The meeting agenda included three items as "discussion, action items," none of which was voted on at the meeting: setting a deadline for submitting board member applications, appointing a subcommittee to review the applications, and setting a date for interviewing candidates.
One of the district's five board members, Wendy Warren Roth, submitted her resignation April 6, a day after the school district announced it would be appointing a new board member. The district already had a website page up to accept board applications with a deadline and schedule for interviews and the appointment.
Ms. Warren Roth and the district have refused to say why she resigned 18 months before her term ended.
The May 2 letter from Bill Johnson, Embarcadero Media's president, asked Superintendent Beth Polito and board President Claire Pollioni to correct the apparent Brown Act violation by rescinding the action taken at the May 1 meeting, and holding a properly noticed board meeting to reconsider that item and the three not voted on.
The Embarcadero Media letter suggests the school district may have further violated the Brown Act by soliciting applications for the open board position before the board discussed the matter in public. "Your solicitation of candidates for appointment to the Board well prior to your May 1 meeting indicates that either the Board had earlier violated the Brown Act by making its decision outside of a public meeting or that (the superintendent or school board president) had pre-judged the outcome of its May 1 meeting."
The school district's attorney, San Mateo County Chief Deputy County Counsel John Nibbelin, in a written response denied the May 1 meeting action violated the Brown Act, although his letter did not address the allegation that a matter not on the agenda was discussed and voted on.
Mr. Nibbelin's letter, written on behalf of County Counsel John Beiers, said the district's advertising of the opening before discussing how it would be filled was "District staff's reasoned consideration of the circumstances and conclusion that the Board of Trustees would most likely support a provisional appointment to fill the Board vacancy."
Appointing a board member to fill an uncompleted term allows the school board rather than the voters to choose who will serve in an elective office, and gives the appointed board member the advantage of running as an incumbent in her or his first election.
This will be the second time in two years that a board member has resigned before ending a term, allowing a board member to be appointed. Current board member Silvia Edwards was appointed in May 2015, and was elected in a three-person race for two seats, in which she ran as an incumbent, six months later.
Mr. Nibbelin's letter says that until the Woodside board meets again on May 16, "no action will be taken on applications for provisional appointment."
At WoodsideSchool.us, the district's website, registered voters in the school district may apply for the open board position.
Under the California Education Code, when school board members resign before their term is up, the board must either set an election or appoint an interim board member within 60 days.
If the board decides to appoint a board member, voters can ask for an election instead by filing a petition signed by 1.5 percent of the district's registered voters within 30 days of the appointment.
The district had 2,365 registered voters as of April 4, so valid signatures of just 35 voters would be required to hold a special election.
The Brown Act
The Brown Act, adopted in 1953, is intended to assure the business of the public is conducted in public.
The introduction to the law says: "In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares that the public commissions, boards and councils and the other public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people's business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly. ... The people, in delegating 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. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created."
At tinyurl.com/ALM-WES, the Almanac has links to the Embarcadero Media and county counsel's letters in its online story as well as links to the text of the Brown Act and the state laws governing school board resignations.
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