Records: Education office paid $3,489 for petition advice

This sign was in front of the old courthouse in June 2014.

The San Benito County Office of Education paid a law group almost $3,500 for legal advice regarding a petition for a special election regarding a seat on the Hollister School District’s Board of Trustees.
The county office paid $3,489.50 to the Renne Sloan Holtzman Sakai Public Law Group, according to records obtained by the Free Lance through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Hollister School District trustees provisionally appointed Mike Baldwin to a trustee position on the board in October 2015, but community members alleged the trustees violated the Brown Act because the officials did not discuss the pros and cons of candidates prior to the vote or explain their decisions after it.
Trustees don’t necessarily have to explain themselves, said Nikki Moore, the staff attorney for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, in a November interview with the Free Lance. They do have to notify the public that they are going to vote, share materials they relied on that were provided in the meeting and hold the vote in public, she said.
When trustees make a provisional appointment to a school board, voters who disagree with the choice—or find error with the appointment process—may file a petition calling for a special election. If that petition meets legal requirements and has enough verified signatures, it triggers a special election.
Randy Riddle, of the Renne Sloan Holtzman Sakai Public Law Group, found the petition did not comply with a section of election code that requires a notice about the paid status of circulators appear before—not after— the section where voters sign the petition so they can see it prior to deciding whether to sign. The county office of education sought out the legal opinion from Riddle.
The cost of a special election for the district was estimated at $126,000, but the actual cost of the most recent one for a measure in 2011 was $146,316, according to an email from Angela Curro, the assistant county clerk-recorder-registrar of voters, in November. That estimate did not include any potential costs to the county superintendent of schools, she added in a phone conversation with the Free Lance that month.

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