In a charged, 2-hour meeting, the board for Williams County Public School District No. 8 voted to remove its president amid accusations of improper conduct on both sides.

The board voted 4-1 at a special meeting Friday, June 19, to remove Dawn Hollingsworth from the board president position. Hollingsworth became president in February, after she was named vice president when board member Curt Sullivan resigned after he and then board President Penny Soiseth were defeated in a recall election.

When Soiseth left the board, Hollingsworth became president. Hollingsworth lost the election June 9 to John Kasmer and her term will end after the board’s annual meeting in July.

Friday’s meeting was called by Chris Jundt, board vice president, and board member Kyle Renner to address a meeting between Hollingsworth and some residents of Judson Township on Monday, June 15.

At the start of the meeting, Hollingsworth explained what happened.

“I was asked on Monday, last minute, if I was available to attend a discussion that patrons wanted to have (about the reorganization talks with Williston Public School District No. 1),” she said.

During that meeting, residents, including Soiseth, who is a member of the Judson Township board, sharply criticized the board and the idea of reorganization.

Soiseth particularly criticized a report District 8 commissioned to look at the financial impact of reorganizing or dissolving. She said the assumptions that Paul Stremick, the consultant who prepared the report, were designed to mask the differences in taxes.

“I’ll say it, she (Hollingsworth) won’t, they inflated our numbers,” Soiseth said.

One issue that created tension on the board was an accusation that board members had been meeting to discuss issues outside of public session.

On the recording, several people ask Hollingsworth whether Round Prairie School would stay open if the two districts reorganized. Hollingsworth asked to be asked yes or no questions.

“Was there discussion about Round Prairie outside the public meeting?” one person asked.

“Yes,” Hollingsworth said.

“So the decision’s already been made?” the person asked.

“Yes,” Hollingsworth said.

When asked about more information during the recording, Hollingsworth said if there isn’t a quorum, then no meeting notice is required and minutes aren’t required.

That is true, but also, under North Dakota’s open records law, any communication between board members about public business is a public record. The Williston Herald has requested all communication between current board members.

After the special meeting Friday, Hollingsworth said she didn’t have any proof that members were discussing public business outside of meetings, but that she believed it was happening.

Board members took issue with the claim the decision was already made, as well as another statement Hollingsworth made during the meeting.

One of the people asked whether their concerns would be listened to.

“Are our words going to fall on deaf ears?” the person asked.

“No, because I’m there,” Hollingsworth said.

During Friday’s meeting, board member Myles Fisher questioned her about that statement.

“You indicated your ears are the only ones that are not deaf (to the public),” he said.

“That’s your opinion,” Hollingsworth said.

“I think that was very clear,” Fisher said.

Jundt criticized Hollingsworth for what she said at the meeting, and asked whether she thought what she did followed board policy.

“The perception in the community is that you are speaking on behalf the board,” Jundt said.

“That’s fine, I didn’t speak wrongly at all,” Hollingsworth replied.

At that point, both start talking at the same time.

“You answered,” Jundt began.

“Again Chris, let me speak,” Hollingsworth said.

“The question was, ‘Was there a decision made on Round Prairie outside a board meeting?’ and you answered yes,” Jundt said.

“Let me speak,” Hollingsworth said. “I am still the board president and you need to hold your tongue. Hold your tongue and allow me to speak.”

She said she had tolerated disrespect from other members for months and again defended what she did.

“This complete attacking of me is quite interesting,” she said. “So to tell the truth and be honest to constituents and in that conversation, I’m going to be punished for that? I’m not understand why, why I’m being ridiculed. why I’m being attacked.”

David Goetz, the newly hired superintendent, asked to address the issue.

“I’m going to tell you right now you guys have to be really careful what you’re doing,” Goetz said.

He said he didn’t understand why Hollingsworth would be removed and said he’d already had to discipline a teacher because of a complaint from the board. He questioned whether he would disciplined or fired if he did something the board disagreed with.

“She said something wrong, I understand that, and now you’re going to remove her?” Goetz said.

Hollingsworth also accused Jundt of threatening her and others and trying to get her to resign as president.

“This is not a pattern becoming of a board member, those actions are by far worse than an opinion of a meeting” she said.

As Hollingsworth started to talk about other issues she saw with Jundt, Renner broke in and said that wasn’t the topic the board was discussing.

Hollingsworth said what she was accused of wasn’t as bad as what she said Jundt was doing by threatening people.

“I have not bashed any members, I have not disrespected any members,” she said.

“We just listened to an hour of you doing it, Dawn,” Renner said.

“I did not bash anyone or anything,” she said.

“You suggested that we’re doing illegal things, we’re having meetings,” Renner said.

“I did not,” Hollingsworth said.

Jundt broke in at that point.

“You most certainly did,” he said.

“That’s your opinion,” Hollingsworth said.

The board voted 4-1 in favor of rescinding the vote that made Hollingsworth vice president, and voted unanimously to name Renner vice president.

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