Richland School Board Director Misipati Semi Bird’s recent comment on Facebook describing his court-martial as a young Marine in 1984 differs widely from the comment he provided to the Observer while running last fall for election to the Richland School Board.
In a telephone interview on Sept. 4, Bird told the Observer that an Aug. 23, 1984, article in the Hawaii Marine describing Semi M. Bird’s special court-martial, concerned not the candidate, but his first cousin with the same name.
Bird explained that Misipati was a common name in Samoa, and that he and his cousin were both in the Marines at the same time. A Google search by the Observer at the time indicated that a second Misipati Bird does live in Hawaii.
Bird’s May 7 Facebook post on the Gabe Galbraith for School Board page, however, reveals that he, not a cousin, was the subject of the military legal proceeding in 1984.
Of the incident that led to the court-martial, Bird wrote , “This was a racially charged event where a Sergeant (NCO) used a racial slur and assaulted me. I defended myself. It was NOT my commanding officer.”
“I did my punishment, went back to my unit, was later promoted, and finished my tour of duty with an HONORABLE DISCHARGE,” Bird wrote.
Years later Bird joined the Army Special Forces and received a Bronze Star for valor and other service medals, according to his service documents. He also received an honorable discharge from the Army National Guard.
Court-martial comes up at school board meeting
Last September, when Bird denied to the Observer that he had been court-martialed, he was running on his military record in a contested race for the school board – a race he eventually won by a slim margin, with 52.89 percent of the vote.
In contrast, Bird posted his Facebook explanation earlier this month at a time when it was clear that questions about the 1984 court-martial article would not go away.
On April 12, Brian Brendel asked about the court-martial at a school board meeting. Brendel, President of Columbia Energy and Environmental Service, is one of the four Richland businessmen who filed recall petitions in the Benton-Franklin Superior Court for Bird, and school board directors Audra Byrd and Kari Williams.
Brendel suggested that Bird may have “derided” Richland School Board President Jill Olson for months because she had asked for his military service records.
“If he is the same M. Semi Bird, court-martialed for unlawfully striking an NCO in August of 1984, resulting in a one-month confinement, hard labor and a demotion in rank to private; then his actions against Olson represent retaliatory, prejudiced and unethical actions,” Brendel said.
In contrast to the comment Bird provided the Observer in September during the campaign, the school board candidate said nothing when confronted by Brendel publicly.
Bird posted his May 7 comment on Facebook in response to other people discussing the 1984 article and his recall.
That same day and again on May 11, the Observer reached out to Bird to ask about the contradiction between his Facebook post and what he said in the September interview. He did not respond.
On May 11, Judge Norma Rodriguez ruled that the petitions could go forward to signature gathering. The three school board directors are appealing to the state Supreme Court.