Part of the Bay Area News Group

Mt. Diablo school district misplaces hundreds of legally required public documents

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, March 22nd, 2013 at 7:10 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

Beat reporters are encouraged to routinely request public documents about the employees of public agencies we cover, such as Form 700s — Statements of Economic Interest.

Since it had been a few years since I had done this, I recently requested these public documents for every Mt. Diablo school district trustee, as well as Superintendent Steven Lawrence, General Counsel Greg Rolen, Chief Financial Officer Bryan Richards and assistant superintendents Rose Lock and Julie Braun-Martin. I asked to see the forms for this year and prior years, since the trustees were elected and the administrators were hired or promoted into their current positions.

The board expects to vote Monday on amended contract extensions for the five top administrators.

Although these Statements of Economic Interest are legally required to be kept on file for public review, I was told when I called about them that I needed to file a Public Records Act request. I complied on March 15, but included a paragraph saying I didn’t believe it was necessary to file a formal request for documents that are supposed to be available for routine public inspection.

On Monday morning, I received a voice-mail message from Richards saying that the forms for this year and last year were available for review, but that those from previous years had been “archived,” which is why he wanted a Public Records Act request. I sent an e-mail saying that I had already submitted a formal request for the older documents, but would visit the district office Tuesday to view the more recent forms.

When I arrived, Richards’ secretary showed me two very well-organized files containing the forms for 2011-12 and 2012-13, which she had compiled. But, she very apologetically explained that records from prior years did not appear to be well-organized and she was unsure where the missing documents were located, since she had not worked in that department when they were collected.

As I was going through the forms from 2012-13, I noted that General Counsel Greg Rolen’s form was checked off on the list, yet was missing. In addition, forms for former trustees Gary Eberhart and Sherry Whitmarsh — who were overseeing district affairs through Dec. 10, 2012 — were not included.

When I pointed out the missing documents to Richards’ secretary, she called Rolen’s secretary to ask for his form. Rolen’s secretary then provided a form dated March 17, two days after he had received my Public Records Act request.

While I was there, attorney Deb Cooksey told me she would be handling my Public Records Act request for the older documents, but she wasn’t sure where they were. She promised to search various locations, including other buildings where files may have been moved.

Since the district sends the forms to the county, I later suggested to Cooksey in an e-mail that she might be able to save time by simply requesting the forms from the county. She agreed to this idea.

In the meantime, it may be faster for me to request the forms directly from the county myself.

Do you think the Mt. Diablo school district responds adequately to requests for public records?

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

  • Anon

    Obviously no. They don’t even know where the files are. Disgrace. Well done Theresa bringing this to the publics attention.

  • Hell Freezing Over

    Who in the district is responsible for ensuring the Form 700s are completed by the appropriate individuals when due, turned in on time and filed for public easy access/review?

    How hard is it to keep a log of who must file, with dates showing when compliance had been requested and whether the form has been completed and turned in?

    How hard is it to manage the storage of a box of paper files marked with dates and contents in a secure place that allows easy access by staff to retrieve when requested by the public, as is legally required?

    From the other thread, at least one person employed by the district has been asked several times to comply and repeatedly refused. What is the consequence of refusing to comply?

    If the person(s) responsible don’t do their job of ensuring the forms are completed, filed and stored for easy access by staff and public viewing – there is no consequence. Until someone asks to see the forms, and when they can’t be produced, files a complaint.

    And what is the consequence if the two former board members as of this past Nov 2012 – don’t comply and provide their 2012 Form 700s?

    If the district can’t handle the Form 700s compliance and retention appropriately, what other documentation has gone “missing” or not made available upon request?

    FCMAT reports the public paid for?
    Polls used to determine a new Measure that slammed solar panels onto sites at record breaking speed?
    Financial documents requested by one of the board approved over-site committee members?
    Emails and contract amendments for 5 top staff without proper dates and signatures?
    Emails and new contracts to hire more legal assistance / firms without details of what these firms will do for the district?
    Emails and new contracts, and several change orders for the hire and retention of district-wide translation services?
    Police reports and video from security cameras after the theft do the CFOs assigned laptop that was left unattended, not secured and not encrypted resulting in thousands of current and former staff social security numbers to be accessible?

    The list is seemingly endless.

  • Wendy Lack

    Here’s a link to the FPPC’s Form 700 information page.

    http://www.fppc.ca.gov/index.php?id=500/

    What little I know about Form 700s is based upon my first hand experience as a local government employee required to file this form on a regular basis.

    The Form 700 filing rules are straightforward, but do require careful consideration to determine the scope of the disclosure required for each individual role in an organization. As with all things government-related, the many pages of paperwork take some doing to wade through and fully understand. (Click on the link above and you’ll see what I mean.) That’s why organizations designate a staff person to become knowledgeable about the forms, in order to assist staff, elected officials and selected volunteers (e.g., members of a Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee) in meeting filing requirements.

    The Form 700 conflict-of-interest reporting is done under penalty of perjury. It is up to the public to examine the information and report suspected misstatements, errors, omissions, etc. Enforcement is done on an exception basis, in response to complaints. There are penalties for making false statements, but the harshest penalties are in the “court of public opinion.” This is why it’s so critically important that these forms be available for public review at all times.

    While the filing obligation is the individual responsibility of each filer (as are the penalties), in cities the City Clerk is tasked with managing the paperwork, helping employees to complete the correct forms suitable to their “disclosure category,” ensuring the forms are available for public review at all times, etc. In other public agencies this is handled by a Clerk of the Board or some similar role.

    I’m unsure what is the equivalent to a “City Clerk” role in schools, but surely there is a standard practice used by California’s nearly 1,000 public school districts.

    As is often the case with FPPC rules, it’s my guess that it’s seldom necessary for the FPPC to assess fines and penalties. Elected and other public officials comply because it’s required — and compliance is achieved because most individuals and organizations make an effort to comply with the law.

    Thus, in practice, the most effective “penalty for non-compliance” is the threat of embarrassment and discredit to the individual (and, to a lesser extent, the organization).

    Failing to make these filings accurately and timely can bring public humiliation that can be a real political-career-killer for Elected Officials. If a public agency reports to the FPPC that an individual left office without completing a “leaving office statement” (final report while in office), then the FPPC would have an enforcement role to play. I’m unsure whose obligation it is to report such incidents to the FPPC, but I imagine the agency is obligated to do so within certain time frames.

    Due to the public humiliation factor, presumably non-compliance doesn’t occur with individuals who plan to pursue future political or professional careers in the field, since inability to perform on “fundamentals” doesn’t look so hot on a resume. Failure to file as the law requires suggests, at best, an inability to meet one’s personal obligations and job responsibilities or, at worst, the presence of an unreported conflict of interest.

  • Doctor J

    Form700GATE does not bode well for the BIG5 and contract extensions on Monday. Did you see on the Agenda a “second” closed session at the end of the meeting for public employee discipline/dismissal ? Should be a hot time in the old town on Monday night.

  • Hell Freezing Over

    Wendy #4 – thanks for the information. That is good knowledge for the public to have, and is a great example of how we, the public, can hold the district accountable and responsible.

    Also, as TH pointed out in her post, the CFOs secretary is doing a good job of keeping the forms filed, secured yet accessible for the public to view. The fact that forms are missing from individuals for 2010 thru 2012/13 is NOT her responsibility to enforce compliance. That is the responsibility of the CFO in this case it appears as her manager.

    The fact that ALL forms prior to 2010 are “missing”, and not one person at Dent knows where the boxes of forms are, is simply incredible! When the current secretary was tasked with receiving, logging and filing these forms, I hope she made it clear to her manager – the CFO – that there was no transition of this duty & process from the person who was responsible before her. How else could ALL Form 700s prior to 2010 are missing?

    It may seem small to some, but the district has a legal responsibility in regards to the forms. The seemingly lackadaisical manner in which this legal responsibility is handled reflects on the entire district, and our Board. I hope we hear soon that the missing forms have been found, the individuals who were required by law to complete and file the forms have done so, and the process to handle these legal forms has been re-evaluated and cleaned up so this type of disregard for legal responsibity and process doesn’t happen again.

  • Doctor J

    One would think there would be an army of people at Dent today searching every nook and cranny — or maybe even calling the prior employee to see if she could give some guidance. Instead, its just a “I don’t care” attitude. Over a 100 forms for every year. Ultimately, the Supt Steven Lawrence is to be held accountable — his management skills are non-existant. I think when they get copies from the county, they will find many are MIA. We need the FPPC to swoop down with search warrants to uncover the ugly truth.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Actually, the forms are missing from 2011 and earlier. The secretary only has them from March 2013 and 2012, which correspond to the 2012-13 and 2011-12 school years. Also, after I pointed out that Pete Pedersen hadn’t filed his forms, he filed them. As Wendy points out, trustees and employees are supposed to file exit forms when they leave. But, it appears that is not done in MDUSD.

  • g

    Well, since it’s been 10 days since Theresa asked for the files; a) the negligent parties have all had plenty of time to fake some dates and catch up with the requirement and request.

    Also–My guess is it was the job of the Asst. Supt. Administration Services who was in charge of requesting, receiving and oversight of the forms. When that job belonged to a real administrator, Dr. Nicoll, files were ready when requested.

    When that job went to Pedersen, forms were not requested, or files disappeared. The question is Why?

  • Doctor J

    Obeying the law is not a strong suit of MDUSD. Who is enforcing the law ?

  • Theresa Harrington

    G: You are correct that the assistant superintendent of administrative services used to be responsible for this. But, when that position was eliminated and his secretary retired, the handoff of forms does not seem to have been done in any sort of methodical way.

  • g

    I don’t know about everyone else, but I can’t remember a single time in my working life that I filed a form, signed a document directly relating to me or wrote a letter that I didn’t keep a copy for my own personal files.

    It seems to me that CYA has always been one of the first things taught in any business course.

  • g

    Theresa #10; that is why I suggested the older files were probably moved to Holbrook.

  • Wendy Lack

    FYI:

    This article by Roger Lowenstein in today’s Wall St. Journal is “behind the wall” (not available online to non-subscribers) – but available on the newsstands. It’s titled, “The Choice: To Squawk or to Go?” It’s highly recommended for those seeking a better understanding of dissent in organizations and customer dissatisfaction.

    Link to title info: http://on.wsj.com/YlRPAB

  • Giorgio C.

    Dr. J#10,
    Who is enforcing the law? Theresa, can you write a piece on enforcement of school districts? I look at this org chart, and I can’t tell, but there are some “investigations” and “compliance” staff.
    http://www.cde.ca.gov/re/di/or/documents/orgchartoverview.pdf

    When I contacted Dept of Ed about violations regarding the SARC documents, they told me no one was available to enforce the law. I spoke to the following individual.

    Dana Kertel
    SARC Team
    916-319-0406

    Grand Jury is not really an enforcement entity, but does forward some matters to the County DA. The Bureau of State Audits does not oversee school districts. WASC does not oversee school districts, either.

    Theresa, has anyone else called for the establishing of an Office of Inspector General for CC County school districts? If not, perhaps the time has come. Here’s an article about the US Office of Ed Inspector General acquiring Remington 12 gauge shotguns for their enforcement purposes for violations probably more serious than incomplete SARC documents.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/blogpost/post/education-department-swat-team-raids-california-home/2011/06/08/AGUxlKMH_blog.html

  • g

    Ya gotta love the Summary description on item 16.16 for Monday’s meeting. Title 1, Board Policy; another little “Ooops, we dropped the ball, and couldn’t find it for two years.

  • Theresa Harrington

    g: Good point about making a copy of your own forms. Ironically, although forms from two years ago were missing, the secretary was able to produce the 1992 forms from the fiscal director at that time, who made a copy for her own files.

  • Doctor J

    What will Steven Lawrence answer on Monday night ? Who is responsible for ensuring commpliance with Form 700 filings ? Possible answers: 1) I don’tknow 2) Bryan Richards but I never followed up with him 3) I am, but never got around to it. Whatever his answer is, constitutes termination for cause immediately. We will see three terminations for CAUSE on Monday: Steven Lawrence, Greg Rolen and Bryan Richards.

  • Wait a Minute

    Dr J @17,

    God I hope so for the good of the long-suffering children, staffs and taxpayers.

    I’m sure that there is more than sufficient cause already known and after they leave and a more thorough investigation conducted this should uncover all the details and make it airtight.

    So, there is the facts to support termination for cause.

    Is there the will?

  • Doctor J

    What excuse could Steven Lawrence offer that will save his job ?

  • Wait a Minute

    Rolen, S Lawrence, Richards have so relied on a well oiled (by public money/jobs) web of influence by scratching each others backs and giving each other and their friends favors.

    The million dollar question on whether this saves them or cushions their fall from the public trough somewhat is really going to be how Brian Lawrence votes.

  • Hell Freezing Over

    G #15 – it just keeps getting more and more incredible …

  • anon

    Employees throughout the district are counting on Brian Lawrence to vote no on renewing contracts for Rolen, Lawrence, and Richards. Bargaining units are angry about the misuse of funds; they won’t trust any offer the district makes because of the numerous incidents of secrecy and lies.

  • g

    The fault started with the hiring of both Lawrence and Richards–both were jumping way out of their league –into a district much too large and diverse for their experience level.

    They’ve had well over three years to learn what it takes to do the job—more time than is given for a medical intern to become a brain surgeon.

    They need to give up and look at going back to much less demanding jobs. Although I do give Richards credit for doing a good deal of clean-up on his department’s portion of the website.

    Rolen—there just is no excuse for him.

  • Mika

    These HIGHLY paid admistrators, lawyers, CFO, and admin staff are not giving us taxpayers the services they are paid to do. This is getting to be ridiculous, one “Gate” after another. What a bunch of clowns. The board will do a huge disservice to the students, their families and the hardworking staff at the school sites if they allow this crap to continue.

  • Chewacca

    Theresa,
    Remember what Sarah Palin did for Tina Faye’s rise in stardom? You found your Palin!
    Aren’t you glad you have Stevie and Rolan to hold their feet to the fire? If they stick around you could get your own TV show.
    I’ld love for the Times to recognize the true journalism tract you are taking. The pen is mightier then the sword…. Now it’s time for the board to act on all the atrocities you have brought to light.
    My kids are in the Charter school, so I really shouldn’t care, but I do. I hate to see the district getting screwed by this festering scab of “leadership” feeding off the public trough.
    Only saving grace is Hanson on the board. Without her, watch all the schools succeed from the district within a few years. Hard to beat her class act and integrity.
    Now we need the rest of the board to stand up for what is right as well.

  • Anon

    Question…..did Dr. Mills contract get extended or is it still just a 1 year? I am so confused if she is here for many years or just while brown is out on leave?

  • g

    Mills got about a 9month ‘interim’ contract due to be reviewed (soon) and renewed with a hefty raise as of July 1.

    Stay tuned in for the ‘second closed session’ Monday night!

    The Brown Act requires bodies to “publicly report any action taken in closed session AND the vote or abstention on that action of every member present,” specifying particular procedures based on the justification for the closed session. Gov’t Code § 54957.1(a). For closed sessions authorized for personnel decisions, the Brown Act provides that “action taken to appoint, employ, dismiss, accept the resignation of, or otherwise affect the employment status of a public employee in closed session pursuant to Section 54957 shall be reported at the public meeting during which the closed session is held. Any report required by this paragraph shall identify the title of the position.”

    The old board skipped this little tidbit when they gave Browne a new title AND a leave with pay.

  • Doctor J

    Why hasn’t the original July 26 FCMAT report on Special Ed been released so we can see what was withheld from the Board when they voted at the end of August on Kerri Mills contract ?

  • anon

    why is special education in mdusd in such disarray? just look at the lack of leadership and knowledge…students who should be placed in the correct programs are waiting on the sidelines because the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. why can’t some of the students who really need particular classes and programs get into them,,,politics, who one knows.

  • Doctor J

    @Anon#28 Is there anything in MDUSD that is not in disarray ? Its lack of leadership. A new broom sweeps clean.

  • Anon

    Special Ed was starting to run a bit better now we have the slash and burn tactics of dr mills. In my opinion dr mills needs to go too. We need quality efficient people who care about the kids in place.

  • Anon

    Are they going to talk about fcmat at the meeting? Perhaps I missed it on the agenda.

  • Theresa Harrington

    No, surprisingly, the special ed FCMAT recommendations are not on Monday’s agenda. But the strategic plan is.

  • g

    I believe SpEd plans are a done deal in Lawrence’s mind—and Dr. Mills will do as she’s told.

    At Santa Barbara she was brought in specifically to slash & burn per their newly revised SpEd plans—and she carried out her orders.

    I think her many years of overall SpEd dedication and experience could allow her to be a very good SpEd leader who would work ‘for the kids’ and stay closely within a reasonable budget~~IF she weren’t hampered by a smoke-jumper Superintendent being led around by a fire-breathing General Counsel.

  • Hell Freezing Over

    Anon #31 – can you elaborate on the “slash and burn”?

  • Giorgio C.

    Has any requested to see their document control SOP? Do they not have an overall Quality Assurance program-manual, including a procedure for record retention, storage, version control, etc.? Every business and government agency has such.

  • g

    Georgio: You may have missed Anon 29′s comment. This is MDUSD, remember.

    Department piled upon department–the left hand does not know what the right hand is even supposed to be doing!

    The lawyer handles busing, the accountant handles legal compliance, etc. etc….

  • Anon

    She was brought here to cut, cut, cut. That is all she does. This is what she did in Santa Barbara. I spoke to some special Ed parents in Santa Barbara when we got her and they said sorry. She left the special Ed department way worse then when she got there. I think most can agree that there are ways to work together to get the kids what they need and maintain a decent budget. The fact that special Ed encroaches on the general funds will always happen because it costs more to educate special Ed students. She is cutting programs and it is taking more than 6 months to get kids placed properly. Perhaps this is Lawrence giving direction but I don’t think so. In the past we were able to find solutions to placement and now no.
    I think we all know that she was brought in to cut and then she will be gone and we will be left with cleaning up the mess.

  • g

    It is worth noting that Kerri Mills’ contract given on 8/27/12 ALSO says, under Duties and Responsibilities:

    “Such duties and responsibilities, as amended from time to time, shall be attached to this Agreement as Exhibit A.”

    But, (of course) there was no Exhibit A attached.

  • Hell Freezing Over

    G#39

    Maybe it’s time to ask for a copy of Dr. Mills’ job description and responsibilities.

    The contract presented on the 08/27/12 agenda of course contained no such data, as it appears from the verbiage in the contract that the job description and responsibilities were still to be written and approved; and as you pointed out there was no attachment A detailing the job at that time.

  • Doctor J

    Remember that Kerri Mills husband is a former school district superintendent — he knows the drill. She follows orders.

  • Doctor J

    @G#39 The whole system is corrupt when the “complete” contract is not attached. How could the Asst Supt of Personnel remain silent when the complete contract is not attached for Board approval ? Julie B-M is complicit in the corruption.

  • g

    Agreed! Although she may not be as “complicit” as she used to be–of course that’s just speculation. I suspect she also knows where some skeletons can be found.

    On the other hand–by my book on education–even though they both ended up with the same certifications, Kerri Mills 30 years of SpEd dedication and her Ed.D. trumps Lawrence’s business/math Ph.D any day. And her dedication runs circles around his 15 years of “I’ll be a teacher, No I’ll be a researcher, No I’ll be a teacher, Next, I’ll be a principal, Now I’m on a roll, I’ll be a Superintendent for a small district, No,–wow–look what mdusd pays (and I’ve already worked up a Bond/Solar deal for the ONE High School in my little district)—they’ll think I’m an expert!”

  • Theresa Harrington

    Here’s an editorial that urges the MDUSD board to fire the superintendent and general counsel: http://www.contracostatimes.com/twitterl/ci_22865768/editorial-time-mt-diablo-school-board-fire-its

  • Doctor J

    The Times editorial was way too kind — all of the Big 5 need to go, even Rose Lock, who in the past has been a kind hearted soul but followed the path to self-destruction by not following her moral compass. Julie B-M should have stood her ground — but she didn’t and must go too.

  • Theresa Harrington

    At the CBOC meeting last week, Board President Cheryl Hansen told me that she still learns more about what’s going on in the district from my blog than from the superintendent, general counsel and other district staff. Case in point: she said she was unaware of the Bay Point meeting until she read about it in my blog. That’s why she asked the superintendent to report on the meeting tonight.
    At the CBOC meeting, John Parker and others complained about the $180,000 that has basically been spent to update demographics data, with very little difference from one year to the next. As I have pointed out, the Bay Point Master Plan website is not even linked to the district website and no list of committee members, agendas or minutes have been posted.
    Luckily, our Bay Point reporter tipped me off about the last community meeting and attended it herself. Today, she informed me that there is a Bay Point Committee meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 27 in the Riverview MS Library. I wonder if the superintendent will mention this secret meeting during his report tonight and if he will let the board know who is on the committee and where the agendas and minutes of their meetings can be found.
    FYI, I have begun uploading videos from the CBOC meeting to YouTube.com/tunedtotheresa. The committee was somewhat critical of the audit and expressed concerns about lease-leasebacks and Bay Point expenditures. Also, they asked to see data showing whether the district is meeting its solar goals. The committee plans to meet in two months to discuss its annual report.

  • Doctor J

    Secret meetings do not equal open government.

  • Theresa Harrington

    And secret meetings that trustees are not informed about may not bode well for those who are failing to keep the board in the loop.

  • g

    The Times editorial is what it is, but even without Dr. J’s ‘gate’ phrase, it could have listed a dozen or more valid public grievances against those two.

    Lawrence, Rolen, Pedersen and EberMarsh are responsible for the rotten apple buried deep in the barrel. That is Measure C; with its handpicked shills on the Oversight Committee, Hiring/paying of staff, Favoritism in Contracts and legal spit-swapping. They and it need to be more openly exposed and culled.

    Hard as it will be, the board needs to do the right thing–if they get sued, so be it. Eventually, evidence and precedence will favor the board.

    We need to get a lot of stink aired out, and the courts are good at that. Many in this district know a lot more than they have ever talked openly about, and the only way they will ever talk openly is with their right hand raised under penalty of perjury.

    About a dozen of us comment here. Another several dozen may care enough about education to read what’s going on at the district here and in the paper.

    That leaves 50,000 voters that have NO idea that there is, or ever has been, anything amiss with their tax-funded schools.

    Maybe a good day-by-day blow of a courthouse expose’ is exactly what we need.

  • Theresa Harrington

    I was speaking with a government ethics expert who said it is imperative that employees in public agencies feel free to speak up about waste, fraud and abuse without fear of retaliation. If they blow the whistle to their supervisor and the supervisor turns a blind eye, they need to blow the whistle to the superintendent, she said. If the superintendent turns a blind eye, they need to go to the board, Grand Jury and/or DA, she said.
    As I have previously mentioned, several trustees blatantly told MDUSD administrators at the board retreat that they are concerned about the fear of retaliation that exists in MDUSD. Barbara Oaks spoke about it when she commented March 11 on Greg Rolen’s contract.
    This completely contradicts the warm, welcoming culture that Julie Braun-Martin and Bill Morones said they envision in the strategic plan. I wonder if this disconnect will come up during tonight’s discussion of the strategic plan.