In this morning’s OC Register, we learn that the Capo Unified School District trustees held closed sessions in which they discussed, among other things, how to silence board critics.
Further, despite the Brown Act, which forbids closed session discussion of all but a few topics, such as employee evaluations, the board discussed various other topics, such as tax increases and how to handle troublesome parents.
Here are some excerpts from the article (Capo issues discussed secretly):
Capistrano school trustees over the years secretly discussed muzzling board critics, increasing taxes and other business that open-meeting experts say should have been done in public.
The discussions took place during twice-yearly, closed-door meetings that were supposed to be dedicated to Superintendent James Fleming's performance review. However, agendas and meeting minutes obtained by The Orange County Register show that numerous discussions went far beyond the scope of employee evaluations and potentially violated the Brown Act.
Confidential minutes from a July 30, 2005, closed session tell [the]…story. They show that the trustees discussed limiting the time that recall supporter and longtime critic Ron Lackey would be allowed to talk at meetings.
"In general Board members want to start to limit Ron Lackey and the amount of items he can address," said the minutes, written by Heather Wheeler, manager of board office operations.
According to the minutes, trustee Sheila Benecke said, "If we are going to permit Ron Lackey to speak to numerous items on the agenda, do not list them individually in the minutes."
The document also shows that the trustees discussed 31 items that day that were outside the scope of Fleming's evaluation [the sole agendized item], such as how to handle the parent of a special education student.
Fleming, in a statement issued by a district spokeswoman, said the items did not violate the Brown Act because they were part of his evaluation and job objectives….
Well, once again, to anyone who has followed the SOCCCD saga, this sure does sound familiar.
Back in 1997, the SOCCCD board met in closed session to discuss, among other things, the appointment of interim President of Irvine Valley College (they appointed Raghu Mathur, based on a thin petition that Mathur had himself circulated and the signatories of which were kept “anonymous.”) The item was not agendized, nor is it a permissible closed-session topic.
Three months later, the board held another closed session, this time to discuss—you guessed it!—a “personnel” action. In fact, they voted on a massive reorganization of the district, one involving the elimination of “School Chairs” at IVC and substitution of them with Saddleback College deans.
I found the following account in an old Dissent:
The Board Majority [starting in December, 1996, the SOCCCD BM included Steve Frogue, John Williams, Dorothy Fortune, and Teddi Lorch] has a long history of violations of the Brown Act, starting with its first meeting (12/16/96) in which, during a closed session, it discussed and voted upon a reduction of reassigned time for academic senate officers—not a permitted closed session topic—without agendizing the matter.
After the board appointed Raghu Mathur interim president of IVC in a closed session in April—the action was unagendized and the public was thus not allowed an opportunity to comment—a group of faculty and community members demanded a "cure," which the board ignored; this ultimately led to a decision, by OC Superior Court Judge MacDonald, that voided Mathur's appointment and decisions. (This has been dubbed, by the district, Bauer I.)
Then, in July, the board reorganized the district in closed session, agendizing the matter deceptively as a "personnel" action, thereby robbing the public of an opportunity to comment on the action, which, in any case, is not among actions that may be taken in closed session.
Then, prior to the September '97 board meeting, trustees engaged in secret serial meetings regarding a "deal" promoted by Board Majoritarian John Williams (see WILLIAMS). Each of these violations (and others, including a closed session address by Vishwas More) led OC Superior Court Judge Tully Seymour to write of the board's "persistent and defiant misconduct" relative to the Brown Act. The petitioner of Bauer II was awarded $98,000 in attorneys fees, though Seymour's judgment, and the fees, are being appealed. [Ultimately, essentially the district lost the appeal.]
The story doesn’t end there. The litigation discussed above has made the SOCCCD board much more careful about Brown Act violations, but it’s pretty clear that it has continued to play fast and loose with the rules.
For instance, back on September 27, we reported as follows:
HERE WE GO AGAIN:
It appears that the Board of Secrecy is back, only now it is led by Mr. Bean (i.e., Board Pesident Dave Lang). On September 13, the Board scheduled a special closed session of the BOT. The agenda listed one item: an “Employee evaluation of Performance”—an evaluation of the Chancellor. (See graphic below.)
That was odd. As you know, very recently, the chancellor was given a raise (it was in part retroactive) and a new contract. He now pulls down a quarter million dollars a year (if you include the car allowance and benefits), making him among the highest paid Chancellors in the system.
Now, it is clear that, during this very long meeting, held in the “Catalina Room” of the Laguna Hills Marriott (in Dana Point), other matters were discussed than Mathur’s performance. I have it on good authority that the board also discussed some of the major issues cited by the accrediting agency in its reports of February: the “plague of despair,” the problem of delineating roles and responsibilities, and so on. But, again, none of that was on the agenda. Further, as far as I know, discussions of the kind occasioned by the Accrediting reports are not among the items that, by law, may be discussed in closed session.
I checked the district’s website under the heading “Governing Board.” There, one finds a list that includes
Board Meeting Schedule
Board Meeting Agendas
Archived Board Meeting Highlights
Nothing on the website indicates to Joe Public, or to me, that a special meeting occurred at all. I looked everywhere on the site: nothing. --END OF SEPT. 27 BLOG The Board of secrecy
Ultimately, it became obvious that the board had violated the Brown Act. This prompted IVC Academic Senate President Wendy Gabriella, acting as a private citizen, to demand a "cure" of the Brown Act violation(s).
In response, the board reluctantly and peevishly "cured" their error by redoing, and doing legally, their illegal secret September action. See Chunk's 24 hour updatery (section 2).