By Nic Rivera
The Ventura County District Attorney’s office sent a letter this past week advising Conejo Valley Unified School District leadership of a Brown Act violation arising from board business being conducted illegally in August 2019 by Superintendent Mark McLaughlin and board president Betsy Connolly at a “board retreat.”
The letter from the District Attorney’s office, dated November 18, 2019, explains the importance of the following the Brown Act. “…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 of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. 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.”
The superintendent and Betsy Connolly’s highly politicized board majority should keep in mind that the citizens of the Conejo Valley are in control of the school district, not them. This new board and superintendent have shown consistent hostility to the majority of parents in the community that disagree with the socially and financially irresponsible direction of the school district since the November 2018 election.
This new scandal represents the second time that a Brown Act violation has been directly caused by McLaughlin. The first time was during the book policy debate in 2017 when McLaughlin directed staff to only make enough copies of a suggested policy amendment for the people on the dais. In order to comply with the law, he or his staff was supposed to make additional copies of the amendment to be placed on the back table.
It should be noted that trustee Jenny Fitzgerald is a practicing attorney and campaigned on the promise of good governance. So it is surprising that she did nothing to stop the Brown Act violation. It would seem that Fitzgerald either was ignorant of the details of the Brown Act, or alternatively she knew the Brown Act was being broken and intentionally ignored it. Fitzgerald was elected in 2018 as a member of a union-backed slate along with Cindy Goldberg and Bill Gorback.
The 2018 CVUSD school board election is particularly notable because over $200,000 was poured into the race to purchase the election of Fitzgerald, Goldberg and Gorback, making it the richest school board campaign in recent memory. According to campaign disclosures and other sources, the majority of these funds did not come from individual donations. The lion’s share of the money came from special interests including the unions and far-left political groups like Indivisible: Conejo and Conejo Together. The out-of-the-ordinary funding sources for their victory may explain why the new board majority appears to favor the desires of special interests over the concerns of parents and students in the community.
This most recent Brown Act violation is actually much more serious than the previous violation, as evidenced by the fact that the district attorney is forcing the board to remedy this infraction with a “do-over” of the board business that was illegally conducted. McLaughlin’s previous Brown Act violation (the insufficient copies of the book policy amendment) was minor enough that no remedy was required.
This new board majority and the Superintendent need to understand that they are not above the law. McLaughlin’s Brown Act violation back in 2017 can be chalked up to being a rookie mistake. Now, he is no longer a rookie, so this most recent violation must either be due to incompetence or simply an utter disregard for the rights of the community.
Nic Rivera is a resident of Ventura County
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal.