What Game is the Superintendent Playing?

By Nic Rivera

After watching Tuesday’s board meeting of the Conejo Valley Unified School District (CVUSD) and talking to members of the community, I was left thoroughly confused because the whole situation just did not make sense. I have even spoken to attorneys who agree that Superintendent Mark McLaughlin does not have any sort of legal case against the district or any of the trustees. As a former human resources director, he must be aware that he doesn’t have a winnable case. So what game is McLaughlin playing here?

CVUSD Superintendent Mark McLaughlin

To review, two board meetings ago, McLaughlin claimed that Trustee Sandee Everett is his boss, and her public accusations against him are affecting his health due to creating a hostile work environment. The problem here is that his claims are easily proven false.

First, Sandee Everett is not Mark McLaughlin’s boss, by any stretch of the imagination. His boss is the school board, as a complete legislative body. He takes direction from the entire board, which has to be done by vote or consensus. No individual trustee is allowed to direct him in any way, therefore no individual trustee can impact his work environment since none of them individually has any power over him. Everett is in a 4-to-1 minority, so she is the member of the board with the least power over him (zero).

Second, it has already been proven that his accusations are baseless. Remember that this is all based on McLaughlin’s embarrassing boardroom rant which contained his long list of what he called “false accusations” made against him by Trustee Everett.

His accusations of false accusations turned out to be false. Feel free to read that sentence again.

Video review of each of those incidents shows that Everett was just asking him questions he didn’t like. This is her job as a trustee and an important part of her oversight duties. She never actually accused him of anything, but he simply interpreted her questions as accusations. When people interpret questions as accusations, it is generally because they are either guilty or paranoid.

The videos show that Everett has always been perfectly nice. But even if Everett had actually accused him of something, or said something that really made him uncomfortable, there is nothing he can do about that since he is a public figure and she has something called legislative immunity. This means that if someone is executing the duties of their elected office, they can do it however they see fit, with a tremendous amount of freedom and latitude. Therefore, McLaughlin cannot intimidate board members into doing their jobs the way he wants.

Everett has impressively withstood all the verbal abuse from every direction with a friendly smile on her face.

Undoubtedly, McLaughlin knows all of these legal details. He knows that if he files any sort of complaint or a lawsuit, it will go nowhere. So again, what game is he playing? In the last board meeting, he personally put an item on the agenda to authorize the board president, Cindy Goldberg, to talk to a lawyer to see if McLaughlin has a case against the district. This is nonsense. Until he actually files a complaint, the board does not know the final details of his complaint, so any legal opinion right now would just be speculation.

One possible explanation that community members have floated is that McLaughlin is expecting one of his friends on the board to leak that legal opinion to him. Thus, the district would be paying a lawyer to help McLaughlin sue the district.

Another theory that a community member suggested is that McLaughlin has no intention of suing the district. They will pay a lawyer to tell them that there is indeed legal liability. Then they will preemptively just give him a big pile of cash for no reason, just to sign a paper where he promises not to sue the district. This theory, in my opinion, is not likely because of how bad it would look. Many members of the community have found his fanatical ongoing defense of Conejo Schools Foundation to be suspicious. On the one hand, he insists that CSF is a completely separate organization that has nothing to do with CVUSD, but then he continually puts his own reputation on the line to defend CSF (a little too vigorously) against all of the recent charges of illegal collection of fees from parents. 

So if Cindy Goldberg, who is simultaneously president of the CVUSD board and the Executive Director of CSF, were to hand McLaughlin a pile of cash for no legitimate legal reason, it would look really corrupt. It would appear to many as a likely quid pro quo payoff. For this reason, I think that this scenario is not likely. The current board majority is very friendly with the superintendent and highly aligned politically, so they are unlikely to do anything that corrupt. It would be too obvious.

So again, what game is McLaughlin playing?  It seems clear that there is some collusion going on. If the school board majority had believed that his publicly disclosed health complaints were legitimate, they would have put him on paid leave in order to have his physical and mental health evaluated. He would be allowed to return to work as soon as the doctors cleared him. If his health complaints are real and the board doesn’t put him on paid leave until he is medically cleared, then if something bad happens to him health-wise, the school district definitely would have legal liability.

It goes without saying that if the superintendent is truly experiencing work-related health problems, then the entire community wishes him a speedy recovery. But whatever his true health conditions are, it is clear that the board majority doesn’t believe that his publicly announced health problems are real. Otherwise McLaughlin would already be on medical leave and Deputy Superintendent Victor Hayek would be the interim superintendent right now. Since the district apparently has NOT put McLaughlin on leave and has NOT ordered physical and mental health evaluations, we can surmise that either the board is not really interested in mitigating the school district’s legal liability or else they don’t really believe his health complaints. 

What game is the Superintendent playing? In the end, only time will tell. If it is a political stunt, then it is going to be an expensive one. The one certain thing is that the taxpayers will be left holding the bag – and CVUSD students will suffer for it. 

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.


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4 Responses to What Game is the Superintendent Playing?

  1. William Hicks January 16, 2020 at 10:14 pm

    It’s the oldest game in town, he’s a whore for attention.

    Reply
  2. Janet January 12, 2020 at 10:35 pm

    Thank you for staying on top of this mess and keeping the public informed!

    Reply
    • Citizen Reporter January 13, 2020 at 2:35 pm

      This is an opinion editorial from an engaged reader. Alternate views welcome,

      Reply
      • William Hicks January 17, 2020 at 8:52 am

        My guess, and it’s only a guess, is that he wants to insulate himself from criticism from one Trustee.

        “BOO-HOO, don’t pick on little ole me”

        Reply

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