Donna Frye attended the September 23 Sweetwater Union High School District board meeting to offer superintendent Ed Brand and the trustees some legal advice. Frye volunteers for an open-government, nonprofit organization called Californians Aware (CalAware).
Frye had requested a contract from Sweetwater on the controversial private investigative agency that Brand uses at his discretion. Information related to the agency was not available on the district website, which underscored the point of Frye’s visit — that the district needs to assist citizens in obtaining information to enable them to participate in a fully informed way at board meetings.
In deference to Frye’s presence, the district moved up the public comment section of the meeting. (In the past, the district has moved public comment to the end of the meeting; once, public comment was postponed until the next scheduled board meeting.)
Frye told the board that, based on the Brown Act and the Public Records Act, “it is my strongest recommendation that the district make available to the public the agenda and agenda packets at the same time the board members receive this information.” Frye also suggested the material be posted online when it becomes available to trustees “to save time and money.”
Frye explained to the superintendent and the board that the reason the provisions exist is that the public, like the trustees, needs an opportunity to preview the material.
Fast forward to a week before the October 23 board meeting. Parent and community advocate Maty Adato says she contacted the clerk of the board on October 10 and asked when board members would be getting their agendas.
The clerk responded that same day: “Per Board Bylaw 9322, the agenda shall be forwarded to each board member at least six working days before each regular meeting…”
Then Adato asked, “Since the board members receive their agenda six working days before the meeting, I would like to formally request that the board agenda be posted to the public at this time.
“According to the Brown Act section 54954.1, as soon as the agenda is given to the board, I may request a copy of that agenda. In order to save the district money for staff time to copy the agenda, posting it is a reasonable request.”
The clerk wrote back on October 14: “The agenda will be posted to the public 72 hours before a regular board meeting in accordance with the Brown Act.”
In an October 18 interview, Adato said the district seems to consistently play the role of obstructionist: delayed public record requests and searches that allegedly yield “no responsive documents” are typical.
Adato said, “If the clerk was not going to post the agenda and the backup documents online as Frye had suggested — she should have mailed them to me or provided them or told me I could pick them up at the district office.”
Daniel Shinoff, the attorney for the district, was asked in an October 18 email “if you have any comment on the district's lack of implementation of this section of the Brown Act or, perhaps, the lack of applicability of this section.”
Shinoff responded, “It is my understanding from the District that the request was not denied.”
Terry Francke, counsel for Californians Aware, said in an October 18 interview that “It’s possible there is a misunderstanding, but it would be wrong for the district to deny people their right to agenda-related documents. It’s conceivable that our organization may follow-up on this with a letter.”
Francke said that although the organization is about “education,” they also sponsor one or two legislative bills a year and “occasionally engage in litigation.”
Meanwhile, Adato has filed a complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission.