CONCORD -- After meeting privately with an independent attorney, the Mt. Diablo school board on Friday agreed that recent allegations that the board violated the state's open meeting laws lacked merit.
In a 4-1 vote, the board determined that one-year contract extensions approved in April for the superintendent, general counsel, chief financial officer and two assistant superintendents were valid. But they also agreed the written documents supporting those extensions will be reviewed by an independent attorney and publicly presented to correct omissions and other possible errors that were made when new contracts were drawn up after the April vote.
"As a board, we must continually try to earn the trust of our constituents," said trustee Brian Lawrence, who was elected in November. "In the case of the contract extensions, I believe the previous board failed and failed miserably. I believe their actions were reckless and irresponsible."
He said Brown Act "cure and correct" demands by two district residents lacked merit because one was filed too late and the other, which alleged a secret meeting was held to sign the contracts, was unfounded. However, he said the board should have reviewed the written contracts when it agreed to extend the terms from June 30, 2013, to June 30, 2014.
Cheryl Hansen, president of the school board, voted against Lawrence's motion, saying she believed it was most appropriate for the board to revisit the contract extensions, since it hadn't reviewed the contract language. Her idea, however, could have allowed the board to change its mind about extending the contracts at all.
Before reaching a final decision, the board shot down a motion by trustee Linda Mayo in a 3-2 vote. She urged the board to deny the cure and correct demands and write letters to the residents who brought forward the allegations, thanking them for their diligence. She also said the board should complete training related to the Brown Act and contracts.
Only trustee Lynne Dennler supported that idea. Lawrence and trustee Barbara Oaks instead said they thought it was important to publicly review the new contracts.
Hansen said Mayo's idea of sending thank-you letters to the residents while denying their cure and correct demands was "condescending and patronizing."
Mayo initially wanted to amend her motion. But the board got so bogged down in a dispute over Robert's Rules of Order -- with Hansen at loggerheads with attorney Deb Cooksey -- that Mayo decided to withdraw her amendment "under protest," just so trustees could get on with voting on her original motion.
Questions about the validity of the contracts arose last month, after this newspaper obtained copies of them Dec. 6. In April, the board only saw the old contracts for the administrators, when it voted to extend the terms.
The new contracts included some changes that were never authorized by the board, along with possible violations of education code and other laws, Hansen said. They were signed by Mayo and former trustees Sherry Whitmarsh and Gary Eberhart but were not dated. Dennler subsequently signed them.
Hansen asked Superintendent Steven Lawrence who altered the contracts. The superintendent said he authorized extending the terms one year but did not direct staff to make any other changes.
The superintendent said General Counsel Greg Rolen oversaw the contracts, but he wasn't sure who directed the changes. Rolen, whose contract was one of the five extended, was not present to advise the board at the meeting due to his conflict of interest.
More information about the alleged Brown Act violations is available by calling 925-682-8000, ext. 4000, or by visiting http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us. Click on Jan. 18. For additional details, including links to video clips from the meeting, read the On Assignment blog at http://www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment.