Southside district appoints trustee, but lacks proper notice

Southside School District trustees selected a board member to fill a vacant position at their regular meeting last week, but violated the Brown Act by not giving proper notice of the gathering.
The Brown Act, which is the state’s open meetings law, requires school districts to give notice of regular board meetings by posting an agenda in a public place and on the agency’s website at least 72 hours before the gathering.
While members of the public received notice of the meeting in several public places, they did not get the required notice on the district’s website. The legal snafu follows issues earlier this school year when a board member resigned in December. That position will remain unfilled until the November election because the district failed to fill it within the timeframe mandated by state education code.
“The agenda shall be posted on the local agency’s website, if they have one,” said Nikki Moore, the legal counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, in a conversation with the Free Lance last week. “A failure to post the agenda would be failure to notice the meeting properly.”
Notice of the meeting was placed on the front bulletin board outside the school, on the information board visible as students walk in and with a collection of agendas and minutes visible near the school’s office, Superintendent Eric Johnson told the Free Lance last week.
“It wasn’t posted to the website but it was outside, inside and on the message information board,” Johnson told the Free Lance this week.
The district’s website also included a note that there are board meetings on the first Wednesday of the month, unless otherwise noted, Johnson said. Whether agendas are posted on the district’s website before gatherings can vary.
“There isn’t a normal process to be real honest,” Johnson told the Free Lance this week, adding that if he remembered to get the agenda to Administrative Assistant, Sylvia Rocha, it got posted to the website. “Now, knowing it’s a Brown Act thing, I’ll put it on the website, as well.”
Moore explained that if the district usually posted online and didn’t in this particular case that was more of a problem, since people might have been expecting the information on the website, she told the Free Lance last week. If district employees never posted the agendas online, then it was a practice of failure to provide proper notice, she said.
“Either way, they’re deficient under the law,” Moore said.
Three candidates applied for the position and were interviewed in public session during the meeting, Johnson told the Free Lance last week. Each candidate had at least one student attending the school, he said.
Trustees appointed Michael Ruth to the board position, from a group of three candidates that included Heather Skardoutos and Vincent Erewohl, the superintendent explained. Since the appointment, the new trustee’s name has been posted on the information board along with how to appeal the decision, if anyone wants to do that, the superintendent explained.
“They indicated for all the candidates that they liked what they heard. That they were serious candidates,” said Johnson, as he summed up trustees’ comments on the potential board members to the Free Lance last week. “I believe they indicated on Michael they just liked his straightforward approach.”
The position on the board became open in March, when Scott Gilbert, who had been the board president, resigned and told the Free Lance he had moved outside the district.
A second trustee, Susana Frasher, resigned earlier this school year, in December, but her position will remain unfilled until November due to the district’s mishandling of the required process to fill a vacant spot on the board.
According to state education code, if a resignation occurs, the school district has 60 days from when it shares the news with the county superintendent of schools to call a special election or make a provisional appointment. Board members appointed Jeanne Liem to Frasher’s seat just after the 60-day deadline, which made the selection invalid. This time, the trustees’ newest appointment to a vacant spot on the board comes well before the deadline.
“I was a day late last time,” said Johnson. “I wasn’t going to let that happen again.”

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