Ocean View School District board censures trustee for second time
The Ocean View School District board of trustees voted 4-1 on Tuesday night to censure trustee Norm Westwell, based on his actions following a board meeting in November 2019.
Board President Gina Clayton-Tarvin, Vice President Patricia Singer, clerk Jack Souders and trustee John Briscoe all voted to censure Westwell, who was the only one to oppose the resolution.
Clayton-Tarvin and Westwell were repeatedly at odds throughout the tension-filled meeting, which lasted more than three hours. That has not been unusual in recent meetings, but the other trustees also said during comments that they too were tired of Westwell’s behavior.
Westwell, who ran unopposed for reelection this year, was previously admonished in March 2019 after he was accused of sexually harassing Clayton-Tarvin.
He was censured Tuesday following an incident that took place involving Westwell, Clayton-Tarvin and Ocean View School District parent Emily Anderson on Nov. 19. An investigation was completed by an independent party, Scott Danforth, an attorney with the law firm of Atkinson, Loya, Ruud & Romo.
Danforth’s investigation found that while Westwell was packing up behind the dais on that night, Anderson approached him and said she was tired of his negative comments during board meetings. Then, Westwell positioned himself in front of the northwest exit of the board room. As Clayton-Tarvin approached, she made a comment to the effect of, “I’m afraid of you trustee Westwell, you have to leave,” before asking that he move out of the way.
Westwell said he wasn’t blocking the exit and that Clayton-Tarvin could leave via the second exit behind her. After several requests to move, he did, before Anderson made a comment asking him to leave Clayton-Tarvin alone.
Westwell responded to Anderson that her kids were “rude and disrespectful.” The conversation continued before Westwell said, “Bite me,” and got in his car and left.
Westwell said Tuesday night that he regretted what happened during that incident, but turned most of his comments into a critique of Clayton-Tarvin. He said he was “fighting the swamp, and everyone knows that when you fight the swamp, the swamp fights back.”
“I’m like a porcupine,” he said. “You will not have any issue with me unless attacked or provoked. When provoked, you will likely receive an unpleasant penalty as a gift for your aggression.”
He said he was provoked and attacked first by Clayton-Tarvin and Anderson during the incident, and that “President Tarvin believes she is above the law.”
Westwell continued to rail against Clayton-Tarvin and said she has “no credibility,” before Souders interrupted, saying the comments had no relevance to the motion at hand. Westwell did go back to the incident, saying that Clayton-Tarvin’s demand that he “leave now” was inappropriate and constituted harassment and intimidation.
“This is getting so tiring,” Clayton-Tarvin responded. “You impeded my path of travel. You literally stood in the doorway and you blocked me from leaving the building. Honestly, who do you think you are, stopping me from walking out the door? Stopping anyone from walking out the door, but especially a person that is frankly smaller than you in stature and a woman. You, sir, scared me terribly ... And when you saw trustee Briscoe coming and trustee Souders, when you saw two men coming, you finally moved.”
Danforth’s investigation concluded that while there was insufficient evidence that Westwell’s actions were threatening, there was sufficient evidence that his conduct violated district policies. The censure ordered that Westwell not engage in such behavior in the future, and shall treat fellow board members and the public with respect.
Most of the 23 emailed comments were in support of Westwell’s censure. Anderson spoke in support of censure at Tuesday’s meeting, as did Circle View Elementary teacher Joan Ashley. Ocean View Teachers Assn. president Marisa Cardenas-Joslyn also voiced her disapproval of Westwell.
“I respectfully and professionally ask that trustee Westwell stop taking the focus off our students, and abide by the decorum expected of elected board members,” Cardenas-Joslyn said.
Briscoe, who has been on the board since 2006 and was president last year, said that Westwell’s behavior showed poor judgment.
“The whole situation resulted from a spiraling anger management problem resulting in a trustee evaluating parenting and finally, ‘Bite me,’” Briscoe said. “Just disengage would have been the best action for an elected trustee.”
Tuesday’s meeting ended with Clayton-Tarvin noting that Westwell, who turned off his video screen for online Zoom viewers of the meeting, was wearing a scarf on his face and not a proper mask in line with COVID-19 regulations. Clayton-Tarvin attempted to take a picture of the scarf to show the online viewers, but Westwell turned his chair away from the president and said he was wearing a mask.
“No, you’re not,” Clayton-Tarvin said. “You’re wearing a scarf around your face, tied as a bandanna. That’s not what we ask our students and staff to do ... You’re in a public meeting and you’re violating the rules. Trustee Westwell, your behavior is out of line. When you come to the next meeting, you shall have a proper mask on, or you will not be entering the room.”
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