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MDUSD superintendent and other top administrators hired attorney to defend against Brown Act violation allegations

By Theresa Harrington
Saturday, February 16th, 2013 at 6:22 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

In response to a Public Records Act request by the Contra Costa Times’ editorial department, the Mt. Diablo school district recently released a letter from the law firm Gagen McCoy that disputed the Brown Act violation allegations raised by Wendy Lack and Alicia Minyen.

Here is the letter: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B3cLD5zizbLtR0JuTFBjQTc3dGs/edit

Here are the Cure and Correct letters from Lack and Minyen: http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us/public_itemview.aspx?ItemId=6231&mtgId=394

Although the Gagen McCoy letter disputes the Brown Act violation allegations, it fails to address the fact that the revised contracts signed by four board members did not take into account the legal questions raised by Lack with regard to AB1344 or board bylaws, which were discussed by Board President Cheryl Hansen at the Jan. 18 meeting. It also fails to address substantive changes made to the contracts without board approval for Superintendent Steven Lawrence and CFO Bryan Richards.

The board agreed in a 4-1 vote that the contract extensions were valid and it was not necessary to cure or correct the April 23 board action. However, trustees also agreed to seek advice from outside legal counsel regarding possible deficiencies in the contract language.

That contract language is expected be addressed Feb. 25 by another outside attorney: http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us/public_itemview.aspx?ItemId=6269&mtgId=371.

Do you agree with the arguments made in the Gagen McCoy letter?

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  • Doctor J

    The BIG5 going to sue the district ? Ha ha. Who would hire them next ? AB 1344 prevented those contracts from being extended as written which is why Greg Rolen delayed revising the agreements. Let them sue — time to post notices of vacancies and start the hiring process.

  • Doctor J

    Greg McCoy refers to “Steve” Lawrence — they are Rotary brothers. Don’t get too worked up about this letter. What everyone should be worked up about is that the Supt would conspire with four others to sue the district. http://www.gagenmccoy.com/attorneys/gregory-l-mccoy

  • g

    I’m glad good ol’ buddy Greg McCoy got to see all those minutes from 4/23; the people’s records certainly don’t show them. Now they are public record without having to pay with your first-born to get copies. Thanks Theresa!

    Noticed also that he incorrectly spoke of the “original” contracts as expiring 2014, when in fact it was 2013, and he even based a good piece of his opinion on that incorrect date. And here I thought putting wrong dates on contracts were Rolen’s area of expertise.

    And, could someone explain to me why his learned opinion (including his attempt to invoke estoppel–ha ha) was directed to Ms. Brown, and NOT the board.

    Was Ms. Brown engaged to represent the board in ‘revoking’ the 4/23 vote? I don’t think so! And her presentation on 1/14 certainly didn’t sound like it — she was engaged just to give a presentation on Brown Act and opinion on the Cure & Corrects–right?

    Makes you wonder, if McCoy’s faxed 1/17 letter was intended to negatively influence the opinion of our attorney who was engaged to come back the next day, 1/18 to complete her study, doesn’t it?

    Dr. J: You are spot on about the five hooking elbows to get McCoy to sing their tra-la-la. But they didn’t actually sue. They just got someone to echo a Rolen thought-piece — errors and all.

    So, Theresa–did Ms. Brown reply to Mr. McCoy????

  • Hell Freezing Over

    If “they” hired this lawyer, are “they” paying for the service, or is the “district” (us, the public) paying?

  • Doctor J

    Don’t each of the BIG5 have different interests ? Doesn’t that create a “conflict of interest” with the attorneys ? What if the Board wants to extend 1 or 2 of the contracts and not the others ? How could the attorneys agree to some, but not all ? Hello State Bar.

  • g

    No. What they have in common is that their only interest is their paycheck. Everything they do comes right back down to that as their only motivation.

    HFO: They may write the check, but they’ll take it out of our hide over the next 16 months.

  • vindex

    Shameful. The saga continues. We must fire Rolen and Lawerence to turn the page. WE MUST DO A BETTER JOB WITH OUR NEW HIRE. McHenry was strike one. Lawerence is strike two. We must do a better job at looking at the character of the individual and not just how many letters they have after or before their name. Rolen is one of the worst individuals I have ever heard about, and he should have been fired yesterday. Lawerence is also a very interesting individual, though not on par with Rolen. Locke is a good lady.

  • Alicia

    This is a off topic, but important. For those employees whose social security number was on Richard’s stolen laptop, you should also be on the look out for Tax Fraud where false filings are made under your name and social security# to the IRS to seek refund claims. This type of fraud would not be detected on your credit report. Please see the article below addressing this type of tax fraud that is occurring nation wide on a rampant scale:

    http://news.yahoo.com/florida-hit-tsunami-tax-identity-fraud-122604383–finance.html

  • Theresa Harrington

    Thanks, Alicia.

    In case you missed it, here’s a column by Tom Barnidge profiling Wendy Lack:
    http://www.contracostatimes.com/twitter/ci_22584848/barnidge-her-hobby-is-holding-public-officials-accountable

  • Doctor J

    @TH#9 Wendy knows how government works and how it doesn’t. Thankfully she just wants the truth told — which also is my mission.

  • Wendy Lack

    @DJ #10:

    Truth has been defined as recognition of reality. I adhere to this definition and am a seeker of truth accordingly.

    It has been said that you can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality.

    I believe that the truth always triumphs. Reality cannot be denied, no matter what’s popular or in vogue.

    There is such a thing as absolute truth. It’s called reality.

  • Teacher

    People thought the district would be better by getting rid of Gary McHenry and the prople who worked with him. I long for the good old days!

  • Alicia

    @9 & Wendy…Great article! We need more public watchdogs like Wendy.

  • Wendy Lack

    My recent blog article about East Bay schools/job training was picked up by the WatchDogWire.com website: http://bit.ly/Y4OuAN

    Just sharing this because it’s one of the newer sites designed to be developed by and for local government watchdog types. Readers of this blog may be interested in reading and/or submitting articles on a whole range of topics, including education.

    (Theresa, hope you don’t mind use of this space to make a plug! But it’s for a good cause since the WatchDogWire.com site promotes good governance, efficiency, transparency, etc. — all the things that interest readers of this blog.)

  • Theresa Harrington

    Wendy, No, I don’t mind. Thanks for the info!

  • Theresa Harrington

    For those who have been asking to see the superintendent’s priority performance goals in writing, here they are: http://www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment/2013/02/19/mdusd-board-identifies-priority-performance-targets-for-superintendent/

  • Doctor J

    I have been pondering the BIG5 contract extensions set to go to the Board on Monday and their powerplay to jointly hire Steve’s Rotary brother as their collective attorney. The only way to effectively combat that powerplay is to consider the contract extensions individually which then gives the Board the option to approve some and disapprove others. It will be very interesting to watch Linda Mayo since she tried last April to have Greg Rolen’s contract not extended. One last tidbit — Greg McCoy, their attorney, was a school board trustee in San Ramon Valley Unified from 1977-1985 but I don’t think he does much education law.

  • Theresa Harrington

    The board already agreed in a 4-1 vote that the contract extensions through June, 2014 were valid. So, I don’t anticipate anyone trying to revoke them on vote on them individually.

    The action on Monday is merely to clean up the contract language.

  • Doctor J

    AB1344 made a simple extension impossible which is all the Board on April 23 authorized. Depending on the language changes it might be open for debate.

  • Wait a Minute

    God I hope so Dr J.

    I can’t imagine squaundering this opportunity to be rid of this cancer and have the ability to hire new managment that is both ethical and competent.

    If they allow themselves to be intimidated by Rolen’s lawyer friends and squander chance then it will be both costly and delay any chances of real and positive change for another year plus.

  • Doctor J

    There may be hope on the horizon — capping a Supt’s severance pay to 3 months. http://www.montereyherald.com/ci_22566310/superintendent-severance-pay-cap-legislation-introduced?source=rss_viewed

  • g

    Monterey (MPUSD) would be a perfectly sized school district for Steven Lawrence—and they’re searching….

  • g

    Which reminds me…did we EVER find out if Mildred Browne is receiving pay through the end of her contract—even though she is “on personal leave?”

  • Doctor J

    I don’t recall any public Board action on Mildred Browne. And while I am at it, where is the FCMAT report on Special Ed ? Both the first version and the final version ?

  • Doctor J

    Theresa, I sure hope you get your Brown Act video technical difficulties ironed out — am anxious to hear what the Board was told and what their questions were.

  • Theresa Harrington

    I keep getting an error message, but I’m hoping it will upload when I get to work tomorrow. If not, I took notes and can let you know what the questions were. The most interesting thing to me was that the board can collectively decide to waive its closed sesssion exclusion if it decides it is in the public’s best interest to release closed session or attorney-client privilege documents. Also, the board is supposed to report out settlements after they have been ratified. I don’t think the board currently does this.

  • Doctor J

    From the one video you posted of the Public Records Act, that atttorney from Sacramento of FFF seemed very knowledgeable.

  • Doctor J

    I hope you do blogs on all three of the major issues: Brown Act, Public Records Act and the Strategic Plan — the latter being the hardest to understand who was talking and what was being said — no fault of yours, it was just the venue.

  • g

    I suspect Rolen kind of thought of FFF as ‘his’ team, and wonder (if he’s still around next year) will they be brought forward again for renewal with the other legal teams? Rolen/Pedersen already (pretending it was a new idea and new need) replaced their duties as Measure C counsel with Mr. Henderson from Orbach Huff & Suarez. I figured that was because FFF might not have wanted to go along with all of the no real bid Lease/Leaseback bs.

    Which reminds me. We just added Orbach as a new outside counsel in Oct for measure C. WHY does Rolen want to give them “another” contract tomorrow?

  • Doctor J

    Rolen is like the dealer at the Blackjack table — he’s just dealing the cards. I wonder if his paycards reflect the time he was in court the last couple of months on personal business or if he actually took Personal Necessity days. Now that would be a good Public Records Act request Theresa, because you can match the court records with his time.

  • Doctor J

    Its nice to see the Brentwood school Board hold the Superintendent accountable and fire him. http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_22659638/brentwood-school-board-decide-fate-superintendent-wednesday.html

  • Giorgio C.

    Speaking of Brown Act violations, I’m having to prod my elementary school to comply by posting the agenda 72 hours ahead of time for the School Site Council meetings. I wasn’t able to obtain an agenda until the day of the meeting.

    The SSC meeting is a great vehicle for parent-community involvement and oversight of each and every school, so it should be used to its fullest capacity.

  • Theresa Harrington

    At the retreat, I was switching back and forth between my flip cam and smart phone, due to storage issues. So, there are five video clips from the retreat at http://qik.com/tharrington, including one from the morning session about the Public Records Act and four from the strategic plan discussion.

  • Doctor J

    LOL. And typing notes at the same time !! It was a little hard to see, but I thought Steven Lawrence said his “cabinet” was there in the afternoon. I noticed that I didn’t see Rose Lock. Was there any discussion about not including the public in the discussion about the cabinet’s proposed changes ?

  • Wendy Lack

    @ DJ #34: Rose Lock was in attendance during the afternoon session.

  • Theresa Harrington

    As Wendy pointed out, Rose Lock was there.
    Unfortunately, by the end of the strategic plan discussion, both my flip cam and smart phone were full, so I was unable to record the conclusion.
    Yes, Hansen pointed out that staff had essentially rewritten the strategic plan with no public input. Susan Petersen and others appeared to be surprised by this comment. Superintendent Steven Lawrence said the cabinet was merely trying to condense it and reduce repetition and try to prioritize it. He also said the public could have commented on it at the retreat.
    All of the board members seemed to appreciate the revisions, for the most part. Hansen said the revised version should be brought back to the board first as an information item for public comment, then to another meeting for adoption.
    Trustees suggested a few changes, which I hope to outline in a separate blog post.

  • Wendy Lack

    . . . at least the first part of the afternoon session, that is.

  • Theresa Harrington

    In looking at my video (which I am again trying to post to YouTube.com/tunedtotheresa), it appears that Lock remained throughout the afternoon.

  • Doctor J

    @TH#36 Staff surprised that the definition of a Strategic Plan is to have ALL stakeholders, including the public, involved in its preparation ? Were any of the union leaders involved in the plan revision ? Did Susan Petersen explain why she was surprised by this comment ? This goes right back to the discussion I had with Lorie O’Brien about public input. The real problem in MDUSD is they don’t want any public input in the development of the plan — they are aristocrats. This is why Steven Lawrence liked all these secret committees — he hates real public input. Remember the secret vote conducted by Rose Lock ?

  • Theresa Harrington

    Petersen didn’t say she was surprised, I just observed that she looked surprised. It appeared that staff thought they were doing the board a big favor by cleaning up the strategic plan and prioritizing it for them. And, as I said, trustees also appeared to want to embrace most of the revisions. But, Hansen was the one who made the point that the public would need to be involved.
    Are you talking about the school closure vote? Yes, she also told me the school closure committee was uncomfortable speaking frankly when the press was there. But that is the point. These committees are making very important decisions that could affect thousands of students in the district. They need to be accountable.
    The Bay Point Master Plan committee is ostensibly formulating recommendations about school configurations in Bay Point and possibly plans for a new school. But, since the agendas and minutes aren’t being made public, no one really knows what they are doing.
    The Graduation Requirements Committee is ostensibly looking at increasing graduation requirements. But, no one will really know how they are coming up with their ideas until they are presented to the board at sometime in the future.
    The Technology Committee is apparently deciding how to spend about $12 million in Measure C money on school technology. But, again, no one will know what they are looking at until they bring their recommendations to the board.
    If the district wants to include parents more, then it should be letting ALL parents know about these committees and inviting them to participate BEFORE the recommendations are solidified.

  • Wendy Lack

    @TH #36

    In my opinion the staff did an effective job of putting meat on the bones of the Board’s draft plan adopted last fall. I found it refreshing to hear the staff presentation and dialogue about their respective areas of expertise.

    That’s not to say that I agree with all that I heard or that the draft staff document is complete IMHO. (Indeed, some portions should be revised to reflect the discussion, e.g., re the need to build trust.) But it certainly was a productive exchange and the Board appeared to benefit from it.

    And — a side note — it certainly was nice to have this conversation taking place during daylight hours, rather than in the Board meeting setting when everyone is tired at the end of a long work day. Granted, it’s rough to give up a Saturday — but it is good to do once in a while.

    I was frustrated by the Board comments re what I consider form over substance about the documents themselves. Though I understand the PR sensitivities given the District’s current position under the microscope, getting overly hung-up about the documents seems like a waste of energy.

    Let’s hope a blueprint for the future can be adopted without unnecessary process. With apologies to Nike, let’s “Just Do It” already. The endless focus on process is soul-sucking, mind-numbing, distracting.

    Ultimately I’d like to see 3-5 action areas identified for Board focus in the short-term. The Board would monitor progress on these items on a frequent basis using appropriate methods (qualitative and qualitative, objective and anecdotal). These would be congruent with the longer, more detailed planning document that staff has prepared and, in most cases, is already using.

    It would be a happy thing if the snappy catch phrases and jargon were eliminated from these kinds of documents — but I suppose that’s too much to ask since these terms have become standard fixtures in the organizational vocab via past staff trainings, etc. It’s just annoying — and an obstacle to clear communication with those new or from outside the organization. But this is a relatively small matter that, perhaps, could be mitigated by incorporating embedded links to relevant source docs, where appropriate, into the online version.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Wendy: I agree that the discussion was refreshing and it was clear that the trustees appreciated the opportunity to discuss the plan with staff. I also understand what you’re saying about just doing it and not getting hung up on process.
    But, the problem here is that the board never directed staff to rewrite the strategic plan. Apparently, the superintendent directed his cabinet to do that.
    And while everyone appears to be pretty happy with the result, the public does need an opportunity to weigh in.
    Although staff verbally explained how what they wrote correlated to the adopted plan, it would be helpful if the superintendent prepared a staff report that outlined the changes in writing. Then, it would be clear to the public that the plan is essentially the same. Without such a written staff report, some people might be left wondering what was added, what was deleted and what was changed.
    And if you have suggestions about eliminating or defining edu-jargon, you can make suggestions about that before the revised plan is set in stone.
    As you say, district staff needs to embrace the idea of building trust through transparency. One way to do that is to create more comprehensive staff reports than it is accustomed to preparing, instead of hoping that a quick PowerPoint and verbal report will suffice.

  • Doctor J

    @TH#40 Yes, the school closure vote. I agree with you on the secret committees. Government, and the school district is government, is supposed to be open. I will bet the Bay Point Master Plan committee is getting hemroids over the Governor’s school finance reforms when it realizes that the MDUSD Bay Point ADA will be about $2000 less per student that Pittsburg’s. One good example of getting the public involved in the Technology Committee is there are many public members who have tremendous expertise and could be very valuable in helping plan for the future. Some of them probably know what is coming down the road and most of the technology today was developed several years ago.

  • Wendy Lack

    Re: #39 & #40

    The District’s current web of committees doesn’t appear to be meeting needs. Apparently people don’t feel their interests are represented in decison making. The current communication mechanisms aren’t working — if they were, these complaints would taper off and this blog would be less active.

    It’s a fact of life that, in the eyes of others, we are remembered for our last, worst act. While we don’t think of ourselves that way, others do.

    So it is that the District’s reputation is itself an obstacle to positive change. Once an organization gets a reputation for something — such as top-down authoritarian decisionmaking or lax enforcement of policies or deception/secrecy — it sticks. A bad reputation can become a magnet for criticism, deserved or not.

    Many years of concentrated effort, usually combined with a change in leadership, is necessary in order to slowly turn things around. Rehab of an organization’s reputation takes at least ~10 years of consistent, focused effort.

    Arguably building trust (internally and externally) should be the Board’s #1 goal.

  • Doctor J

    Wendy, the District needs to have a tab on its website with a list of the committees, invite membership, and post agendas and minutes. Personally, I believe staff is afraid of the public interfering with their plans.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Dr. J: Actually, Joe Estrada blamed the website and said no one knows how to add the kinds of tabs you are talking about. He said the district needs to decide if it wants to stick with the current system or get a new one. If it wants to stick with the current system, he suggested hiring someone part-time to add committee tabs, get rid of outdated information and make the site more user-friendly.
    I hope the district also improves the Measure C site so that each web page has its own URL. Now, it’s impossible to link to specific pages on the site, because they all share the same general URL.

  • Wendy Lack

    @TH #42:

    Yes, it appears this plan revision process got the cart before the horse. The “staff version” came out of left field, leaving some feeling blind-sided. Rookie mistake.

    Yes, the lack of complete staff reports is a chronic problem. Again, not a new issue and a rookie mistake.

    We’re talking about perceptions. The District is a good case study in what not to do to gain the faith and confidence of employees and customers.

    For example: A bank will not succeed if it fails to issue accurate bank statements to customers. It doesn’t matter what else the bank does well — it’s still viewed as a failure if it cannot perform on fundamentals.

    This is the position that the District finds itself in. Until the fundamentals are done reliably well, the organization is viewed as a categorical failure. This may not be fair, but it is true.

    Oh, and in case there’s any doubt: Keeping confidential employee records safe, consulting with stakeholders regarding decisions and providing good quality information to the Board/public before meetings are fundamentals . . . in addition to many other responsibilities of school districts.

  • Doctor J

    @#46 I thought it added a couple of tabs in the last couple of years ? Maybe I am wrong. Who developed the website ? There must be a record someplace. Developing a website is just not that expensive compared to some of the consultants that are hired.

  • Doctor J

    Wendy#47 I will hit the “like” button. Well said.

  • Doctor J

    Wendy #47, Actually let me take that back. :-) I wouldn’t call it a “rookie” mistake — its Steven Lawrence’s attempt to control the Board and pre-empt the discussion. The irony is that the cabinet should have been involved in the initial preparation but Lawrence did everything he could to avoid the Strategic Plan and delay it.