D91 recall efforts move forward; group files lawsuit over signatures
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IDAHO FALLS — At least one Idaho Falls School District 91 board trustee faces a recall vote this spring and another could join her pending a court order.
Elizabeth Cogliati’s name will be on the election ballot on March 9. The recall effort against her was created by a group of District 91 parents, called ‘D91 Students Come First,’ after Cogliati voted in favor of high school students having limited in-person classes during the fall due to the coronavirus.
Cogliati was elected in November 2019 to represent Zone 4, which are the areas around Erickson, Linden Park and part of Hawthorne Elementary schools. The position is voluntary and unpaid.
“I don’t regret how I voted back in the fall. I made the best decision I knew how to make with the science, the data and information we had at the time,” Cogliati told EastIdahoNews.com. “I made the decision that I felt was best for the students and teachers.”
Cogliati wasn’t the only board member the group tried to recall. They started petitions in October against Board Chairwoman Lara Hill (Zone 3) and trustee Hillary Radcliffe (Zone 5). Both also voted in favor of moving high schools to a hybrid online/in-class schedule.
The group was unable to collect enough signatures to pursue Radcliffe and Hill. Radcliffe was appointed to fill a vacant seat in June 2019 and the action would have required about 1,400 signatures. Hill was four signatures short of the needed 481. Cogliati required 281 signatures.
“I had the smallest number of signatures required so logically, if anyone was going to be recalled, it would be me,” Cogliati mentioned. “I’m not … taking any of this personally. It is what it is.”
The pending legal matter
There is some dispute the effort to recall Hill. Specifically, the group of parents maintain they do have the signatures to initiate a recall vote.
Bryan Zollinger, an attorney with Smith, Driscoll & Associates, filed a 141-page lawsuit on behalf of 10 Idaho Falls residents against Bonneville County Clerk Penny Manning. The nine of them say their signatures were invalidated over technical errors but submitted declarations to ask the clerk to allow their signatures to count.
“Penny did a great job with all the voter fraud; you want to make sure that the signatures are legit,” Zollinger told EastIdahoNews.com. “The problem we ran into is there is no procedure in Idaho law to come back and challenge those.”
Those who signed actually went to Manning to ask if they could give the clerk’s office a legal declaration to validate the signatures. But the only option was to take the matter to court and petition for a writ of mandamus, which is how in Idaho, a person (through the courts) can direct a public official to do something, like release public records or count the signatures toward the petition.
Days after Zollinger filed the petition, District Judge Darren B. Simpson temporarily granted the plaintiff’s request to count the signatures toward the recall, placing Hill’s name on the upcoming May ballot. However, Manning does have until Feb. 9, to show why the court shouldn’t direct her to count those signatures.
Manning had no comment to EastIdahoNews.com about the pending legal issues.
“Our hope is that she won’t contest it now that there’s evidence that these people really signed it,” Zollinger said.
Cogliati believes voting in favor of the hybrid schedule — which is stage 3 or the yellow category of the D91’s Fall 2020 Reopening Plan — helped slow the spread of COVID-19 in the area at that time. She said she voted to put the schools back into stage 2 or the blue category after Christmas break, where students attend school four days a week.
“It seemed like it had worked and the numbers were going down both in the schools, the county and region as a whole,” she said. “I’m not taking my votes based on what I think people want, but what is best for the students and teachers based on what’s happening with the virus at that time.”
Representatives from the group in favor of the recall issued the following statement to EastIdahoNews.com saying, “Parents who support the recall want a representative that will advocate for their children. School board policy states that ‘All decisions made by this Board will be made with primacy given to the purposes set forth, most crucial of which is the optimal learning of the children enrolled in our schools.’ As we’ve watched the school board meetings these past five months, we have not seen Cogliati advocating for our children’s education. Concerns of students and parents have not been reflected in her school board discussion or decisions.”
Cogliati said she plans to continue “to make the best decisions” based on science, data and what she believes is best for students and teachers.
“Hopefully I’m not recalled,” Cogliati stated. “And hopefully, the people of my zone do actually agree with me.”
In order for Cogliati and Hill to be recalled, there must be more votes than what they were elected with — Cogliati received 221 and Hill had 591 — and then, a simple majority is required, 50% plus one.