By Anne Lowe
OPEN MEETINGS – The Pomona Unified School District (PUSD) board has admitted it did not comply with Brown Act provisions when it put items for discussion under closed session in four of its meetings.
San Dimas resident Gil Aguirre and his lawyer, Kelly Aviles, wrote the school board in August, stating the board had violated the Brown Act when they discussed and made decisions about a parcel tax during several meetings between May and August.
PUSD attorney Kasey Haws initially met with Aguirre and Aviles to discuss the “legal ramifications” of the placement of items on the board’s agenda. Haws eventually came to agree with them, and in his letter he said he took “full responsibility for the instances acknowledged.”
As reported in the Contra Costa Times:
As part of the district's effort to improve and maintain compliance with the Brown Act the district "will train, and retrain where necessary, all PUSD personnel holding any position which implicates the Brown Act's mandates" with the involvement of representatives of Los Angeles County Office of Education, the letter said.
Also, the board will engage in a special training session before the public in January.
Haws said the training is something the district carries out regularly and is required of elected officials.
Having training in such a setting provides an opportunity for the public to make sure board members receive the proper information, Aviles said.
It ensures "people who know the laws can attend" and if inaccurate information is disseminated it can be pointed out, she said.
Although it's not in the letter, Aviles said she has been assured the manual to be used in the training session will be provided to her for review.
All together these steps put the school board on notice that she and Aguirre will be observing them, Aviles said, adding that it also sends a message to district residents that they too must be vigilant and pay attention to the actions of their elected officials.
As for the school board, "I hope they decide to really stand by their statement to be transparent," Aviles said. "When you violate the Brown Act this many times, they're not."
Haws said the district wanted to resolve the matter without going to court, a potentially expensive and protracted situation.
"Could we have gone to court? Sure, but why? At this point, trying to prove a point one way or another is not a wise use of public funds," Haws said.
Aguirre said he has mixed feelings about the resolution of the matter.
He's glad the board acknowledged the error but is disappointed he had to bring in a lawyer for it to do so.
In addition, he's surprised the school board did not engage in a discussion of the matter, Aguirre said.
"I was sort of flabbergasted," he said.
School Board President Richard Rodriguez said the work Aguirre and others like him do "in a way is doing a service because it keeps people on the ball."
However, in this case, while Aguirre felt violations were committed, the board does not think so, Rodriguez said.
"Apparently something was not posted on the agenda as it should have been," he said. "It was not intentional."