Southern California: Chino school board strives to get in sync with open meeting requirements

The Chino Valley Unified School Board is meeting this week to remedy alleged violations of California’s Brown Act, according to one open government advocate, failing to place on agendas anticipated lawsuits discussed in closed sessions. -db

San Jose Mercury News
November 1, 2010
By Neil Nisperos

CHINO – The Chino Valley Unified School District this week is expected to address an apparent Brown Act violation.

Richard McKee, the vice president for Open Government Compliance, said the district was not disclosing facts and circumstances regarding anticipated litigation, either through its board agenda or by public announcement, despite a Brown Act requirement and a 2005 court order to do so.

The issue is expected to be addressed and corrected by the Board of Education at its meeting on Thursday, district spokeswoman Julie Gobin said.

“The reaction of the superintendent was immediately appropriate,” said McKee, who met with Superintendent Wayne Joseph last Thursday, shortly after the district received a letter from McKee explaining the issue and demanding correction. “He wanted to make corrections. We came to an agreement.”

Without the corrections, McKee said he would have filed criminal charges against the board members and sought sanctions.

The board is taking this action to avoid litigating the issue at a cost to the district, Gobin said.
McKee said that over the past 10 months, the district had been in violation of the court order by failing to properly place on agendas anticipated lawsuits discussed in closed sessions on at least seven occasions.

The facts and circumstances related to the litigation, not earlier released, will be publicly disclosed at Thursday’s meeting, Gobin said.

“Allowing secret discussions of `anticipated litigation’ keeps the public in the dark as to allegations of wrongdoing made against the district, which would have allowed any interested members of the public to comment to the board before a settlement is reached and/or before formal litigation is begun,” McKee said.

“I believe the public should be made aware of the continued violations in direct violation of a previous court order issued to Chino Valley USD.”

After McKee sued in 2004, the San Bernardino Superior Court found the district to have violated the Brown Act on three occasions, by failing to disclose existing facts and circumstances of anticipated litigation. As a result, the court ordered the district to hold closed sessions on anticipated litigation only after making the required disclosures on agendas or public announcements.

McKee said he had no reason to believe the district was purposefully concealing the information from the public. He said Joseph told him he hadn’t been advised by attorneys of the required disclosure.

“I have no reason to believe there was an effort to keep the public out of touch,” he said. “I think that in the past I would have said yes, there was an effort not to notice the public.”

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