LONGVIEW — Former state Rep. JD Rossetti may be sidestepping the rules to keep his place on the Longview School Board.
The 35-year-old has refused to step down five times since he was accused last fall of abusing his wife and stepson. Now, there are indications that Rossetti has not actually lived in the district he represents for several months.
On voter registration records and in conversation with district officials, Rossetti has claimed to live at two different addresses in Longview this year.
However, Rossetti appears to be living north of Kelso in the Lexington area — a likely violation of state law, school district policy and the trust of the people he represents.
On Penny Lane
A Kelso school bus wound through a quiet neighborhood near the Cowlitz River on the morning of May 12. As kids waited at a stop on Penny Lane, a door opened across the street.
Rossetti’s two school-aged children came out, wearing backpacks, and climbed into a silver SUV. Their father got in a minute later, and set off in the direction of Longview.
The scene would have been unremarkable, except that Rossetti claims he and his kids share an 800-square-foot, two-bedroom house on Fir Street in Longview with his sister Jennifer Rossetti and her child.
State law requires a school board member to live in the part of the district they were elected to represent, with limited exceptions. The school district policy requires board members to be qualified voters of the district. A board member who moves outside of the district loses his or her eligibility to serve, and must resign.
A telling power bill
Cowlitz County PUD bills show Rossetti, currently a lobbyist for the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers, opened an account in November at a three-bedroom duplex on Penny Lane in Lexington.
After an Observer reporter requested district correspondence about Rossetti and the Penny Lane address, Superintendent Dan Zorn asked Rossetti where he lived.
“He responded that his primary residence continued to be with his sister,” Zorn said on May 12. He said Rossetti mentioned that his name appeared on the PUD bill for a house in Lexington because he was helping out a friend who had recently moved back from out of state.
Zorn relayed the conversation to board president CJ Nickerson and assumed that was the end of it.
“I haven’t been camping out in front of anyone’s home, checking to see where they’re sleeping,” Zorn said. “I addressed it, JD provided his explanation for it.”
Rossetti did not respond to phone and email interview requests, but did sent a statement announcing that he is not filing for re-election so that he can “dedicate and focus more time in prayer and communion with the Lord our God.” His term expires at the end of 2017.
Until late April, Rossetti was registered to vote at the Elm Street address he shared with his estranged second wife, Amber Rosewood, although the couple separated in August 2016.
Rosewood in November became the second woman to get a restraining order against him since 2008. In a separate court case, she pressed misdemeanor domestic violence charges against him, related to one of several alleged incidents of abuse during their four-year marriage.
Evidence included emails Rossetti sent after their split, in which called himself an “abuser” and described his behavior as “aggressive, violent and intimidating.”
Rosewood got a one-year restraining order against Rossetti. In January, a jury of five men and one woman acquitted him of the criminal charges.
While he hasn’t lived there for most of a year, Rossetti is still a Democratic Precinct Committee Officer for the Elm Street neighborhood. Like school board members, precinct officers must live in the neighborhoods they represent.
County Auditor’s Office records show Rosewood, who would like to take over as PCO, in April challenged Rossetti’s voter registration address. Rossetti then changed his address to the same Fir Street address as his sister, who is the PCO for her neighborhood.
Jennifer Rossetti did not respond to phone calls and emails for comment.
The superintendent’s mid-April call to Rossetti was the latest in a series of uncomfortable conversations Zorn and the board president have had with the him since fall 2016. The abuse allegations drew media attention. Some district staff and families were outraged that an accused abuser was representing a district in which one his alleged victims attended school.
The district’s lawyer told Zorn that under Washington law, it usually takes a recall vote to force an elected official out of office. The best option was to persuade Rossetti to resign, the lawyer said. Zorn made his appeal to Rossetti in a private meeting.
“As I explained to JD, I felt it was in the best interests of the district. Some of the recent circumstances were distracting,” Zorn said.
Rossetti was “gracious” and said he would consider stepping down, the superintendent said. Because he didn’t step down, protesters started showing up at board meetings and speaking during public comment. At one meeting, Rossetti’s estranged stepson, a high school freshman who has since left the district, sat in the front row, holding his restraining order.
Rossetti began attending some meetings via phone, so Zorn met with him again
“The second time he was pretty clear that he did not intend to resign,” Zorn said. “… Certainly there was tension. It’s a hard discussion to have.”
‘For the good of the district’
Nickerson, a veteran educator who has a doctorate, approved of the way Zorn was handling the situation.
“I trust Dan without reservation. He is as straight a shooter as you will find,” Nickerson said on May 12. He also recognized Zorn had limited power to address the situation since the superintendent answers to the board.
Like Zorn, Nickerson was getting calls and emails from people who felt Rossetti’s continued presence sent the wrong message to students and conflicted with the district’s goal of creating a safe, welcoming environment for all. He decided to see if he could convince Rossetti to quit.
“I did on three separate occasions suggest that he step down for the good of the district,” Nickerson said.
The first phone conversation took place this past fall.
“It got a little heated,” Nickerson said.
In one conversation, Nickerson said, Rossetti told him he couldn’t step down because he had a duty to fulfill his obligation to voters.
Nickerson made his final appeal shortly before the criminal case went to trial in late January.
“His response was, ‘What if I win?’ I said, ‘I think it’s going to be even worse.’ I had read the [court] documentation,” Nickerson said. “I felt that it wasn’t going to go away.”
An old friend speaks up
“JD lives on Penny Lane in Lexington,” Andrew Specter (formerly Andrew Furer) said on May 13. “I have a key to his house, from picking up the kids for baseball and such, toting them around.”
Specter says he has known the Rossetti family for years. He attends the same church as Rossetti’s first wife, and considers himself a “godfather” to the Rossetti children. Public records show he was a witness at Rossetti’s first wedding in 2006.
The two friends reunited when Specter returned to Longview from Colorado a few months ago. However, Specter said, they stopped talking regularly a few weeks ago, partly because of what he perceives as Rossetti’s “hypocritical” behavior.
“The first thing he asked me to do is lie for him publicly,” Specter said. He claims Rossetti put him on the list of people who can pick his kids up from school and said Specter lived at the Penny Lane house. Specter said Rossetti put the inaccurate information on the form without his permission.
“It pissed me off,” Specter said, noting he has never lived on Penny Lane and Rossetti has never paid a PUD bill for him.
“He’s been renting that place since November. I helped him move into it from his old place,” Specter said.
Asked if Rossetti ever lived at his sister’s house, Specter replied, “No, not ever. That’s just a useful fiction.”
In pursuit of a clean conscience
Specter said Rossetti told him about Zorn’s call.
“My immediate recollection of that call was that he told (Zorn) that he was living at his sister’s address,” Specter said. “The administrator pressed him about the issue, and he restated the fictional address.”
Specter said he plans to move to Texas and enter a training program for aspiring ministers soon. He said wants to do so with a “clean conscience.”
Rossetti’s actions aren’t aligned with his recent public professions of Christian faith, Specter said.
“He’s been very public in a cynical attempt to use religion to cloak shadowy behavior,” Specter said.
Specter said he went public after private attempts to convince Rossetti to come clean failed.
“I don’t think he’ll ever fess up to his own motives, or wake up as a man unless he receives a rebuke,” Specter said. “I’ve told him everything I’ve told you.”
Going ahead with business
When Zorn learned two journalists had seen Rossetti leaving the Lexington house on Friday morning, he took notes and said he needed to consult with Nickerson as soon as possible. He acknowledged that with seven months left in Rossetti’s term and an important bond measure on the horizon, people in the district are concerned.
“Some people might get the impression that we don’t take this seriously, when in fact the board takes it very seriously,” Nickerson said. “We just don’t have a legal recourse. It’s frustrating. It’s embarrassing.”
He hopes controversy about Rossetti won’t overshadow the board’s accomplishments.
“It reflects negatively on the rest of us,” Nickerson said. “When in reality, the rest of the board, I think, is very ethical and acting professionally and going ahead with business.”
The Longview School Board plans to hold a special meeting to discuss their upcoming retreat at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, May 15. The meeting is open to the public.