Second school board member in Idaho resigns following recall effort

Philip Neuhoff resigned from his position as the Zone 4 representative on the West Ada School District board of trustees in Idaho on December 8, 2020, saying that other areas of his life needed his attention. Neuhoff is the second member of the board to resign since a recall petition was approved for circulation against all five members of the board. Former Zone 3 representative Steve Smylie resigned on October 27, saying, “When adults fight, children lose. I am proud of this district and I always will be, but no one was prepared for a pandemic, and it has turned into division.”

The recall paperwork was approved for circulation by the Ada County Clerk’s Office on October 14. Recall supporters said they were frustrated that the district had not developed a plan for students in sixth through twelfth grades to return to in-person learning full-time. The school district began the 2020-2021 school year with a week of online-only instruction in September in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. After that first week, the district allowed students in all grades to attend school in-person part-time. Elementary school students moved to full-time in-person instruction on a gradual basis.

Recall supporters have 75 days to collect signatures to recall Zone 1 representative Ed Klopfenstein, Zone 2 representative Amy Johnson, and Zone 5 representative Rene Ozuna. Approximately 1,487 signatures are needed to put a recall effort against Klopfenstein on the ballot. A total of 2,578 signatures are needed for a recall election against Johnson, and 1,403 are needed for a recall election against Ozuna. If enough signatures are submitted and verified, a recall election will be scheduled.

To remove the board members from office, the recall election must meet two thresholds:

  1. a majority of voters must cast ballots in favor of the recall
  2. the number of votes cast in favor of the recall must exceed the number of votes the board member received in his or her last election.

A 2016 recall effort in the school district removed two school board members from office, while another two resigned. Klopfenstein, Smylie, Ozuna, and Neuhoff were appointed to those vacant positions. All four were later re-elected to the board after running unopposed. Johnson was elected to the board in November 2019. She received 64.1% of the vote and defeated incumbent Mike Vuittonet.

Recall efforts against school board members started in three other school districts in Idaho in 2020. All of the efforts named their school board’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic as reasons for recall. Efforts in the Idaho Falls and Pocatello-Chubbuck school districts are still ongoing, while a recall effort against Aaron Proctor in the Whitepine School District went to the ballot on November 3. The recall election was approved with 57% of the vote, and Proctor was removed from office.

In 2019, Ballotpedia covered a total of 151 recall efforts against 230 elected officials. Of the 66 officials whose recalls made it to the ballot, 34 were recalled for a rate of 52%. That was lower than the 63% rate and 57% rate for 2018 and 2017 recalls, respectively.

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