EDITORIAL - Just a few days after the law firm of Garcia, Hernandez, Sawhney & Bermudez, LLP held an 'Ethics Laws and Legal Principles for Public Service and Board Governance' workshop for the Madera Unified Board of Trustees, it looks like the board's clerk may have already violated the Ralph M. Brown Act.
Last month, in a sold-out board room which included an outdoor theater for overflow viewers, the board voted to send Superintendent Ed Gonzales, Associate Superintendent Victor Villar, the executive cabinet and the board of trustees to harassment and bullying training. However in a secret vote in closed session at last Tuesda's board meeting, the board voted to reverse their action absolving the executive cabinet and board of trustees from the training.However, Gonzales and Villar are still on the hot seat for training no one outside of the Gang of Four (Trustee Brent Fernandes, Trustee Al Galvez, Trustee Robert E. Garibay and board president Maria Velarde-Garcia) feel they deserve.
Following the vote, board clerk Robert Garibay did not fully disclose how each board member voted on this item in closed session. This may have violated California Senate Bill 751 which amended the Ralph M. Brown Act in 2013, which guarantees that all California city and county government agencies, boards, and councils will conduct open and public meetings, that a legislative body of a local agency shall publicly report any action taken and the vote or abstention on that action of each member present for the action. By Garibay not revealing the make up of the vote, a violation of the Brown Act may have occurred.
One of the many law firms the school district has on retainer, Lozano Smith which has nine offices through out California including Fresno, published a paper on the effects of Senate Bill 751 on the Brown Act in 2013. "The Brown Act's open governance mandate helps ensure that the public knows how legislative body members vote on all matters. When it is likely to be difficult from the record to determine how a particular member voted, or whether a member abstained, the legislative body may wish to conduct a roll call vote to ensure compliance with SB 751. Another good practice is to include the vote tally, and any abstentions, as part of the minutes.", stated David J. Wolfe, partner in the firm's Fresno office.
So why didn't the law firm of Garcia, Hernandez, Sawhney & Bermudez, LLP teach the board last week in their workshop about SB751 and how it relates to the Brown Act? Or did they bring it up and Trustee Robert Garibay just ignored it?
In January the board of trustees hired this firm for one thing. To provide a workshop on Basics of the Brown Act, Political Reform Act and the Board’s Legal Roles and Responsibilities . However after the workshop the board voted on a non-agendized item when Trustee Al Galvez made a motion to allow the Board President to sit at Superintendent Executive Cabinet level employment interviews. The motion was seconded by Trustee Robert Garibay and the Gang of Four pushed it through with Trustee Ray Seibert voting no and Trustees Ric Arredondo and Ed McIntyre absent.
Then a week later Garibay and Board president Maria Velarde-Garcia, don't release the complete details on the votes behind closed doors? What happened to that TRANSPARENCY word we keep hearing from our elected officials? Doesn't the Brown Act apply here in the People's Republic of Madera?
How many times do we have to tell you it's time to keep an eye on the Board of Trustees at the Madera Unified School District? Your kids education and a $70 million dollar bond is on the line. The community needs to consider that this is important and we need to pay attention to the actions of those who are in charge of the process.