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Second MDUSD resident alleges Brown Act violation in contract extensions for superintendent, general counsel and three other top administrators

By Theresa Harrington
Thursday, December 27th, 2012 at 3:18 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

Last Friday the Mt. Diablo school board held a closed session meeting to discuss a “cure and correct” letter it received from district resident Wendy Lack alleging the board violated the Brown Act when it extended contracts for five top administrators. The Brown Act requires elected officials to conduct most business in public, with adequate public notice regarding matters to be discussed or decided.

Before going into the closed session, Lack read a second “cure and correct” letter from district resident Alicia Minyen, which alleged additional Brown Act violations related to contract extensions for 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.

Here’s what Minyen wrote:

“Demand to Cure and Correct Brown Act Violations that Occurred on April 23,2012

TO: Cheryl Hansen, President of the Board;

Dear Madam President:

It is my understanding that you are attempting to cure and correct any violations of the Ralph M. Brown Act (‘Brown Act’) set forth in Wendy Lack’s letter to you dated December 10, 2012, which specified, among other things, that certain Board of Trustees violated the Brown Act when they ‘took action to sign contracts extending employment of five district administrators for a period of one year’.

In addition to the possible Brown Act violations identified in Wendy Lack’s letter to you, I also identified significant Brown Act violations that occurred when certain Board of Trustees, specifically, Linda Mayo, Gary Eberhart, Sherry Whitmarsh, and Lynne Dennler, initially approved one year employment contract extensions during the Board meeting on April 23, 2012, for the following five district administrators: Steve Lawrence (Superintendent); Gregory Rolen (General Counsel); Bryan Richards (CFO); Julie Braun Martin (Assistant Superintendent – Personnel Services); and Rose Lock (Assistant Superintendent – Student Services) (collectively, ‘administrators’).

The Brown Act violations that occurred on April 23, 2012, are as follows:

- The Board prematurely extended contracts by not first obtaining and providing to the public certain written notifications from the administrators as required under their contract provision for ‘Extension of Term Employment’ (‘Extension Clause’). For example, Lawrence’s Agreement requires him to notify the Board in writing of this Extension clause to avoid termination, and once the ‘Board is property notified, the Board may determine whether to extend [his] agreement.’ At no time during the meeting of April 23, 2012, was the public provided copies of such notification. In fact, the staff report indicated Ms. Whitmarsh made the request for extension rather than the extension being initiated by a notice from an administrator. Either the required notifications do not exist, were withheld, or the Board waived this requirement and did not discuss or approve such a waiver in front of the public.

- The Board and the public were presented with incomplete employment contracts where material information regarding the terms were withheld. Specifically, Exhibit A was omitted, which must delineate the “Duties and Responsibilities” to be fulfilled by each administrator.

- Staff subsequently amended the contracts that were shown to the public on April 23, 2012, but the amendments were never scheduled on any Board of Trustee meeting during public session. This is not in compliance with the “Amendment” provision of the employment agreements. For example, the contracts state that the “amendment shall be in writing and is effective only upon the mutual consent and written approval of the [district administrator] and the Board, with the Board acting by a majority vote.”

- Lawrence’s Evaluation procedure, as set forth in his agreement under the provision “Evaluation”, was amended without such an amendment being adopted by the Board and properly noticed on the agenda. On April 23, 2012, Ms. Whitmarsh indicated that the reason for her request to extend Lawrence’s contract was because his evaluation had been conducted that same evening. However, Lawrence’s contract states that he shall be formally evaluated within 2 weeks of December 15 and receive an interim evaluation on July 15. The basis of Ms. Whitmarsh to extend Lawrence’s contract was for evaluations conducted on April 23, 2012, which is a different schedule. The adoption to amend his evaluation schedule was not properly noticed on any Board agenda.

Pursuant to that provision (Government Code Section 54960.1), I hereby demand that the MDUSD Board of Trustees cure and correct any and all Brown Act violations occuring on April 23, 2012, and at anytime subsequently, in connection with the approval to extend employment for the administrators. Please also read this letter aloud during your meeting scheduled at 4pm on December 21, 2012, as I will be unable to attend. As provided by Section 54960.1, you have 30 days from the receipt of this demand letter either to cure or correct the challenged action or inform me of your decision not to do so. Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Sincerely,
Alicia Minyen
Mt. Diablo Unified School District Resident”

Here is a link to my story about the Lack’s cure and correct letter: http://www.contracostatimes.com/twitter/ci_22196342/mt-diablo-school-board-accused-violating-brown-act

Lack’s cure and correct letter alleged that Trustee Linda Mayo and former trustees Whitmarsh and Gary Eberhart held a secret meeting to sign the contracts about seven months after they were approved.

Days after newly elected trustees Brian Lawrence and Barbara Oaks were sworn in Dec. 10, Brian Lawrence received copies of the contracts that were also signed by Trustee Lynne Dennler, but were not signed by any of the employees. This means they still had not been fully executed.

The board expects to publicly discuss the allegations and its response Jan. 14.

Do you believe the board handled the contract extensions appropriately?

[You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.]

  • Doctor J

    No, and I believe the Board will “cure and correct” the Brown Act violations.

  • Doctor J

    Did Steven Lawrence ever attend the ACSA “Superintendent’s Academy” ? If so, when. If not, why not ?

  • Theresa Harrington

    To refresh everyone’s memory about the board’s April 23 discussion surrounding the contract extensions, here’s a May 23 blog post I did that includes criticism from Brian Lawrence about the way it was handled, along with video clips from the April 23 meeting: http://www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment/2012/05/23/mdusd-superintendent-and-top-administrator-contract-extensions-revisited/

  • Theresa Harrington

    Editorial in CC Times demands internal investigation into irregular contract extensions: http://www.contracostatimes.com/editorial/ci_22275175/contra-costa-times-editorial-time-full-independent-investigation

  • g

    “Cesspool of secrecy” – so aptly put! Let’s have one tomorrow about abuses of “attorney client privilege” claims. Then one the next day about legal counsel’s ‘hidden in plain sight’ financial “conflicts of interest.”

    Or we could wrap it all up with a synopsis of the valid issues brought up in this blog in the past few years. Such an article would reveal the true depth of the swill the old board left for the new board to wade through.

  • Doctor J

    Or G, perhaps a refreshed list of “GATES” beginning with the Gang of Five GATE, ButtercupGATE, and our most recent DentGATE.

  • Wendy Lack

    @ Theresa Harrington #3:

    Thanks for posting the link, as a refresher.

    @ #4:

    Wow, the editorial board didn’t pull any punches, did they?

  • Alicia

    Theresa, Thanks for posting. I’m glad the Editorial Board also took on this matter.

  • soooo frustrated

    Interesting how people like G and Doctor J want transparency and yet they hide behind their screen names. Why not practice what you preach?

  • http://www.k12reboot.com Jim

    @9–Allow me to attempt to alleviate your frustration. The district that the CC Times editorial so aptly refers to as “a cesspool of secrecy” is a publicly funded organization with a virtual state-sanctioned monopoly on the business of educating our children. They owe us complete transparency and accountability. G and Dr J are commenting here as private citizens. Get the difference? (I know it may seem like a subtle notion, so take a moment…)

    No one on this blog owes you any private information, if the CC Times chooses to operate the blog in this manner. I’m sure there may be some in MDUSD who would like to use their privileged position to strike out at critics, but that doesn’t mean that commenters here have to make it easy for them.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Here is a belated blog recapping the Dec. 21 special meeting, with links to video clips: http://www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment/2012/12/31/mdusd-12-21-12-special-meeting/

  • Doctor J

    Ethics training AFTER the indictment ? Once the horse is out of the barn . . .But how would it look for a School Supt to take the Fifth ? MDUSD’s Monday Night at the Fights might be sold out with the two Brown Act violations ‘cure and correct’ letters being addressed publicly. Good thing that Monday Night Football is over — “stressful” is the prediction. Meanwhile, back to ethics and indictments: http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2013/jan/08/San-Ysidro-ethics-indictment-Paul/
    Expect technical difficulties to prevent the MDUSD broadcast despite Brian Lawrence’s best efforts. Brian is just not being a team player — at least not on Steven Lawrence’s team.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Brian Lawrence responded to my question about the districtwide safety plan on Twitter, saying: “Learned there isn’t one for the district but rather at individual sites. I’ll be pushing for a District wide plan.”

    Regarding the video, he tweeted this: “Yes, the recording will be archived. I may need to replace with future meetings- depends on the size of the files.”

    In this case, I’ll definitely continue to videotape portions of the meeting, since my clips are archived.

    Three trustees attended the CAC meeting. Mayo stayed for the disproportionality report, then left. Hansen arrived late and Dennler was the CAC liaison. The new board hasn’t yet received its committee assignments.