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.#8232;

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. #8232;#8232;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.

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