by Kaci Poor
After nearly an hour of tense — and at times downright chaotic — comments about a plagiarized graduation speech and its subsequent handling, Northern Humboldt Union High School District trustees voted 3-1 this evening to ask Dan Johnson to resign.
Johnson sat calmly as his fellow trustees voted, and said nothing afterward about whether he would take their advice.While unable to force Johnson, an elected official, from his seat, the board’s vote was a harsh condemnation of his actions — or, as some board members put it, inactions.
The decision came during a tense, sometimes raucous evening. Roughly 100 people jammed into the McKinleyville High School multi-purpose room, sometimes shouting at each other and over each other.
Several people expressed their support for Johnson, saying they had accepted his apology and that it was time to move on. Others called Johnson’s apology inadequate, tardy and insulting. They demanded the board take immediate action.
The school trustees initially expressed optimism about moving forward, pointing to a plan they released back in July to avert future plagiarism. It wasn’t until Johnson — who has been absent from the board’s past two meetings citing “pretty intense personal issues" — spoke that things started going downhill.
Johnson started off by thanking his supporters. He apologized to the board for missing the August and July meetings. And then, he launched into a public statement.
“I am sorry for the people with the not-so-kind words that feel the way they feel,” he said. “I think if you really got to know me you would have a different interpretation. Unfortunately people who have those unkind words don’t really know who the hell I am as a person.”
Johnson said it's time the district moved on. Then things got a little ugly. When one woman sitting near the front reacted to his speech with audible scorn, something between a snort and a laugh, Johnson yelled at her as if she were a disobedient schoolgirl. "You need to respect me," he said. Just as a teacher would make a disrespectful student stand in a hallway, Johnson told her to “head out of the room and go and sit in the hallway.”
It was an uncomfortable, clearly frustrated board that took up discussion once Johnson’s speech was over.
Trustee Dana Silvernale, one of the three trustees up for re-election in November, spoke first. "It seems to me that something more has to be done," she said. "I don't want this to go on any longer. We need a resolution this evening."
A pained Mike Pigg agreed, saying that he felt the board was at a crossroads. "I don't think we can heal from this," said Pigg, the board president.
Board member Colleen Toste was more blunt. "What I hear," she said, "is that we either need a sincere apology or we need Dan to resign."
The only dissenting trustee, Dan Collen, took the middle ground, saying that while he didn't necessarily like Johnson's apology, he had accepted it. If the voters want Johnson off the board, they have the option of a recall, he said.
Ultimately, Toste, Silvernale and Pigg voted to ask for Johnson's resignation. Pigg, who has known Johnson since their high school days, said the vote was one of the toughest decisions of his life. Unlike Collen, the three who voted to ask Johnson to step down are all facing re-election in November. Johnson abstained.
After the public session, Johnson called out "no comment" to approaching reporters and strode away.