New San Dieguito board member Allman proposes governance changes
New San Dieguito Union High School District trustee Michael Allman joined the board on Dec. 15 bringing with him many ideas for changes meant to improve board governance. At his first meeting, he brought forward three agenda items including hiring a new board attorney, a transition to Rosenberg’s Rule of Order for how meetings are run, as well as his expanded school reopening resolution that passed 3-2.
New trustee Katrina Young had requested to pull all of Allman’s items from the agenda but she was not seconded.
Allman said he would like an attorney at every board meeting to provide expert legal advice to the board and to act as a parliamentarian to ensure the board follows procedure. At the meeting, he presented the board with a letter of engagement from Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch to represent the district from attorney John Lemmo. Allman said Lemmo was recommended to him by constituents and he had not met him prior to November.
The practice of having an attorney present at all board meetings is not common although it has been employed by the Rancho Santa Fe School District for several years.
“We need a lawyer in this room who knows what they’re doing,” Allman said.
Young said she had concerns about the timing, noting that Procopio’s letter was dated Nov. 13, made prior to the certification of the election results and by a trustee-elect who was not sworn in until Dec. 16. She also questioned the cost and need.
“That’s an awfully expensive parliamentarian if we are to be truly responsible guardians of our taxpayer money,” Young said. “It’s up to us to learn the parliamentary procedure…To pay someone else when that’s our job is a reckless way to spend taxpayer money.”
Young and Gibson also shared concerns about Procopio’s involvements in lawsuits against Del Mar, Cardiff and Poway School Districts, concerns that were echoed in public comment.
“Procopio has chosen to represent multiple entities who have gone after sister school districts, cost taxpayers millions of dollars in settlements and increased costs and who have made the school environment less safe for children during a pandemic,” said Cardiff resident Kenyon Woolley. “Giving Procopio our business right now is the worst example of rewarding bad behavior and will be viewed as a slap in the face to Cardiff students, parents, school administrators and taxpayers.”
Public comment additionally questioned Lemmo’s history of defending charter schools and the lack of process in choosing a new law firm—without vetting other firms, comparing costs or assessing the district’s legal needs.
SDUHSD Superintendent Robert Haley said he did not recommend an attorney sitting in as a routine manner at a meeting.
“If we have an item that we think necessitates an attorney to come to the meeting we invite that attorney and they weigh in on that item but having them sit in as a routine matter I wouldn’t advise that, I would find that fairly expensive and not necessary,” Haley said.
Currently the district has contracts with eight legal firms that serve the district on issues of human resources, special education, facilities planning and construction projects. According to SDUHSD Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Tina Douglas, the district’s year-to-date legal expenses total $321,826. Hourly rates range from $130 for paralegals or law clerks to up to $290 an hour for partners.
Allman was not as concerned about the cost: “If it costs us $1,000 a meeting, it costs us $1,000 a meeting.” He said in order to make some of the important decisions the board faces, he needs to have an attorney in the room.
Rather than appoint Procopio, the board agreed to form a subcommittee that will identify two to three firms that could potentially advise the board. Young and Allman will serve on the subcommittee.
Regarding Allman’s proposal to shift to Rosenberg’s Rules of Order from Robert’s Rules of Order, he said his goal is to improve the way the board conducts its business. Currently meeting protocols are spelled out in the board’s governance handbook.
“It struck me that meetings weren’t run very efficiently…there was often a free-for-all, talking over each other and interrupting,” he said. “A basic rule I hope the chair will enforce is when someone has the floor that they have it uninterrupted until they give it up.”
He proposed that when speakers have the floor, the president could limit their speaking time in advance.
Allman also asked that the board specify a time when they will return from closed session in the interest of public participation and that agenda materials be distributed in advance to avoid confusion and misunderstandings. He also said the practice of allowing anonymous public comments should be addressed.
While board members were hesitant to approve new rules at the meeting, they agreed to discuss it at an upcoming board governance workshop.
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