CONCORD -- A Mt. Diablo school district resident has challenged the school board's handling of contract extensions for the superintendent, general counsel and three other top administrators, saying the board may have violated the Brown Act, the state's open meeting law.
"You have 30 days from the receipt of this demand letter either to cure and correct the challenged action or to inform me of your decision not to do so," Pleasant Hill resident Wendy Lack told the board last Monday.
Lack asked the board to rescind contract extensions approved by the board in April. The extensions were awarded to Superintendent Steven Lawrence, General Counsel Greg Rolen, Chief Financial Officer Bryan Richards, assistant superintendent for personnel Julie Braun-Martin and Rose Lock, assistant superintendent for Student Achievement and School Support. ¿She said that copies of the new contracts were never given to the public, and the trustees didn't even have them when it voted in April.
Lack said the board should make the new contracts available for public review, and then it should vote on them during a public meeting.
The allegation came shortly after newly elected trustees Brian Lawrence and Barbara Oaks were sworn into office and Trustee Cheryl Hansen was elected board president. The three, who appear to comprise a new board majority, have promised more transparency after hearing repeated complaints that the district doesn't release documents and other information that the public has a right to see.
Lack's comments appeared to stun trustees and the officials whose contracts were questioned. The board initially scheduled a special meeting for Monday, Dec. 17, to discuss the contract issue, but Hansen on Thursday said she had canceled the meeting and decided instead to have outside legal counsel advise the board about the cure and correct process.
General counsel Greg Rolen said he wasn't sure the board needed to respond to the demand and offered to research it, even though his contract is one in question and would appear to have a clear conflict of interest.
Hansen said Thursday she has told Rolen, the superintendent and attorney Deb Cooksey that they may not advise the board on its response, due to the appearance of a conflict.
Lack based her complaint in part because she believes that Trustee Linda Mayo and former trustees Gary Eberhart and Sherry Whitmarsh met outside of a public meeting to sign the contract extensions.
Eberhart and Whitmarsh did not attend Monday's meeting, but when reached afterward, Eberhart said he had no comment, and Whitmarsh said there was no secret meeting. She said she was called in October to the district office to sign the documents and the other trustees were not there when she arrived. She signed the contracts and left.
Hansen said she was never called to sign the contracts and did not receive them until Mayo handed them to her in a file folder after Monday's meeting. By that point, Hansen said, she declined to sign them, since their validity was in question.
Hansen was the lone vote against the contract extensions in April. She objected in part because the board and the public did not have copies of the new contracts at the meeting.
At Monday's meeting, Lack said the public deserves to know why it took nearly eight months for the district to finalize the contracts. The latest versions were changed to show the same start date of the previous contracts, but with a new ending date, giving the impression there was no contract extension. Instead, Lack said, the district should have prepared an addendum to make it clear that an extension was granted.
Additional details about the Brown Act allegation, including the letter presented to the board and video clips of the discussion, are in the On Assignment blog at http://www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment.