Eagle Point vote throws support to school leaders

Atrio of Eagle Point School Board candidates who were considered supportive of the school district's administration were on their way to winning contentious races that included accusations of conflicts of interest and election fraud.

Eagle Point schools Superintendent Cynda Rickert said the incoming board represents a fresh beginning for the district after an era of poisonous school board relations.

"These folks ran on a ticket of doing what is best for students," Rickert said. "They want to go forward to make decisions that are good for kids and not based on personal agendas."

Twelve-year board veteran Scott Grissom was set to maintain his Position 2 seat after holding a late lead on challengers Ralph Meeker and Ron Campbell.

Grissom carried nearly 47 percent of the vote late Tuesday, with Meeker second with 42 percent. Grissom held 1,489 votes to Meeker's 1,331, a difference of 158 votes. Campbell was a distant third with 343 votes, or about 10.8 percent of the ballots cast.

Meanwhile, the Position 3 race went to Dan Hodges, who carried a sizable lead over opponent Mark Bateman late in the evening. Hodges held nearly 58 percent of the vote, with a count of 1,821 ballots in his favor. Bateman carried 42 percent of the ballot, with 1,327 votes.

The Position 5 race saw Dianne Mihocko hold a large lead late into the evening. She carried 53 percent of the vote, with opponents Brian Saling and Curt Sather lagging well behind.

Mihocko's vote count stood at 1,678, with Saling coming in at 1,288, or 40.8 percent, and Sather at 186, or 5.9 percent.

The projected winners were endorsed by a controversial flier mailed by a group describing itself as concerned Eagle Point parents. All three were considered more supportive of the district's administration than their challengers, who were endorsed by the teachers' union.

Mihocko said she had no knowledge about the flier, but she was glad the group decided to endorse her. She was shocked at the level of vitriol that accompanied this year's race.

"Quite honestly, I was surprised at some of the rhetoric that was thrown around," she said. "Hopefully, this starts some healing in Eagle Point and we don't have these factions. We all want to work together."

The flier was authored by a group called "Parents supporting Eagle Point School District #9." A political action committee by this name was not listed with the Oregon Secretary of State Elections Division. The candidates listed in the flier claimed to have no knowledge of the group.

An Eagle Point resident eventually came forward and claimed partial responsibility for the flier. He said more than 40 families contributed and that the group had corrected its error.

Some residents argued the flier was election fraud, though state elections officials said this wasn't the case.

"I'm surprised anyone filed a complaint against the flier," Mihocko said.

Grissom said he is looking forward to working with a fresh board after a tough couple of years. Eagle Point teachers went on strike in 2012 and the board has been plagued with acrimony.

"I'm very thankful the community supported me," Grissom said. "I am looking forward to working with board members who have a more civil way of behaving."

Efforts to reach Hodges for comment were not successful Tuesday night.

Rickert said the Eagle Point School Board has suffered from too much political grandstanding and dysfunction in recent years.

"The board has not functioned well as a board," Rickert said. "The board should certainly respond to challenges and questions, but these things shouldn't be driven by personal agendas. This is not what's in the community's best interests and the community took a step forward to focusing on the kids with tonight's vote."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.

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