Schlegel Hall in Banks. File Photo: Chas Hundley

A Banks School Board candidate forum is expected to draw two candidates to Schlegel Hall in Banks on Thursday, April 29 at 7 p.m.

Karen Schmidlin, who is helping with the organization of the event with a handful of others in the Banks area, with assistance from candidates Jodi Hailey, running for Banks School Board Position 1, and Chad Mueller, who filed to run for the same seat — Position 1 — but has instead asked voters to write him in for Position 2.

The campaign switch by Mueller arose after incumbent Raymond Mott withdrew his candidacy for the seat, leaving Corissa Mazurkiewicz the sole candidate on the ballot for Position 2. 

Voters will see Mueller listed in their ballots as running for Position 1. 

Schmidlin, a precinct committee person (PCP) for the Oregon Republican Party in the 326 Banks Rural precinct, noted that all other candidates for Banks School Board had been invited to the forum. 

The other candidates are Leslee L. Sipp for Position 1, Corissa Mazurkiewicz for Position 2, and Ron Frame and Curt VanBlarcom for Position 4. The election will be held Tuesday, May 18.

Schmidlin noted during a phone call with the Banks Post that she had looked into the COVID-19 capacity requirements Washington County is currency facing under Governor Kate Brown’s risk framework. As of Friday, April 23, Washington is at the “High Risk” level. 

Schmidlin did not believe her forum would attract enough audience to match or exceed the capacity at the forum’s location, Sunset Park’s Schlegel Hall. 

“We just want to provide a forum, basically, for the candidates to actually talk to people in real life,” Schmidlin said. She said that her role as a PCP for the Oregon Republican Party is what led her to creating the candidate’s forum. Schmidlin noted that social distancing and mask wearing would also be observed in a social media post.

“That’s how I kinda got involved with this, I got connected with the candidates, and along with that, I talked to the other PCP’s in our area.” 

“We’re trying to support [the candidates], that’s basically our job in this position.”

The candidates will have an opportunity to introduce themselves and give their stump speech, and talk about the issues they’re running on, Schmidlin said. A question and answer session with the audience will follow. 

The event will not feature a debate. 

During the initial conversation with Schmidlin on April 23 regarding the event, she noted that a moderator had not yet been secured for the forum. On Monday, April 26, Schmidlin said in a message to the Banks Post that Stephanie Jones had agreed to be the moderator for the forum. 

Jones, who was elected Banks’ mayor in November 2020 and took office in January 2021, has endorsed Leslee Sipp for Position 1. Sipp said she was not planning on attending the forum. Her opponent Jodi Hailey is, and at least on the ballot, Chad Mueller as well. Mueller filed to run against Sipp more than two weeks after Sipp filed to run, according to the county time stamp on the form each candidate filed with the Washington County Elections Division. When Mueller determined to run against Mazurkiewicz for Position 2, the March 18 deadline to withdraw one’s candidacy had already passed, leading to his write-in campaign. 

Jones expressed concern about the event in light of Washington County’s recent increase in COVID-19 cases. 

On April 28, the Oregon Health Authority released a weekly report with a grim assessment of the track of COVID-19 in Oregon. 

[“The report] shows a fifth consecutive week of surging daily cases and surging hospitalizations from the previous week,” a news release from the Oregon Health Authority read. 

“I am actually trying to convince the organizer that an in person event is a bad idea,” Jones said in an email to the Banks Post. 

In a message on April 27 to the Banks Post, Schmidlin noted that the event was still on, but said that Jones might not moderate. 

“Who knew how much controversy this would cause,” Schmidlin wrote. 

In an email to the Banks Post on Wednesday, April 29, Jones wrote that she would moderate. 

“They couldn't find a replacement,” Jones said. 

Controversy surrounding the subject has arisen on the Banks Community Facebook Page in the comments of a post advertising the event.

Some members of the group raised concerns about holding an in-person event due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Others leveled accusations that the event was biased, an assertion that board candidate Jodi Hailey strongly denied in a series of social media comments made on Wednesday, April 28. In the comments, she confirmed her involvement and that of fellow candidate Chad Mueller in helping to organize the event, and said that between the two of them, they had contacted all candidates running for seats on the board prior to setting a date for the event.

"I know I need to develop a thick skin, but any accusation of bias, carelessness or underhandedness is totally unfair and untrue, and to be misrepresented and impugned is pretty awful," Hailey said in a comment.

Schlegel Hall is located in Sunset Park at the south end of Banks. Sunset Park is located at 12765 NW Main Street. 

This article has been updated with additional information from posts made on social media from school board candidates and event organizers.