The Brown Act is not optional in governance: The DMUSD Trustees

By Suzanne Hall, Torrey Hills parent, Lesley Ballard, Sage Canyon parent, Janet Handzel, Sage Canyon parent and Jill Steiner, Carmel Del Mar parent

The often-referenced Brown Act exists for one sole purpose: to provide the public with an opportunity to observe a legislative body conduct the people’s business in open meeting. When Katherine White, Annette Easton and Steven McDowell ran for office in November 2006, they embraced the spirit of the Brown Act in their campaign advertisements, listing “accountability to the community” among their top priorities.

Additionally, Easton described “increased transparency” as a major objective. Unfortunately, this slate of three has repeatedly failed to uphold their campaign promises, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the recent handling of the district’s superintendents.

On March 31, the board terminated the contract of then-Superintendent Sharon McClain in a special meeting with only 24-hours notification. Such a short timeline for a significant issue before the district would seem to fly in the face of transparency and accountability.

Now we know that the special meeting was originally called for an early morning time slot, frustrating parents’ efforts to participate. This apparent attempt by the board to dodge accountability is suspect. It would appear that trustees were playing fast and loose with the legal requirements for notice and openness.

It gets even more problematic looking at the follow-up meeting noticed for the next day, when Interim Superintendent James Peabody was appointed. This meeting occurred the day after the termination vote on McClain — suggesting dialogue among board members about the need to replace McClain and who that replacement might be had already occurred outside the termination meeting.

This smacks of “collective concurrence,” defined by the Brown Act as substantive conversations outside a properly noticed meeting resulting in a conclusion about an action item on an agenda. The act strictly forbids this behavior. As Brown Act violations are notoriously hard to prove, we may never know what truly transpired. But it begs the question: Does sidestepping the Brown Act reflect responsible leadership?

Another example: At the May 5 special meeting, the main agenda item was to be the final report of the Financial Task Force. However, when the agenda was posted, again with only 24-hours notice, it also included a discussion and vote on the contract for Superintendent Peabody. Come again? Why would the board choose to make a significant contract for the district an item for a special meeting?

This was not an emergency, as defined by the Brown Act, and no prior information about such a vote was provided. 

Further, the contract in question was not merely the interim contract. It was a permanent, two-year contract to be awarded to Peabody.
Was the community involved, or even informed, about the process of hiring the district’s top educational and administrative leader? No. Where is the transparency?

Where is the accountability? It is common that in filling a superintendent position districts undergo considerable reflection and enlist the feedback of its educational staff. Did the board consult principals and teachers in this decision? Where is the respect for the needs of our district, as any good leader would provide? Our board has fallen short on all of these counts.

Superintendent Peabody may well be an excellent educator and administrator. Many who have met him have been struck by his warmth, and have described him as having an earnest sense of concern for our district and its students. It is in the best interest of the district for this to be true. However, this does not excuse the board from their lack of transparency or violations of established protocol in the process of terminating and then hiring superintendents.

There is but one remedy for parents and community members in the Del Mar Union school district. If you care about your students, if you care about the reputation of the DMUSD, if you care about your property values, you must vote to elect good leaders come November.

Say goodbye to this slate of three, and instead vote in people of character who will adhere to established protocols to ensure that the business of the district is handled in a trustworthy, transparent manner. Only then can we be certain that our district has the governance it well deserves.

Related posts:

  1. DMUSD board expected to vote Wednesday to release Superintendent McClain
  2. A conversation with DMUSD trustee McDowell
  3. Small group of parents stage protest at board meeting
  4. Julian chief selected as interim superintendent for Del Mar school district
  5. Interim superintendent is permanently hired

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Posted by on May 26, 2010. Filed under Archives. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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