Atherton: Open government advocate persists in suit after rebuff by district attorney

An open government advocate is suing the Sequoia Union High School District to force them to decide on a personnel policy item in open meeting. The local district attorney sided with the school district in holding that  the vote behind closed doors was legal. -db

The Almanac
March 17, 2010
By Dave Boyce

The district attorney will not go to battle for Peter Carpenter, the open-government crusader and Atherton resident, who is trying to force the Sequoia Union High School District to bring to open session a decision that the board made behind closed doors.

Deputy District Attorney Albert A. Serrato, in a recent message to Mr. Carpenter (referring to Mr. Carpenter as Mr. Peterson), informed him the Sequoia board did not violate “either the spirit or the letter of the law” when it decided, in a 4-1 closed-session vote on Feb 24, to limit the search for a new superintendent to district employees only.

Patrick Gemma, who currently heads the district, has announced his intention to retire in June. Assistant Superintendent James Lianides, who Mr. Gemma hired in 2008, is considered a front runner to replace him.

Mr. Carpenter argues that the state’s open-meeting law, the Brown Act, allows an agency to discuss matters of individual employees in closed session but not matters of process such as recruitment criteria.

Mr. Carpenter posted a message today, March 17, that he will sue the Sequoia district over the matter. To avoid a legal battle, the board has “the very simple option of rescinding your closed session motion decision and then properly (agendizing) this matter for a public meeting,” Mr. Carpenter said.

James Fox, the district attorney, told Mr. Carpenter in a separate message (also posted on Town Square) that he agreed with Mr. Serrato, but then went on to elaborate not on whether recruitment processes can be decided behind closed doors, but whether the district acted appropriately in limiting the search to current employees.

Mr. Fox suggested that Mr. Carpenter speak to the Sequoia board in public session.

In his reply to Mr. Fox, Mr. Carpenter said he will “seek the wisdom of the courts since you are unwilling to interpret the law in the interest of the citizens and instead have chosen to protect secrecy by elected officials.”

Board member Chris Thomsen dissented in the Feb. 24 decision.

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