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School board member again at center of controversy

Ray Biggs draws litigation threat after claiming construction company hires 'illegal aliens'

Photo Credit: MARK MILLER - Robert Salisbury (second from left) reads a letter on behalf of his client, Rich Bailey (left), at a school board meeting in the St. Helens School District office Wednesday, Aug. 13. In his letter, Salisbury sharply criticized school board member Ray Biggs (right) for statements Biggs made at a board meeting last month claiming Bailey's construction company hired undocumented workers.A school board member in the St. Helens School District apologized Wednesday, Aug. 13, after claiming the owner of a St. Helens construction company hired undocumented workers and was “pro-illegal alien.”

Ray Biggs made the comments during a July 9 board meeting. The subject of his claims, Rich Bailey, was not present at that meeting.

“We’ve got St. Helens [Community] Federal [Credit Union] hiring illegal aliens and out-of-town contractors,” said Biggs in July, in the midst of a debate over the school district’s own practices for requesting and accepting bids from contractors.

“Are you sure? Isn’t Rich Bailey doing that contract?” asked fellow board member Kellie Smith, referring to construction work on a new branch the credit union is opening in St. Helens.

“Absolutely,” Biggs responded. “Absolutely. He is pro-illegal alien from the get-go.”

Biggs’ remarks drew the ire of the owner of Rich Bailey Construction. Bailey appeared at Wednesday’s board meeting with his lawyer, Robert Salisbury, who threatened legal action against Biggs if he did not recant his statements.

“While your statement is simply not true, it is also defamatory in nature, which means that you could personally be subjected to legal liability and monetary damages,” said Salisbury, reading from an open letter dated Wednesday. “However, rather than filing legal action against you, Mr. Bailey wishes to settle this matter if you agree to issue an apology to Mr. Bailey at the school board meeting tonight. Along with your apology, you must state on the record that the above statement was not true.”

Salisbury went on to suggest Biggs’ comments about Bailey suggested the school board member is prejudiced against Latinos, who constitute the majority of undocumented immigrants to the United States.

“Your statement reflects badly on the entire school district, and not just on yourself as an individual,” Salisbury said, still reading from his letter. “Your statement shows your open contempt toward our Hispanic citizens of Columbia County. Your statement also brings into question your ability to serve on this board, as your personal beliefs contradict the policy of this board and the school district.”

Ray Biggs.Both Biggs and Gordon Jarman, chairman of the school board, read prepared statements after Salisbury concluded.

“I recognize these statements were not factually supported. Furthermore, I regret making these statements and would like to apologize to Mr. Bailey,” Biggs said of his July 9 remarks.

Jarman, meanwhile, distanced the school board from Biggs’ earlier claims.

“The board wants to make it clear that those statements were statements of one board member, raised in the context of a board hearing,” Jarman said. “Furthermore, those statements were not the official view of the board or reflective of the board’s decision related to that matter.”

Neither Bailey nor Salisbury addressed the board after Biggs and Jarman read their statements.

This is not the first time Biggs has found himself at the center of a controversy.

In 2011, a maintenance worker said Biggs — at the time, a candidate for the school board seat he now occupies — displayed a handgun while speaking with him outside the Columbia City School. He reported seeing the weapon, which Biggs has maintained he was carrying in compliance with his concealed-carry permit, to police and school administrators.

The district attorney’s office ultimately declined to bring charges in the case, although the incident sparked tension between Biggs and then-Superintendent Patricia Adams, who retired later that year.

Last fall, Biggs led a successful effort on the school board to repeal a policy banning teachers and staff from carrying concealed weapons on school property. The policy had been instated earlier in 2013 over Biggs’ opposition.

At the time, Biggs said he believes the U.S. Constitution prohibits any form of restrictions on “the right to bear arms,” including in public facilities like schools, courthouses and airports.

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