Teacher who won HSTA election threatens court action

Teacher who won HSTA election threatens court action
Published: May. 21, 2015 at 10:51 PM HST|Updated: May. 21, 2015 at 11:08 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The man who won the election last month to become the next president of the state's teacher union said he will go to court to prevent union leaders from throwing out the results and holding another vote.

"The thing that's important for me is the integrity of HSTA," said Corey Rosenlee, a government teacher at Campbell High School, who ran for office to head the Hawaii State Teachers Association, the 13,500-member public school teachers union.

He faced off against Joan Lewis, a Kapolei High School English teacher, who serves as vice president of the union now and has been on the HSTA board for 14 years.

Rosenlee said he and his slate of candidates challenging current HSTA leadership won all the key races for president, vice president and secretary treasurer.

He claimed the HSTA board rejected the results because they didn't like that he and other dissidents won.

"There were no complaints about the election until after they saw the results. You should have integrity that if you want to complain about an election, you should say those complaints before you see the results," said Rosenlee, who's been on the union's board for one year.

Lewis said the HSTA board was concerned because some teachers reported they didn't get ballots on time. Some of them failed to get email links to vote electronically and others didn't get paper ballots in time to vote, Lewis said.

She could not quantify how many teachers were disenfranchised. Approximately 3,300 teachers voted in this election, more than the number of teachers who voted in the last statewide union election in 2012.

The union had hired a new contractor to conduct the teachers' vote by email and paper ballot this year.

"By more than a two-thirds vote, the board made up of volunteer teachers felt that the reports of irregularities their members encountered did not ensure that the process was appropriate. And they wanted to make sure that the election is done right." Lewis told Hawaii News Now by phone.

Rosenlee said, "They cannot show that any teacher that wanted to vote was denied that right. And the same members of the board that didn't get an email, they didn't say they didn't vote, they just said they didn't get an email."

Lewis denied the board rejected the results and scheduled a new election just because she and other establishment candidates lost.

"In order for anybody to believe that, they'd have to believe that 21 of the people they've elected to serve them have decided to have no integrity and enter into a conspiracy," Lewis said.

The new election, set for three hours from 3 to 6 p.m. on June 2, will be ratification style, meaning teachers will have to vote in person at a ballot box. Exact details of voting locations have not been set yet.

Rosenlee's brother, David Rosen, is serving as his attorney. Rosen said if the union does not change its mind by Tuesday, he will ask a state judge to prevent the election and force the union to certify the results of the original election that was held last month.

Rosen said HSTA's attorney, former U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, refused to meet with him to discuss the case.

Wil Okabe, the outgoing HSTA president whose term is ending, released a statement that said, "I am extremely disappointed that some candidates running for HSTA offices have chosen to violate HSTA's procedures and protocol with their recent public announcements. And instead, have chosen to disrespect the decision made by their fellow teachers on the HSTA board."

"The Board of Directors of HSTA did not certify the results of the earlier vote because of serious discrepancies' that were reported in the election and voting process. Numerous reports were provided to HSTA staff and board members that teachers did not receive their ballots either by mail or email. This included several board members who personally reported that they did not receive ballots," Okabe's statement said. The statement did not quantify how many teachers had those problems.

In addition, potential violations in the way that candidates conducted their campaigns were also reported, Okabe said. Errors also occurred in handling the ballots including the premature release of the email ballot count, and not giving candidates the opportunity to visually observe the vote count, which is their right according to our election rules, Okabe said.

A board meeting was held on May 16 to consider the certification of the vote, Okabe said.

"And after more than 12 hours of deliberation, the board felt that the election was seriously flawed. And, as is their right, the board chose to not certify the vote. And subsequently, by a 2/3-vote of 21 to 8 (out of 29), decided to hold a re-vote to help ensure that all teachers had a fair opportunity to participate in the election process," Okabe added.

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