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June 14, 2021

Southside School District forgoes vote to appoint trustee

Southside School District’s Superintendent Eric Johnson swore in a trustee to a vacant board position, but minutes from board meetings show no votes leading up to the appointment decision.
Minutes from board meetings in January and February don’t show a vote where trustees decided between appointing a candidate and calling for a special election to fill the vacant seat. There is also no vote on record of trustees choosing or declining the single candidate, Jeanne Liem, who came forward.
According to state education code, if a resignation occurs, the school district has 60 days from when it shares this news with the county superintendent of schools to call a special election or make a provisional appointment.
“It wasn’t in the form of a vote, per se,” Johnson said. “It was a general, ‘Lets go forward with the appointment process.’”
Trustee Susana Frasher resigned from her position during the Dec. 2 board meeting, starting a 60-day process in which the remaining board trustees had to decide how they wanted to fill the seat. Minutes from the Jan. 6 meeting show Trustee Veronica Martinez made a motion that passed 3-0 to change the December minutes to include that “Officer #3 resigned at the end of the meeting.”
Draft minutes from the Feb. 3 meeting—which won’t be approved by the board until March—show Liem was sworn in as the “appointed” replacement during that general board meeting last week.
One legal expert questioned the process as laid out in the minutes.
“I don’t see how they could reach a consensus, without having a discussion and then taking a vote,” said Nikki Moore, legal counsel with the California Newspaper Publishers Association. “That’s how these boards take action.”
Moore added that drawing a single candidate did not absolve trustees of their “duty to have an open meeting and follow this procedure,” she said. Trustees could have opted to hold a special election if they didn’t feel there was a sufficient candidate, Moore said. Whether they felt they had a sufficient candidate is unclear because they didn’t deliberate, she said.
Peter Tira, an information officer with the California Department of Education, informed the Free Lance by email that the department “does not comment on individual cases like this, but all local school districts need to adhere
to the California Education Code.”
Southside School District Board President Scott Gilbert could not be reached immediately for an interview. In a text message to the Free Lance, he affirmed the district advertised the position and had one interested individual who was confirmed at a meeting and took the required oath.
“Procedurally we believe we acted in compliance with rules/regulations,” the message continued. “Should that not be the case it will be addressed at our
next meeting.”
The public was notified of the opening with a notice on a board outside the school, Johnson said. Agendas mentioning the vacancy were also posted on the website, and were available outside or inside the school and by request from the superintendent, Johnson said. There were two board meetings during that time, he said.
One of the biggest problems the district faced was that the 60-day timeline started as soon as the county superintendent was notified and much of that time was during Christmas break, Johnson explained.
“We had two people that showed an interest, but we had to go out and ask people that might be interested,” Johnson said. “One person showed an interest but then said, ‘I’d prefer to come to a few board meetings first’ and we were running out of time.”
Minutes from the January meeting showed the board president mentioned two “candidates” he had spoken to about the position and that he would invite them—“if they agree”—to the next meeting. In the same minutes, Johnson said he would post the opening in the Free Lance and at the school. A notice about the board vacancy did not run in the Free Lance.
“It wasn’t trying to be kept quiet,” Johnson said. “We were at the end scurrying for people to look for.”
Liem had formerly served on the school board for about eight years, including as board president, Johnson said. Prior to being sworn in, Liem filled out a packet and interviewed with the superintendent but not trustees, Johnson said.
It was a “very good fit” for a short time period since the position will go up for re-election in November, the superintendent explained.
“Again, the nice thing about Jeanne is she was then elected by the district people twice before,” the superintendent said, adding that she previously finished her term and left on great circumstances. “And again, we appointed her because we needed to by this last board meeting.”

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