LA School Board Gets Caught … Using Secret Meeting to Hire New Ed Chief

EASTSIDER-First of all, hats off to the EAPD (East Area Progressive Democrats) Club who scooped everyone in Los Angeles when they caught the LAUSD Board doing the down and dirty, secretly hiring Austin Beutner in a closed session that was not agendized or disclosed. 

Of course, I’m biased, being a member here in Northeast LA, even as the Club is approaching 900 members and is the largest democratic club in Los Angeles. As a backdrop, consider that here in the Los Angeles epicenter of media, not one news organization, electronic or in print, noticed or covered this event. What a tribute to grassroots democracy in action, and thanks to the EAPD we have some! 

Background 

We all know what happens when a Neighborhood Council fails to comply with the Brown Act. The earth collapses. Like emails from DONE and the City Attorney threatening them with loss of life and limb unless they cancel their meetings and undo anything they were going to do. So, what happens when the largest School Board in the State violates the real intent and very purpose of the Ralph M. Brown Act? Illegally hires their new and controversial Superintendent in secret…and lies about it? 

To understand the importance of the Board’s back door vote, you have to understand the stakes. The LAUSD Board is essentially split 3-3 Pro and Anti Charter Schools. The 7thvote is that of one Ref Rodriguez, recently indicted for felony financial transactions. 

During this time, the Board was deadlocked between Austin Beutner, politely called a “former investment banker and philanthropist” by the LA Times(but, in reality, a bought-and-paid-for billionaire/CCSA front for Charter Schools), and, Interim Superintendent Vivian Ekchian, an experienced education professional with the LAUSD, who, needless to say, is against the Charter School takeover. 

When Rodriguez got indicted, the tenuous 4-3 Charter School majority was jeopardized, and all of this with the critical vote pending on who was going to become Michelle King’s replacement as Superintendent, after health issues prompted her retirement. So, while Ref’s Charter School lawyers danced around delaying his trial, the Charter School folks were desperate to keep Ref in the seat long enough to vote for a pro-Charter candidate. 

The Down and Dirty 

On April 20, 2018, the school Board went into closed session and voted to hire Austin Beutner. However, as contained in the EAPD Complaint: 

“Board members never announced that the Board had selected a candidate, the name of the candidate they had selected, that a vote had occurred, the outcome of the vote, or how or whether each board member had voted in the decision in the April 20 closed meeting.” 

The only report that did occur indicated that no vote happened and that the session was adjourned for lack of a quorum. That’s obviously a bald-faced lie! This is the kind of Brown Act violation that the statute was written to enforce. 

Hoodwinked by all these shenanigans, an unsuspecting public attended Board meetings on April 30 and May 1 where they pressed the not unreasonable case that the Superintendent of California’s largest school district should have a background in education, preferably with some knowledge of the unique characteristics of the LAUSD. Only later did these stakeholders discover that they had been on a fool’s errand, because the Board had already hired their new Superintendent without telling anyone. 

The Statute 

The Brown Act is reasonably clear as to the duties and obligations of a public agency as they take actions. First 54957.7 requires that: 

“Prior to holding any closed session, the legislative body of the local agency shall disclose, in an open meeting, the item or items to be discussed in the closed session.”. . . In the closed session, the legislative body may consider only those matters covered in its statement.” 

Equally clear are the requirements for disclosure when the legislative body takes a personnel action (Section 54957.1(5): 

“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.” 

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that the Board violated the Brown Act, big time. 

And for the record, as they say, where was the General Counsel of the LAUSD Board when all this was happening? Generally, when one of the exemptions to the Brown Act’s Notice requirements is triggered, the agency’s lawyers are present to provide an attorney-client shield. So where were they, and why didn’t they provide advice to the Board? Or for that matter, did they? 

Why? 

So why all the odious and slimy behavior of the LAUSD Board? Simple. Since his indictment on three felony counts and other criminal charges, Ref should have, at a minimum, taken a leave of absence or recused himself from voting pending outcome of the charges against him, or perhaps done everyone a favor and simply resigned from his position. 

But Ref couldn’t do any of those things. He was the swing vote in the Charter School Association/billionaire buddies cabal to control the Board. So, he had to vote, no matter what. That’s why he suddenly found himself with high-priced attorneys showing up on his behalf, with motions, delays, and other obfuscations of the judicial system -- he had to stick around to pay off the people who had basically created him, bought him and expected him to vote for their candidate. 

The Media 

And what of the mainstream media? Not a peep. It wasn’t until the Daily Newsreported on this scandal that the public had any real awareness of what’s going on. LA Times? Nada. Other local news? Nope. Gee, I wonder why. Just goes to show you how corrosive the power and money of billionaires and the Charter School Industry can be for journalism. 

By the way, hats off to the LA Daily News. They have been the only ones to really cover this story.  Read their recent article here.   

What Now? 

Fortunately for us all, the Ralph Brown Act is fairly clear on remedy. There are two pertinent sections.  First, the public agency must be afforded an opportunity to “cure or correct” their action: 

“Prior to any action being commenced pursuant to subdivision (a), the district attorney or interested person shall make a demand of the legislative body to cure or correct the action alleged to have been taken in violation of Section 54953, 54954.2, 54954.5, 54954.6, 54956, or 54956.5. The demand shall be in writing and clearly describe the challenged action of the legislative body and nature of the alleged violation.” 

If the agency fails to do the right thing, then off to court: 

“The district attorney or any interested person may commence an action by mandamus or injunction for the purpose of obtaining a judicial determination that an action taken by a legislative body of a local agency in violation of Section 54953, 54954.2, 54954.5, 54954.6, 54956, or 54956.5 is null and void under this section. Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to prevent a legislative body from curing or correcting an action challenged pursuant to this section.” 

As per the statute, after the EAPD’s Complaint, the matter is being investigated by the DA’s office, and we shall see what we shall see. Understand, DA Jackie Lacy is caught in a bind. If she issues a cure and correct action, she will likely incur the wrath of the billionaires, and if she fails to prosecute, the Statute allows “any interested person” to sue, which would make her look bad. Stay tuned.

 

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.