Gavilan Collage officials from left Kent Child, Steve Kinsella, Laura Perry and Tom Breen are shown here when they allowed Gavilan College's aviation program to leave the Hollister airport.
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Gavilan College Board President Laura Perry has stared guilt in the face and hunkered down defiantly against allegations trustees violated the state open meetings law when approving Steve Kinsella’s mind-wringing pay hike. Her response can only heighten suspicion about the approval’s secretive nature and skepticism about college officials’ priorities.

Perry last week responded to accusations from the Hollister chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, which accused Gavilan’s board of violating the Brown Act in October when trustees approved the college president’s $42,000 annual pay increase behind closed doors. The board voted 6-1 in favor of the compensation package, with Trustee Tony Ruiz dissenting.

LULAC alleged Gavilan violated the law – the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office supported the claim and plans to continue an investigation – because trustees considered Kinsella’s pay increase in closed session, while the agenda for the meeting did not specify anything about salary compensation or a potential pay hike.

In both cases, the law is clear: The Brown Act bars approval of executive salary increases in closed session and requires that agendas for such closed session meetings include details about each item up for consideration.

Government Code section 53957 states: “Closed sessions held pursuant to this subdivision shall not include discussion or action on proposed compensation except for a reduction of compensation that results from the imposition of discipline.”

Perry, an attorney herself who took on this losing cause in representing the board, countered the allegation by arguing the law allows trustees to meet in closed session to discuss the “appointment” of a college president. She used the same semantic Hail Mary in trying to confuse the public while answering to the charge about the absent agenda description regarding Kinsella’s compensation. She brazenly reasoned that the exorbitant increase falls under the definition of appointment, while the law separately and explicitly addresses the consideration of compensation – and bars it in closed session.  

Kinsella was not appointed to a job. He has held the same position since 2003 and still does today. By making the appointment argument, which is inconceivable, she still does not answer to the fact that the Brown Act prohibits talk or action about pay increases in closed session.

Especially considering the sensitive and controversial nature of Kinsella’s pay increase – during a time when classes are getting slashed and student fees are continually climbing – Gavilan’s leaders would have been better off merely admitting their mistake and chalking it up as a procedural error.  

While it may be too late for corrective action – a 90-day window has passed to rescind any illegal action, for which Kinsella could sue the pants off the college – the district attorney’s office has supported the evidence provided by LULAC and vowed to pursue whatever might be possible under the law. The most likely penalty is a civil court declaration admonishing the board’s action and serving largely as a public scathing.

The defiant tack from Perry – trying to justify an unjustifiable pay increase and the secretive fashion in which it was considered – only worsens this public relations disaster for the college and the electorate’s already disdainful attitude toward Gavilan leadership.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.

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