Board action ripped

Monica Rodriguez, Staff Writer
Created: 08/31/2010 10:21:14 PM PDT

A San Dimas resident contends the Pomona Unified School District board violated the state’s open-meeting law during closed-door sessions that led to placing a parcel tax on the November ballot.

Gil Aguirre told school board members in a letter dated Aug. 16 that they violated the Brown Act when they discussed and made decisions to pursue a parcel tax in closed session on several occasions between May and August.

But Pomona Unified’s attorney, Kasey Haws, said the board has not acted inappropriately.

Discussions along with “any and all action was taken in full open session,” Haws said.

Aguirre is calling for the board to take formal action and publicly announce it committed errors by going behind closed doors on six occasions in relation to the parcel tax.

He is also calling for the disclosure of discussions and actions taken along with the release to the public of meeting minutes, records and agreements related to the hiring of consultants involved in polling for the parcel tax.

“They seem to be under the false impression that they can go into closed session to discuss politically sensitive or embarrassing matters, and that’s just not the case,” Aguirre said. “Those are the very things they should be conducting in public.”

Discussion of a matter such as a parcel tax needs to take place in public in order to give residents the opportunity to provide their opinions and contribute to the public debate on such a matter, Aguirre said.

Aguirre, who describes himself as “a little bit of an open-government advocate,” said he and his family own property in various places in the region, including Pomona, and that he tries to remain abreast of what is taking place in the area.

Aguirre said he was involved in a lawsuit against Glendora about two years ago over records not being made available to the public. The suit led to changes in the handling and improvement of access to public documents, he said.

In this case, Aguirre said he would prefer to have the school board take the necessary corrective actions but is prepared to take the matter to court if it fails to do so.

“I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they do the right thing,” he said.

The matters Aguirre is highlighting are valid points, said Terry Francke, general counsel for Californians Aware,

CalAware, as the nonprofit is also known, works to support and defend open government in order for California residents to hold government and other institutions accountable.

Francke said the state’s open-meeting law doesn’t allow government bodies such as school boards to meet behind closed doors for discussions “with an attorney or anyone else on elections.”

If the school board fails to take corrective action Aguirre would have grounds for a lawsuit, he said.

Haws said a response was being e-mailed to Aguirre.

Aguirre’s letter will be on the school board’s agenda tonight. The open portion of the meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. in the district’s offices, 800 S. Garey Ave.

“We’ll go over his request point by point by point,” Haws said.

A major concern in Aguirre’s letter is “that somehow (board members) were strategizing or colluding how they were going to vote” on the parcel tax, he said.

Those in attendance at the Aug. 5 meeting saw “it was crystal clear the board was completely unscripted” in how votes were cast, Haws said. “Any and all action was taken in full open session.”

He added the information presented in open session prior to the vote was extensive.

Action related to using the services of consultants and lawyers connected to the parcel tax measure were carried out in open session as part of the Aug. 5 meeting actions, he said.

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