Bumps in the road during school board member selection | Inside Politics

Bob Roegner - Contributed
Bob Roegner
— image credit: Contributed

When informed that the newest member of the Federal Way Public Schools board was Hiroshi Eto, many  school district observers said “who?” But to those who followed the interview process, his selection was not a big surprise. It was expected.

The school board took applications to replace Tony Moore, whose resignation from the board has been well documented. Moore, who is African American, was one of two minorities who recently served on the board. The other was Angelia Griffin, who did not seek reelection last fall.

After Moore’s resignation, the remaining four board members appeared to be looking for several different talents when they cut the initial list to five finalists to interview. Three of the finalists have engineering or strategic thinking backgrounds. Eto was one of those, as was  Richard Champion, who is also well known in political circles as an active Democrat.

A non-engineer candidate highlighted her experience and involvement with one of the districts schools as president of the Parent Teacher Association. The other candidate, Shelley Ko, owns a local television station with her husband and is well known politically and in the Korean community.

While some candidates were aware of a few of the controversial issues that plagued the district in the past year, no one appeared to have significant knowledge of educational policy, budget challenges or prior investment in district issues or committees. Since two board members have only two years of experience and the other two only a few months on the job, the lack of highly involved candidates was a surprise. Also of note was that some of the candidates moved here recently or had lived here several years ago and have moved back.

However, with four caucasians on the board representing a community where more than 100 different languages are spoken, most serious followers of the interview process felt the appointment would go to a minority, although board members were also looking for skills that would fit their long-term planning needs.

The early line suggested that Ko and Eto would likely be the frontrunners and Champion could be competitive, as three of the incumbent board members are Democrats and likely knew Champion.

At the interview process three weeks ago, all five candidates received the same questions but in a rotating order to help equalize the opportunity for well-rounded answers. The lack of knowledge and in depth involvement in school policy issues was evident among the candidates, but each was able to demonstrate a skill or possessed a background that might be helpful to the board. And each conveyed an attitude that suggested they would be easy to work with.

However, Eto clearly had the best interview of the serious contenders. He returned to live in the community a couple of years ago and has some community knowledge. He is retired from the Army Corp of Engineers and highlighted his strategic planning skills. He was also articulate and at ease in the process.

At the end of the meeting, Ito seemed the most likely appointment. The board announced that it would go into executive session and meet a week later to finalize the appointment. At the next school board meeting a week later, there was a brief discussion about the process and a motion was made to appoint Eto and it passed unanimously. However, in another surprise moment the board said Eto wouldn’t be sworn in until later in June.

After Moore left the board and Superintendent Rob Neu left town, the process to select a new board member had far too many bumps in the road to the appointment, suggesting Moore’s hand on the tiller the last three years may have been much stronger than some thought.

There also appeared to be some disorganization coming from the district office regarding the sharing of public information, which caused confusion with the public, candidates and media. Considering she has only been on the board herself a few months, President Carol Gregory did as good a job managing the process to a successful conclusion as one could expect.

But there was also some questions raised about the legal compliance with executive session laws after both executive sessions conducted by the board were completed.

These are correctable missteps, in fact under a new law, the Open Meetings Act, training is required for most government bodies, including schools, and they do need to be corrected.

But the most critical concern was that the board selected the best candidate from the five finalists.

In Eto, they appear to have selected the best candidate as his experience will help the board. And by adding minority representation, they demonstrated a commitment to having the board reflect more of the community it serves.

Bob Roegner, a former mayor of Auburn: bjroegner@comcast.net.


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