From Twitter: "@mkimphelps comes to us from the [sic] Westminster. Congrats and welcome."
  • From Twitter: "@mkimphelps comes to us from the [sic] Westminster. Congrats and welcome."
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Public advocacy group San Diegans for Open Government has filed a lawsuit against the Poway Unified School District over the hiring of the district's new superintendent Marian Kim-Phelps in March of this year.

According to the complaint, filed in state court, the March 7, 2017 board of trustees meeting wherein trustees officially hired Kim-Phelps was nothing but a show. In fact, Poway Unified and its trustees had already decided to hire Kim-Phelps behind closed doors and had already agreed to a compensation package nearly one month before the board voted publicly, thus violating the state's open meeting laws.

On February 14, three weeks before the board took any formal vote on appointment of the next superintendent, trustees and other district officials had already taken to social media to share the good news. On that day, district communications employees posted a message on social media platform, Twitter, announcing the appointment: "The [Poway Unified School District] Board has chosen a new superintendent: @mkimphelps who comes to us from the [sic] Westminster. Congrats and welcome. More info to come."

District staff posted a similar message on the district's Facebook page as well. Poway school board trustee TJ Zane also announced the news via Twitter as well.

Staff continued to post messages and issue news releases leading up to the March 7 board meeting when trustees were asked to give their final approval. One of the press releases in question, claims the lawsuit, was penned by Kim-Phelps.

The public advocacy group is asking Kim-Phelps return any monies she received prior to the March 7 board meeting. In addition the complaint seeks to rescind the superintendent's contract and force the district to start fresh, this time in line with the Brown Act.

The complaint arrives as Poway Unified looks to distance itself from controversies surrounding the district in recent years, including allegations that the district made shoddy bond deals and more recent allegations the former superintendent John Collins collected $300,000 in unauthorized vacation pay over the course of a three-year period.

A district spokesperson says the lawsuit is without merit.

"We respectfully disagree with the lawsuit's contention that there has been a violation of the Brown Act," Poway Unified spokesperson Christine Paik writes in an April 27 email. "The Board of Education substantially complied with the requirements of the Brown Act. The Board did not engage in an illegal closed-session meeting at any time prior to the February 14, 2017 open session or the March 7, 2017 open session. We do not see any reason a court would disagree."

As for the contention that Kim-Phelps also penned press releases announcing her appointment, Paik denies that ever happened.

"No press releases were written by Dr. Kim-Phelps. The press releases were written by myself, the Director of Communications. The first was released on February 15th, after the February 14th board meeting where Dr. Kim-Phelps was named as the finalist. The press release states: 'Dr. Marian Kim-Phelps will officially become the new Superintendent for the Poway Unified School District on March 7th, when her contract is approved by the Board of Trustees.' The second press release was released on March 7th, after her contract was approved."

The attorney for San Diegans for Open Government, Cory Briggs, says he plans to show that the hiring did in fact take place behind closed doors.

What [we] have learned so far shows a clear-cut violation of the Brown Act, [Poway Unified's] wish-it-weren't-so attitude notwithstanding," writes Briggs in an April 28 email. "Three board members discussed compensation with the new superintendent through an intermediary in closed session, and the conversations went far enough in their minds that they — people on both sides of the transaction — took steps to publicize the outcome of their mutual agreement on employment. When's the last time anyone saw such a PR blitz to promote the hiring of a new top executive who hadn’t really been hired? Internally, even [district] leadership isn't buying the story that it's trying to sell to the public."

The case will now make its way through state court.

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Comments

Cassander April 28, 2017 @ 10:50 a.m.

Even if they didn't physically meet "in an illegal closed-session meeting" as a group in secret, they're still in violation of the Brown Act, because there is simply no way the collective concurrence to hire her happened without conducting serial meetings away from the public:

54952.2. (b) (1) A majority of the members of a legislative body shall not, outside a meeting authorized by this chapter, use a series of communications of any kind, directly or through intermediaries, to discuss, deliberate, or take action on any item of business that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body.

That's like trying to tell a judge you're innocent of hiring a hitman because you did it by email not face-to-face.

For people responsible for schools, those running Poway Unified sure don't do their homework.

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Visduh April 28, 2017 @ 12:06 p.m.

If those events don't violate the Brown Act, then that law means nothing. Poway, both the city and the school district, manage to embarrass themselves frequently. Not long ago there was the councilwoman who used the building department/code compliance staff to harass a neighbor. The supe who preceded Collins was brought down by some serious sexual harassment claims. Poway has such a high opinion of itself that the Powegians seem incapable of understanding that normal laws, procedures, codes, and expectations apply to their elected and appointed officials.

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Trainwhistler April 28, 2017 @ 4:33 p.m.

PUSD Board President O'Connor-Ratcliff and Associate Superintendent Robertson have conspired to hide public records from the other board members. Will our new Superintendent put up with this?

We are also waiting for our District Attorney's Office to indict former Superintendent Collins for his misuse of district funds. Will "White Privilege'" prevent Bonnie Dumanis from doing what's right?

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Visduh April 29, 2017 @ 8:41 a.m.

Bahnee ignored a nest of major scandals in So County school districts for years. I credit Susan Luzzaro of the Reader for keeping the matters in the public eye until the DA finally acted. When she did, the staff came up with something like 275 separate charges, about 20% of them felonies, aimed at fifteen miscreants in three school districts.

But then the cases were bounced back and forth between downtown SD courts and Chula Vista, where they finally settled. The judge took her own sweet time (8 months!) to review the documents. But when trial time rolled around, Bahnee went wobbly, and accepted some plea deals that were very sweet for the defendants. Only three of them ever pleaded guilty to a felony, and two males went to jail for a few weeks, whereas the female got home confinement. The judge tried to allow board members of the Sweetwater district to stay on the board, until someone (and it wasn't the DA) pointed out to her that the law didn't allow that. So, don't expect much from ol' Bon.

When I read the allegations made about Collins by the school district, my first reaction was that they were criminal acts. Instead of going for an indictment, which would have required getting the DA to cooperate and investigate, the district sued him! They were pursuing theft charges as a civil matter, totally inappropriate in my opinion. Misappropriation or theft of public funds should always be investigated criminally, and if supported by evidence, should always be charged. Anyone who wonders about this DA need look no farther than this case to realize how corrupt she is.

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