maybe to others following the progress of the Helix recall situation.
A recall action is a legal and appropriate part of our democratic process. The process permits a minority of any community to trigger such an action, regardless of the preference of the majority.
Why? Because it is one of the check- and-balance mechanisms purposefully designed to give a minority a formal chance to bring before all members of the community an opportunity to voice their opinion on the issue at the ballot box.
It is an opportunity to engage not only in a vote of confidence, but if the community as a whole agrees by vote, make a mid-term change in current leadership. Such an action need not be taken as a condemnation of the person or persons under consideration.
A recall vote is more like a community's means of stating collectively the extent of their general dissatisfaction with a particular way of dealing with matters of current public concern. On the other hand, such a vote unless held after appropriate community fact-finding and sharing of pertinent information has the potential to result in very inappropriate outcomes.
The recall action in Helix is coordinated by a local committee of dedicated, committed members of the community, most with children in the local school, all keenly concerned about the school.
I encourage them to all remember that while their focus on a strong school is essential, the fact is that without a strong united community there most likely will not be a strong school.
The members of this committee seem to be attempting personally to deal appropriately with the issues; moving beyond their personal thoughts and feelings to sincerely consider and be responsive to what they glean from public comment; and working to assure the community an opportunity to be involved directly in determining what next steps to take.
On the other hand, while there have been public meetings, I do not believe adequate fact-based community discussion has occurred. There has been far too little documentation of the facts, leaving the community without adequate evidence upon which to make an informed decision regarding recall of an elected school board member.
Several community members indicate they are taking a new look at their own personal history of involvement in community and school affairs, recognizing that community involvement and awareness is the price of continued community stability and strength and appropriate adaptation to evolving circumstances. In other words, some non-board members are in essence taking some personal responsibility for the current circumstances.
Strong communities can at times be a bit impatient, not wanting to "just wait and see what happens," willing to take the risks associated with resolving a dilemma now rather than later. However, impatience in the face of community conflict has a high risk of running astray, particularly if the community does not take time to carefully assess what might be happening "behind the scenes"; to investigate what patterns of conduct that might not be of general public knowledge might be having significant impact on the community.
The Helix School Board is composed of people fundamentally having the best interest of the school and the community at heart.
There may be rather intense disagreement among the board members at this time, but they are all good people, people of high integrity, apparently caught up in circumstances that have stretched their public service commitment and expectations well beyond their average experience.
They are all, in their own way, people of courage and dedication. However, that is generally not enough to satisfy the needs and preferences of a community. Disagreement and differences among board members are generally encouraged as a means of developing meaningful debate, but continued division in the face of critical issues needing timely resolution is unacceptable.
Whatever the issues, the Helix school board must soon productively develop, together, practical outcomes that benefit the community and the school. The recent compromises of the board have the potential to move the community in an appropriate direction. However, they must be fleshed out with negotiated terms, and that most likely must happen, at least in part, reasonably soon.
I am particularly concerned because I am increasingly convinced that regardless of the outcome of the recall vote, it will not resolve the fundamental underlying issues. The current underlying dilemma does not appear to me to be the current board chairman who is the subject of the recall. No matter what the board membership is in a month or two, the underlying issues most likely will still demand attention and resolution, and become even more troubling to the district if they are not soon addressed.
Personally, I believe the current board with renewed mutual commitment has the creativity and potential to deal very productively and in a timely manner with all the critical issues now before the Helix school district.
Ultimately, actions such as this recall are really about people and their children and families and friends and neighbors.
They are not, and cannot be simply thought of as political activity. They are not simply heartless steps in the democratic process.
Hopefully, purposeful follow-up steps will be taken to assure minimum disruption occurs in the school and at community events, and neighbors will put the current emotion behind them, shake hands and move on to the next challenge, working together as in the past to maintain and strengthen the Helix Community.
Clinton Reeder has lived in the Helix community for most of his life. He graduated from the Helix High School in 1957 and has operated the family farm since 1978. His three children graduated from Helix schools. Later, his three grandchildren attended Helix schools. He has served on the Helix school board, part of that time as chairman, and on its budget committee. He also served on the Umatilla-Morrow ESD budget committee.