Kosmicki: At high school district, transparency ignored

School administrators Bryan Smith, left, John Perales, center, and Jeremy Dirks try to catch up as they compete in Thursday's annual tub races at San Benito High School.

San Benito High School Trustee Steve DeLay’s response to a question at Saturday’s public workshop over trust issues between the board and superintendent—basically a public marriage-counseling session—was a perfect representation of the polluted mentality toward openness in local government.
DeLay apparently didn’t say much in the awkward, four-hour couples’ retreat without a getaway. Even when asked by the board president if he’d like to add something to the measured conversation, as reported by Katie Helland from the Free Lance, DeLay had little to say.
“There’s an issue I want to bring up in closed session,” DeLay replied, as detailed in the story. “I don’t want to make it public.”
The problem is, that “closed session” was more like an abruptly arranged secret meeting without legal boundaries or required notice to the public. The hastily called, backroom table talk was more akin to one of those legendary government crony deals arranged over coffee and eggs at Cozy Cup Café than it was to anything legal or respectful toward the public. Disputes were more orderly and lawful in “The Ridiculous 6” than they were during Saturday’s high school workshop.
That day, already under the guise of a “special meeting” format legally allowing the district to limit its public notice to just 24 hours—and already gathering on a Saturday morning when all the best cartoons are on—trustees decided to rewrite the open meetings law to better fit their schedules and dodge scrutiny.
State law is clear like McAlpine Lake, and it’s a basic responsibility for every government entity and elected board official to know the rules. Regular meetings require a 72-hour notice on all agenda items up for discussion or action. Special meetings, often called for time-sensitive matters or in-depth deliberations—like Saturday’s workshop that lasted longer than an average wait at the Hollister DMV—must include a 24-hour notice. And in the rare case of a catastrophic event or natural disaster, the district could hold an emergency meeting with one hour of public notice.
So even if trustees had called an emergency meeting to announce Superintendent John Perales abruptly resigned so he could partner with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and rescue earthquake victims—with hopes of moving to L.A. afterward and becoming best friends with the actor—officials wouldn’t have met the minimum threshold.
The school district’s Saturday morning workshop, involving a paid consultant/therapist, didn’t come anywhere close to meeting the catastrophe standard. DeLay and the others should’ve known better, like many other politicians locally who do the same deed.
DeLay and the other trustees, unfortunately, are no different than most locally elected officials in and around town often falling back on the convenient idea that it’s OK to “bend”—there’s no such thing—the law.
As other newspapers traditionally do, the Free Lance has repeatedly called out local boards for Brown Act violations. Stories have reported on county supervisors’ 2015 habit of diving headfirst into extended, controversial discussions absent from agendas; an April 2014 Hollister council retreat where officials illegally debated a range of high-interest topics without specifying them on an agenda; a March 2011 “town hall” meeting in San Juan where its council also broached big issues without a proper agenda; and questions over Gavilan College’s backroom dealings in 2014 and 2012.
Newspapers like ours tend to stress the significance of these stories—despite general public apathy toward them…Are you awake?—because they are basically and sadly the last and only real protection against the inherent possibility for a wide range of misbehavior.
Transparency keeps the honest public officials honest. It is the essence of local government and democracy in general and it’s unquestionably necessary to prevent corruption—because you know, we’re human—on all levels.  
Government is, by definition, the public’s business. That includes school districts like San Benito, where leaders for years have gone about their work largely impervious toward the views of anyone outside the culture’s impenetrable bubble.
That sort of flawed mentality was on display by high school trustees at Saturday’s illegal workshop.

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