Discover more from Indivisible--The High Ground
The Semi Bird Recall--Another Lesson
Richland Washington Recalls Three School Board Members
In the Washington State Primary Election held this last August 1 the voters of the Richland School District in south central Washington, one of the Tri Cities in Benton County, were offered the opportunity to recall three members of the five member school board, [Misipati] Semi Bird, Audra Byrd, and Kari Williams. In that election each of them lost their seat with between 53.3 and 54.5% of the votes cast in favor of recall out of roughly 19,700 . (Nearly 700 more Richland School District voters turned in ballots in this 2023 August Primary election than did in the electorally comparable 2021 August Primary—an increase of 3.7%. Voter motivation to actually cast a ballot can be critical in a society where voting isn’t mandatory.)
The same recall charges appeared on the ballot for each of the three trustees:
The charges that [insert name], Richland School Board, Position [insert number], committed misfeasance, malfeasance, and/or violated his oath of office allege that he:
1. Violated the Open Public Meetings Act by voting at a special meeting taking final action on a matter, to wit: masking optional, that had not been included in the published public meeting agenda.
2. Voted to make masks at schools optional, in knowing violation of the law and in excess of the powers of a school board, even after warnings from the State and from legal counsel.
3. Violated District Policies and Procedures by failing to assure compliance with law and policy.
In other words, these three, Bird, Byrd, and Williams, knowingly overstepped the legal authority granted a school board in the State of Washington in order to express their right wing anti-mask zealotry. Worse, they had conspiratorially violated Washington State’s Open Public Meetings Act and regulations regarding special meetings in order to take their vote without a proper community airing.
The wording that appeared on the ballot on August 1 failed to fully capture the controversy Bird, Byrd, and Williams stirred up in the Richland community, much of which has centered around Misipati Semi Bird, a self-described “constitutional Christian conservative” and one of the last two of the three person voting bloc elected to the Richland School District board.
Here’s the background: Kari Williams was the “sleeper” on the board. She was elected in 2019, pre-pandemic, with 53% of the votes cast in the November General Election by 18,820 voters. Semi Bird and Audra Byrd were elected to the board in the 2021 November General Election (in the midst of the pandemic) by the same percentage of votes, but in an off year General election in which, somehow, roughly 2,400 more voters were motivated to turn in ballots than in 2019.
With the leadership of Semi Bird and the votes of Audra Byrd and the previously elected Kari Williams the three were off and running with their right wing agenda within six weeks of Bird and Byrd taking office. The Recall effort soon followed:
This recall is not about masks nor is it a partisan issue. The recall is about elected officials being held responsible for unlawful actions they took while in office.
On Tuesday, February 15, 2022, Richland School Board Directors Semi Bird, Audra Byrd, and Kari Williams participated in a special meeting, held a vote that was not included on the meeting agenda, and took the final action of making masks optional in Richland Schools, effective immediately. In doing so, they broke several Washington State laws and violated their oaths of office.
In addition, there is evidence that the three collaborated before the meeting to plan for taking the vote, which is in violation of RCW 42.30, the Open Public Meetings Act.
It was a year and a half and a huge amount of effort to finally get the Recall on a ballot. The Washington State Constitution and the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) requires specifically stated grounds and judicial review of those grounds even before signature gathering can begin. In this Richland School Board the Recall effort passed through two rulings by the Benton County Superior Court and an appeal by the School Board to the Washington State Supreme Court before the ballot language quoted above was settled on and signature gathering could commence. Those legal maneuverings weren’t final until almost a year following the February 2022 initiation of the Recall effort. Meanwhile, because Bird, Byrd, and Williams held a majority position on the Richland School Board, one must presume that the Richland School District (i.e. the taxpaying public) was in the position of protecting these three from the Recall and covering the legal bill for their defense.
If the extremist culture-warrior identity of Bird, Byrd, and Williams wasn’t already obvious it became so immediately following the successful recall:
The [Tri Cities] Herald also asked Audra Byrd by email Thursday for her response to the latest vote count, as well as about a Facebook post with her name telling Richland parents to pull their children out of Richland schools.
The post read in part, "This is heartbreaking news for our schools and our community children. ... This will absolutely embolden our many indoctrinating teachers who already have been pushing inappropriate content on our students in secret ways. Now they have nothing to hold them back. Please do not naively keep your children in Richland School District. It will be to the destruction of their testimonies in Jesus Christ and any moral values you are teaching them in the home."
Wow. These “indoctrinating” teachers pushing “inappropriate content” with the evil intent of destroying “testimonies in Jesus Christ” and “moral values”!
But even that isn’t the end of the story. Seven months into the controversy of the Recall effort, while the Recall wording was still the subject of litigation, Misipati Semi Bird declared his candidacy (as a Republican) for governor of the State of Washington in 2024. As of September 16, 2023, Bird has gathered (and spent) one hundred and sixty-one thousand dollars as a gubernatorial candidate in the 2024 election, according to the Public Disclosure Commission. Mr. Bird possesses significant skills as an orator and uses those skills to sound much more reasonable than his tenure on the Richland School District School Board and his alliance with the above-quoted former fellow board member Audra Byrd would suggest. Bird carries all the credentials of a Fundamentalist Christian culture warrior.
Where does he derive support? You ought not be surprised. This is the same Semi Bird who gave an hour and half long speech in Spokane on March 23, 2023, “in a room full of Activist PCOs”. One must presume these are the same “Activist PCOs” who took over the Spokane County Republican Party and elected Pastor Noble as the Party chairman in December of 2022. The video (also posted on Rumble) is featured on the website of the Spokane County Republican Party chaired by Pastor Brian Noble. Noble offers a half-hearted disclaimer, but also says that “Many PCOs have been asking for this video”. (Faintly branded in the lower right hand corner of the early frames of the video is “Northwest Grassroots”, the white supremacist, local, far right wing group that hosted James Allsup some years ago, resulting in the then chairwoman, Cecily Wright, stepping down from her position as chair of the SpokaneGOP.)
The moral of this story? Be sure to vote, but take care, look around, do some digging, before you vote in school board elections. You could wind up with your taxpayer dollars defending a right wing Fundamentalist ideologue whom your vote (or lack of voting) helped lodge in a seat of government.
Before you leave, re-read and contemplate the words of the Facebook post of Audra Byrd pasted above. Remember the unveiling of those words as you research candidates in local school board races in which you will have a chance to cast a ballot starting next month.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. In a curious twist, the third recalled Richland School District board member, Kari Williams appeared on the August 1 Primary ballot both as a potential recall and as a primary contender for a second term in office. On the same ballot on which Ms. Williams was recalled she also garnered enough votes (but only 28% to the first place person’s 47%) to gain a position on the November General Election ballot this fall.