By Nic Rivera
Two weeks ago I published a piece about the surreal and disturbing rant by Conejo Valley (CVUSD) Superintendent Mark McLaughlin during the December 17, 2019 board meeting. It was an off-topic prepared statement that he read, in a clear violation of the Brown Act, listing his grievances concerning questions that trustee Sandee Everett has asked him during public meetings of the school board. Here is the link to that editorial: https://www.citizensjournal.us/crybaby-superintendent-lists-grievances-against-watchdog-trustee-everett/
All these board meetings are videotaped and the recordings are available for anyone to review and see that, regarding his long litany of accusations, there is no “there” there. Everett appears to always be respectful. The few occasions where she becomes annoyed during meetings is when the superintendent does not give a straight answer and she is forced to ask follow-up questions.
One of the strange aspects of McLaughlin’s rant was that he mentioned that Everett’s questions were affecting his health. Red flags immediately went up in my mind. This is quote from my previous editorial:
“To many observers, the fact that he mentioned personal health at the beginning of his highly odd outburst suggests that he could be planning to file a complaint or lawsuit in order to extort money from the district. This would of course further erode the already troubled financial status of CVUSD.”
Now, flash forward to this week’s agenda (Jan 7, 2020) for the school board meeting. Action Item 4H, submitted by McLaughlin himself, requests:
“Based on the above-referenced Board Bylaw and concerns shared at the December 17, 2019 Board meeting by Superintendent Dr. McLaughlin, the Board President seeks authorization to consult with District counsel to determine if the District and/or the Board of Education are exposed to any potential litigation or liability claims.”
Bingo. McLaughlin appears to be directing the new board President Cindy Goldberg to get legal counsel to determine if he has a case for a lawsuit against the district – just because Everett asks him questions he doesn’t like. So basically the school district would be paying the legal costs for McLaughlin to figure out if he has a case against the school district. This is an audacious and offensive waste of taxpayer money that could be much better used in the classroom. There is no pressing need to seek counsel now, spending money unnecessarily.
It is normal practice to only discuss human resources issues and legal issues in closed session, rather than in public. The fact that McLaughlin submitted this as an open session agenda item probably means that this could just be a political stunt intended to inflict harm on Everett.
It is fairly straightforward to answer the question about how much money he might be able to extort from the district. The answer is zero. Any reporter could tell him that. As a superintendent, he is a public figure and anyone can basically say anything about him. Everett’s main job as a trustee is oversight of the superintendent, which can involve questions and, yes, even criticism.
The courts have consistently held that superintendents and assistant superintendents are public figures. As such, his chances of winning a lawsuit against the district are essentially zero. He is required to take criticism and he is required to eagerly answer questions from the trustees and from the public. Everett takes an amazing amount of abuse from McLaughlin and others during board meetings. You don’t hear Everett complaining about her “health.”
As an insider, McLaughlin definitely would know how the district handles lawsuits. We often see numbered legal claims on the board agendas (with no identification, so as to protect the affected parties), but we rarely see any actual cases involving CVUSD on the court dockets going to trial. It is therefore logical to assume that the district typically settles all lawsuits out of court. As the former CVUSD Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, McLaughlin knows all the techniques that have been used by others to extract money from the district.
So McLaughlin wouldn’t be crazy to think that if he just files a lawsuit, his friends on the school board majority might just settle out of court and hand him a nice big chunk of free money – like they seem to do with all the other lawsuits. Easy peasy. But the public is highly unlikely to accept this kind of unnecessary payout of students’ money to settle a case that McLaughlin never had a chance of actually winning. Any board member should be recalled by the voters if they hand our children’s education funding over to a whiny superintendent. He already makes a small fortune in salary and benefits.
The more desirable outcome to the taxpayers is that the case actually go to trial where he would promptly lose the lawsuit and have to pay the district’s legal fees out of his own pocket. Taxpayers generally don’t take kindly when highly paid public officials try to forcibly take extra money from them.
If McLaughlin can’t handle the pressure of being a public figure executive, this is completely understandable. Most people wouldn’t be able to handle it. But regular folks like us believe that someone who gets paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to do a job should probably just stop whining and just do their job. Or else they should consider resigning and go find a job with less pressure.
Disclaimer: I am definitely not an attorney and none of my opinions should be taken as legal advice to anyone.
Nic Rivera is a resident of Ventura County. Follow Nic on Twitter.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal.