- 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:
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:
That is from LAUSD Board Member Nick Melvoin. He went on to complain:
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?
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:
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:
- In 2015, the District leaked a report that alleged that the former Food Services Director had mismanaged the LAUSD’s $354-million food program. Numerous attempts were made using California’s Public Records Act (PRA) to obtain documents that would support Binkle’s contention that his actions “were approved by senior officials”, including former Superintendents John Deasy and Michelle King. However, Holmquist’s office has rejected these requests claiming that these documents are exempt from disclosure due to an ongoing investigation.
- Like Trump, Board members Ref Rodriguez and Monica Garcia, have blocked members of the public from the Twitter accounts that they list on their LAUSD web page. In responding to a complaint made directly to Rodriguez, Holmquist stated the following: “It has come to my attention that you believe the listing of a personal Twitter account on an LAUSD website and a link to the LAUSD website on a personal Twitter account convert the Twitter account to a ‘public’ Twitter account and, as a result, the user of that account cannot block your tweets. My staff has researched this belief and found no legal support for it.” Apparently, his staff missed the First Amendment in their research. In a recent ruling, a court affirmed that a public official cannot “block someone from seeing her or his Twitter feed given First Amendment protections of free speech”. In spite of this ruling, Garcia is still using the block function.
- Last summer a Board Informative was prepared in response to my comments to the Board about Granada Hills Charter High School. The PRA request for this document was rejected by Holmquist’s office with the claim that “‘Board Informatives’ are confidential communications subject to the Deliberative Process Privilege exemption.” An appeal based on the Gov. Code §6255 which states that “if a record contains both factual and deliberative materials, the deliberative materials may be redacted and the remainder of the record must be disclosed” was also rejected. The General Counsel’s office maintained that “the factual material is inextricably intertwined with the deliberative material.
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.
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.