Aiding and Abetting the Killing of an Open Government

“And I would have made millions if it hadn’t been for you meddling kids.”

- Villain caught by Mystery, Inc.

With multiple open investigations into alleged violations of the Brown Act, it is clear that the LAUSD School Board needs a refresher course on how this law works. According to LAUSD Board Member Nick Melvoin, the District’s General Counsel, David Holmquist, “is always present when the board meets”, so he should have been the one to raise a red flag when the law was violated. Unfortunately, Holmquist seems ignorant of the requirement that “public agencies should err on the side of providing the public with more information, not less” and has declared that the vote did not have to be reported.

On June 5, the LAUSD went into closed session to consider renewing the contract of Holmquist. Before they did so, I took the opportunity to provide the following remarks during public comment:

Leaking, and even illegal classified leaking, has been a big problem…for years…the spotlight has finally been put on the low-life leakers! They will be caught!

Of course, that quote is from the current occupant of the White House who liked to use diversionary tactics to take our minds off one thing while he breaks the law in another way. Here is a second quote:

One of the things that was really unfortunate with our search, and now it maybe starts to make sense, is these leaks

That is from LAUSD Board Member Nick Melvoin. He went on to complain:

What that [May 1] statement did…is potentially…show a violation of the law by Mr. Schmerelson

What was the statement that Melvoin was complaining about?

On April 20, by the slimmest majority possible, four members of the LAUSD Board of Education (Garcia, Melvoin, Vladovic, Rodriguez) voted to authorize negotiations for an employment contract with Mr. Austin Beutner as the General Superintendent of the District.

Was this statement a violation of the law? The Brown Act specifies exceptions to rules of non-disclosure after closed sessions. It states that an employee is permitted to express “an opinion concerning the propriety or legality of actions taken by a legislative body

What else does the Brown Act say?

The Brown Act contains detailed rules regarding what must be agendized and how, how action is to be taken, and what must be reported and how and when.”

That quote is from David Holmquist, the General Counsel for the District. That is what he said to “Speak Up.” So where was the actual violation? The Brown Act specifically says:

the legislative body of any local agency shall publicly report any action taken in closed session and the vote or abstention on that action of every member present”.

At the end of the April 20th session, the Board did not report their actions. In fact, Jefferson Crain said that there were “no actions to report due to today’s discussion.” So how is it a violation for Mr. Schmerelson to tell the public what they had a right to know? How can Mr. Holmquist say that “the selection process complied with the Brown Act requirements” when it clearly did not?

Today you are going to discuss Holmquist’s performance. It is his job as a public servant to make sure that the Board follows the law, not to help you avoid it. I think that needs to be discussed in this session.

The Beutner vote is not the first time that Holmquist and his office has run interference on the free flow of information from the Board to their constituents:

Not unexpectedly, the majority of Board members controlled by the charter industry voted to extend Holmquist’s contract. Unfortunately, they were not the only ones as the vote was unanimous. Apparently, the public has no allies who will consistently protect their interests.

As if to emphasize the importance of this vote and how little the Board cares about the ongoing investigation into their alleged violations of the Brown Act, they took the opportunity during this same closed session to double down. According to reports, the contract for Inspector General Ken Bramlett will be allowed to expire after a 3–3 vote. Just like that of April 20, this “vote, which happened outside of public view, was not announced even though California law requires the reporting of all actions taken.” Once again, the public only knows about the action because of a leak. Let’s hope that a plumber is not able to fix it anytime soon.

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Carl Petersen is a parent and special education advocate, elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a “strong supporter of public schools.” Opinions are his own.

Written by

Parent, special education advocate and former LAUSD School Board candidate. Still fighting for the children. www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com

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