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High school board asked to rescind superintendent appointment

Original post made on Apr 7, 2010

Atherton resident and open-government advocate Peter Carpenter has made good on his threat to try to force the governing board of the Sequoia Union High School District to rescind its appointment of Assistant Superintendent James Lianides to succeed Superintendent Patrick Gemma.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, April 6, 2010, 3:54 PM

Comments (20)

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Posted by Mom of MA Student
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Apr 7, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Someone explain to me why Mr. Carpenter is doing this and whose interest is he looking after. I don't see a reason why this decision is detrimental to the students which seems to be the most important issue.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 7, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Mom asks:"why Mr. Carpenter is doing this and whose interest is he looking after."

Simply because the School Board broke the law - hardly a good example for the students. The public was not given the opportunity to be heard in this process and the Board acted illegally in secret - hardly a model of good government.

Would Mom rather that the School Board be exempt from obeying the laws?


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 7, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Here is my complaint:

April 5, 2010

VIA FACSIMILE AND FEDEX

President Olivia Martinez

Members of the Board of Trustees

Sequoia Union High School District

Board of Trustees

480 James Avenue

Redwood City, CA 94062

tel. (650) 369-1411

fax. (650) 306-8870

Re: Board of Trustees Meetings on February 24, 2010, and March 17, 2010

Appointment of a New Superintendent

Dear President Martinez and Members of the Board of Trustees:

I am writing on behalf of Atherton and District resident Peter Carpenter to request that the Board of Trustees ("the Board") cure and correct two actions: the Board's February 24 decision, made during a closed-session discussion, to limit the search for a new superintendent to employees of the Sequoia Union High School District ("the District"), and the Board's March 17 appointment of James Lianides as the District's new superintendent. Mr. Carpenter requests that both actions be rescinded, and that any and all future actions with respect to the hiring of a superintendent be taken in strict compliance with the Ralph M. Brown Act.

The Board's February 24 closed-session discussion violated the Ralph M. Brown Act (Government Code section 54950, et seq., hereafter the "Brown Act"). In particular, that discussion violated Government Code sections 54953 and 54957.

On February 24, the Board convened in a closed session to discuss the search for a new superintendent. The Board apparently considered the relative merits of internal candidates for the superintendent job. The Board went beyond that, however, to discuss the broader policy
issue of whether to limit the superintendent search to District employees, or to look beyond the District. For this second discussion, the Board remained in closed session – an action which
exceeds the Brown Act's narrow exception for personnel matters.

The personnel exception, Government Code section 54597, permits closed
sessions to "consider the appointment, employment, evaluation of performance or dismissal of a public employee." The exception is to be construed "strictly and narrowly." (San Diego Union v. City Council (1983) 146 Cal.App.3d 947, 954.) It therefore plainly does not permit policy discussions which go beyond the "appointment, employment, evaluation. . . or dismissal" of a particular employee. (See, e.g., Santa Clara Federation of Teachers v. Governing Board (1981) 116 Cal.App.3d 831; 63 Ops.Cal.Atty.Gen 153 (1980).) The Board's discussion of the broad policy issue of whether to limit its search to insiders exceeds this narrow exception.

As all members of the Board well know, the Sequoia Union High School District Superintendent holds a position of considerable power and importance in the community. The position oversees the education of more than 8,000 students, and steers a large organization with
an annual budget of more than $100 million. The person who holds this position wields enormous influence. More importantly, he or she holds a position of public trust. The fundamental and critical decision of how to go about finding the best person for this job is precisely the sort of decision the California Legislature intended to be conducted in the open.

The fundamental premise of the Brown Act is that "[t]he people, in delegating their authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know." (Brown Act, section 54950.) By excluding the
public from the decision-making process, the Board has shrouded in secrecy an important policy discussion that should have been exposed to the light of day. Your decision to conduct secret deliberations on an important policy decision—i.e., the decision not to conduct a search that might have produced more highly accomplished and qualified candidates for the most critical position in the District not only violates the Brown Act, but contravenes its central purpose: to ensure public awareness of and participation in such decisions. Furthermore, this critical appointment was made without the public even knowing who the candidate was before the decision was made, thereby depriving all concerned of the opportunity for public comment on his qualifications.

Therefore, Mr. Carpenter respectfully requests that the Board take immediate action to cure and correct those violations by rescinding the decision to conduct an internal search, by rescinding the appointment of Mr. Lianides, and by ensuring that any future actions
with regard to the hiring of a superintendent are made in accordance with the Brown Act.

Finally, the Board should take all necessary steps to ensure that hard-copy and electronic documents or records relating to the search for a new superintendent are preserved, including electronic communications or records that might otherwise be erased or expunged by automated processes.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your prompt response, as required by the Brown Act.

SHEPPARD, MULLIN, RICHTER & HAMPTON LLP


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Posted by Diana
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 7, 2010 at 4:58 pm

"Mom" writes "I don't see a reason why this decision is detrimental to the students which seems to be the most important issue."

How would we know if the decision is or is not detrimental? This was an entirely closed process. The pool from which the board appointed the district's most important staff member -- its leader and visionary (or not)-- was extremely limited. The board didn't even get input from the school community about whether it might be a good idea to do a broad search for this most important person.

The board acted illegally when it made its decision to hire internally in closed session. Period. It is in the public's interest, and the students', to demand that its elected officials obey the law and keep the public process public.


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Posted by James
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Apr 7, 2010 at 6:23 pm

While Mr. Carpenter's tactics may offend some, I am grateful that there are people who still believe in complying with the rules. It seems that the school board didn't follow the rules of the Brown Act and should be held accountable.

Given the folderol of many of the local boards and councils, I am glad we have a watchdog. If we don't hold our elected officials accountable, we are just as guilty as they are for their actions. One has to look no further than Sacramento for proof of that.


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Posted by Mom Of 3
a resident of Woodside School
on Apr 7, 2010 at 7:13 pm

Thank you Mr. Carpenter.


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Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Apr 8, 2010 at 9:52 am

First and foremost, Peter, thank you for taking this action on our(the public) behalf. Second, I have a question if you wouldn't mind taking the time to answer for me. Your attorney's letter closed with a phrase specific to the Brown act regarding his request for a prompt response. Does this means that the BOT has some requirement to respond within a given period of time? It would be useful to know so that I (and I hope others) can track this and provide support via our own messages to the BOT and other elected officials should the BOT adopt its historical stance of stonewalling whenever challenged.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 8, 2010 at 10:41 am

"Does this means that the BOT has some requirement to respond within a given period of time?"

Yes, the Board has 30 days to 'cure' the violation.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 8, 2010 at 11:07 am

Here is the timeline guidance from the Attorney General:

FOR FILING A SUIT TO VOID AN ACTION TAKEN BY A BODY
An action is taken that a district attorney or interested person believes is in violation of:
general open meeting requirement ( 54953)
agenda requirements for regular meetings ( 54954.2)
safe harbor notice provisions for closed sessions ( 54954.5)
procedures for new taxes and assessments ( 54954.6)
requirements for special meetings ( 54956)
requirements for emergency meetings ( 54956.5)
Complainant must make written demand to the body to cure or correct within:
A. 30 days of the action if it were in open session, but in violation of agenda requirements.
B. 90 days of the action in all other situations.
Once the body receives demand, it has 30 days to cure or correct the violation.
If the body fails to cure or correct within this 30-day period, interested person may file suit to void the action.
The action must be filed within 15 days of:
A. Receipt of decision to cure or correct or refusal to do so.
B. End of 30-day period to cure or correct.


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 8, 2010 at 12:56 pm

I also want to thank Peter Carpenter for filing this action.

Mom of MA Student - These types of discussions must - by law - be held in public. Mr. Lianides may be a wonderful guy, but the selection process should be held in the sunshine.

The way the Board of Trustees made this selection smells. There was no reason for this to be done behind closed doors.

Mr. Carpenter is to be congratulated for holding the Trustees accountable.


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Posted by R.GORDON
a resident of another community
on Apr 8, 2010 at 1:27 pm

I am so glad there is a person with Mr.Peter Carpenter's knowledge and use of the law and who goes after what he knows and does not hold back.
As to the "MOM" who asked such a typical "looking the other way" question, which almost the entire County is guilty of doing all of the time no matter what the issues are in whatever situation.
Carpenter's simple response is succint, real and people do not want to hear their appointed Board of Trustees broke the law or, perhaps have done so in the past as well.
This entire area is ready for a shakeup for the amount of corruption which exists among privileged groups who do bad things.


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Posted by Mom of MA Student
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Apr 8, 2010 at 2:25 pm

Very interesting. I asked an honest question looking for information. I thank everyone for giving me that. However, I suggest each of you look within yourselves and ask an important question. And that is why do I need to put other people down in order to make myself feel or appear superior to those with less information or knowledge. While this is an anonymous forum, it's important to remember you really never know who you are offending.


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 8, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Mom -

Honestly, what did I say that was offensive to you? How did I put you down?

I only pointed out that the Board acted in secret when there was no need to do so. There was not a single reference to you...


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 8, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Mom asks:"why do I need to put other people down in order to make myself feel or appear superior to those with less information or knowledge."

I have reread all of the above postings and I have no idea what you mean by this comment - please explain.


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Posted by What Gives, Peter?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 8, 2010 at 5:18 pm

With all that is going on your hometown, why on earth are you pursuing this piddling issue, with a lawyer no less?

Do you realy think that some other outcome will come out of this? Is their pick that bad?

Sorry, but all signs point to this being a personal vendetta of some kind.


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 8, 2010 at 5:41 pm

Actually, all signs point to a private citizen (Peter Carpenter) that has challenged an elected body that cavalierly ignores performing its duties in the sunshine as required by law. If it doesn't bother you, it should.

The discussion about limiting the search should have been done in public and what the Trustees did is an affront to citizens.

Our community is lucky someone is doing this for us. A simple thank you to Peter would be sufficient.


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Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 8, 2010 at 7:54 pm

I would thank Peter for taking the time to pursue this issue. I am unfortunately one of those who wishes they had more time to assure that our government acted in a transparent and accountable manner. Frankly, it seems to me that all the decisions taken could have been easily done in an open forum (as at least one interpretation of the law requires). It seems rather standard that at best, this BoTs pushes the limits of the laws. Given that we the public will be asked to pay the salaries (and fund the retirements) of our employees (the government), I would expect that there will be only an increasing amount of demand for accountability. In this information age there is really no excuse for the old cronyism of the past. If the appointment of Superintendent was done in a rigorous manner and came up with the current result, I don't think there would be any concerns. As it is, one needn't be a "birther" to imagine a scenario where there was collusion between Gemma and Lianides with Gemma's retirement announcment leaving the BOT with little time to find a replacement and Lianides being the only one who could deal with the pending financial disasters left in Gemmas wake. It could also be that with Gemma leaving, Lianides threatened to leave if he weren't given the job. Given the impact of the decision on the district, it would seem to me that having such knowledge in the public domain would be informative albeit not very flattering to either Gemma or Lianides. Let me be clear, I am talking imaginary scenarios, but the picture painted by the BOTs actions is one of lack of transparency which implies there is something to hide. It is rare that hiding something in this manner serves the public interest.


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Posted by Fan of transparency
a resident of Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Apr 9, 2010 at 5:43 pm

I'm very concerned that people who we pay are unwilling to follow the law. I'm thrilled that a private citizen is willing to take this up. Thank you. Also if the new superintendent is great he should want people to know him and applaud him being chosen. This I find to be particularly crucial given the bad feeling people have about the outgoing superintendent. Also when someone is going to run a budget of this size which effects so many people especially in these economic times and our young people how can anyone see this as a small issue? Thank you Peter. I hope when there is a public hearing the community will be prepared to show our support.


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Posted by Super Mom WW
a resident of Woodside: other
on Oct 1, 2012 at 8:12 pm

What was the final outcome to Mr. Carpenter's complaint?


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 1, 2012 at 9:01 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"What was the final outcome to Mr. Carpenter's complaint?"

The School Board told me that they had more money ( thanks to the taxpayers) than I did and that they could hire more lawyers than I could.

But I also think that they will be much more careful in the future.


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