School board members struggle with Hess’s interest in moving

Lebanon Community School District Superintendent Rob Hess told School Board members Jan. 11 that he may put a bid on a home that is outside of the district boundary.

“I’m just going to read this statement because it’s a little emotional for me so I just want to be able to read it,” Hess said at the monthly board meeting.

He said he got married over the summer and his household of one became a household of nine.

“I became a stepdad and a foster dad,” He said. “The only downside is the size of our house.”

He and his wife Tonya Cairo found a home that is within Linn County but outside of the district. It is 15 minutes away from his office, Hess said. His contract requires him to reside in the district.

He said he would like to make an offer on the house this weekend but he did not want to do so without board support.

“These circumstances have materialized within the last five days,” Hess said. “I’m looking for feedback from the board.”

Board member Russ McUne said they don’t require anyone else who works in the school district to live in the district. He asked Assistant Superintendent Bo Yates if that was in his contract. It is not.

“To me, it would be extremely unfair to be able to restrict you from purchasing a house,” McUne said. “I think we should change that. If you were moving to Portland, I would have a problem. Fifteen minutes to your office, that’s definitely a feasible option.”

Board member Richard Borden said he was not sure how that became part of the contract.

“I’m torn for you guys,” said board member Nick Brooks. “Finding the right house is an important deal.”

He said the board had an opportunity to take that part of the contract out last year if it wasn’t something that the board wanted.

McUne said it would just take the votes of three board members to change Hess’ contract.

Hess clarified that he was not asking for a vote that night.

“That’s where I’m torn too,” Brooks said. “I know sometimes things just happen. Now we’re just put under the gun. If I vote no, all of a sudden I’m put in a bad spot. I need to think about this a little bit.”

McUne said the underlying goal of the residency requirement is to make sure the superintendent is close enough to town to participate in the community.

Hess said when he submitted his contract proposal, the possibility of moving outside of the district was not a concern.

“When I debated whether or not to share this, I thought, ‘Well, you know, there are superintendents who work around this by having two residences, do different sneaky things like that,’” Hess said.

He said he wanted to be transparent and share the information.

“I respect all of your opinions either way,” Hess said. “I didn’t think it was fair of me to just go ahead with something, knowing that I am accountable to that in my contract.”

“This is not cut and dried for me,” said board chair Tom Oliver. “The intent of the language is to make sure the superintendent is adequately engaged in the community. The way the language is in there is not a good way to do that.”

Oliver said a better way to measure that is to have part of the superintendent’s evaluation based on how well he or she engages in the community.

He said he would like to look at the contract in its entirety and start fresh.

“But in the time to make an offer on a house, that’s not realistic,” McUne noted.

“We’re not voting on anything tonight,” Oliver said.

“We could,” McUne responded.

“We could, but I don’t think that would be appropriate,” Oliver said.

McUne reiterated that he felt 15 or 20 minutes away from the district office was not an issue and that he wanted to vote to change that.

He said he thought it that by putting off a vote, the board members were telling Hess that he could not purchase the property.

“I think if we’re going to do anything with that language (in the contract) it is important that we preserve the intent,” Oliver said. “That requires a little bit more due diligence than us doing it tonight.”

Oliver clarified that he was not saying he does not support Hess, but only that the board needs to move forward at an appropriate pace.

“I didn’t bring this up to ask for a vote,” Hess said. “I just wanted to share what was going on. I wanted a board discussion to inform my decision.”

When asked after the meeting, he declined to say which city the house is located in and said he has not yet decided to make an offer.

Oliver said he appreciated that Hess talked to them about it and said it was very transparent.

“I want to make sure that we don’t withhold from you something we would reasonably give to another employee,” Oliver said. “I think it is important to look at this.”