Ontario School Board Director Eric Evans (The Enterprise/Rachel Parsons)

ONTARIO – An investigation found no substantiation to claims by an Ontario School Board member that he had been targeted by school district administrators in ways that jeopardized his job and subjected him to sexual harassment.

The investigation was triggered by board member Eric Evan’s four-page notice to the Ontario School District that he intended to sue the district, delivered to district officials in January.

Evans said he wants to move forward and build bridges with administrators and the board, although he is not sure if he will file the tort claim.

"I’m ready to move on and focus on the kids," said Evans.

He also said the report focused on small tangents of his January letter, which included seven complaints and mainly focused on a 26-page unsigned letter which called for his resignation.

The investigation report, dated May 4, focused on three complaints made by Evans:

•That his job as Malheur County planning director was put at risk when district administrators raised questions about his fitness for the job. The allegation, the report concluded, “cannot be substantiated.”

•That district officials, including Superintendent Nicole Albisu, “manipulated” school board members into approaching the employer of an Ontario lawyer who was critical of the district. The employer was the law firm which worked with the board, and directors chose before Albisu’s involvement to talk with the firm to make sure she did not work on cases involving them, the report found.

“The charge that board members were manipulated by the superintendent into taking action to approach the law firm partners is not substantiated,” the report found.

•That school administrators referred to him with a term that could “constitute sexual harassment.” The report found no record of Albisu using the term, and that neither Albisu or board member Derrick Draper understood the term “in any fashion that would constitute sexual harassment,” although Draper used the term often.

In an executive session Tuesday, the school board discussed behind closed doors whether to make the report public. In an informal poll, two board members – Chair Mike Blackaby and Blanca Rodriguez – favored disclosed and Draper and board member Renae Corn opposing. Evans didn’t weigh in because of his involvement, but told the Enterprise that he would have voted for the report to be made public.

Blackaby later that night resigned from the board, saying in a statement that he had been falsely accused of misconduct earlier this year and that “the public has a right to know the outcome of the investigations and an accounting for the thousands of dollars spent on attorney fees.”

The Malheur Enterprise on Thursday requested from each of the remaining board members a copy of the report. Corn released the document to the newspaper later in the day.

DOCUMENT: Investigation report

The disclosure adds to the turmoil on the board and in the district that stretches back a year.

In July 2019, a letter that was said to represent the views of 14 of the district’s 18 administrators listed grievances against Evans and Draper. The 26-page letter called for Evans and Draper to resign.

Evans didn’t violate any board policies, or could be proven to be sexist as the letter claimed, a September report from the Hungerford Law Firm found. The report recommended mediation to resolve the issues.

Evans’ notice to the school district cited that letter as a basis for his potential legal action against the school district.

DOCUMENT: Eric Evans complaint

“I have been subject to libel, defamation, bullying, harassment and retaliation by fourteen unnamed administrators,” he said.

He said in his claim that an investigation into the administrators’ complaints “concluded that my only shortcoming as a board member was my inability to control a contentious board meeting that involved heated public comment. I readily admitted that the meeting was challenging and that I did my best.”

The investigation into Evans’ allegations was conducted by attorney Nancy Hungerford of Oregon City.

According to Hungerford’s report, Evans’ claim that his employment was under attack was based on a conversation with Malheur County Commissioner Larry Wilson. Evans had taken the job as the county planning director and in June 2019 Wilson was evaluating Evans’ probationary status. Evans complained that Wilson told him that a citizen asked what they were going to be doing about him.

“Evans said he believed from that comment that Wilson had been approached by a community member who was suggesting that there was a problem with Evans related to his service as a school board member,” the report said.

Hungerford said Wilson told her that he “couldn’t comprehend why anyone would complain to him about a school district matter.”

Hunger concluded, “There is no substantiation that any citizen who might have talked to Wilson was acting ‘on behalf of unnamed 8C administrators.’”

The report didn’t address all of Evans’ allegations, including his suspicion that a school district administrator “posting under a pseudonym” on social media “published numerous vicious and unfounded disparaging comments about me. The phantom account was created for the purpose of publishing those comments and has since been curiously deleted.”

News tip? Contact reporter Aidan McGloin at news@malheurenterprise.com or at 541-235-1005

PRIOR COVERAGE

Ontario School Board chair resigns over report secrecy

Anonymous letter triggers complaint by Ontario school board member

Charges fly over Ontario schools in unsigned complaint

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