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School Board meeting turns hostile

By BARBARA DIAMOND

The Laguna Beach Unified School District Board of Education was confronted by harsh criticism inside and outside the district headquarters where a meeting was held Tuesday. 

While about 20 sign-toting protestors stood by the entryway, 12 speakers went to the rostrum questioning a variety of recent board actions. Comments addressed the board’s and district Superintendent Jason Viloria’s perceived antagonism toward board member Dee Perry; the board’s decision to ignore a district bylaw tradition by not naming Perry president of the board after her term as clerk; Perry’s exclusion from a subcommittee recently created to review confidential matters normally addressed in closed session; her decision to file an intent to sue the board; and the amount of taxpayer money being spent on legal fees stemming from those actions. 

“I can’t believe what’s going on with the board,” parent Jennifer Kinnier said during the public comment period. “I can’t believe the way you have been re-writing the laws and it saddens me that you are excluding her voice, because it makes me think you don’t care about the kids.” 

Prior to public comments, board president Jan Vickers announced she had pulled an item from the agenda of the scheduled closed session and blamed Perry for the decision.

“Item 4A on the closed session agenda was intended to allow the board to discuss, with legal counsel, the claims made by Ms. Perry’s lawyer and her meet-and-confer request,” Vickers announced at the start of the meeting. 

Vickers said she pulled Item 4A because Perry had not confirmed that she would recuse herself from the discussion or deliberation on the item. 

“Legal opinions from the California Attorney General and the Fair Political Practices Commission confirm that when a member of a board or counsel is also a claimant or plaintiff in litigation seeking damages against the entity that employs them, that member has a conflict of interest and cannot participate in decisions related to the claim or litigation,” Vickers stated. “Also, an entity cannot maintain attorney-client privilege if it confers with legal counsel and the individual threatening to sue the entity is a part of the conversation.”

Perry contended on Wednesday that she should have been permitted to participate on Item 4B in the closed session, and that Vickers’ emails prior to the meeting did not specifically bifurcate the items.

“I had no idea what to expect when I came to the closed session, if I would be publicly asked to recuse myself, if I would be allowed to attend the closed session on the second item, or if I would be excluded from the entire meeting,” Perry stated in an email.

The board did meet on the second item on the closed session agenda regarding the new deputy superintendent position, which had no connection to Perry’s potential litigation, and she participated in that discussion.

“During the closed session everyone was polite but a bit tense,” Perry stated in an email. 

“I have worked for 40 years in education and I have never, never, ever had issues like I saw the other night,” parent David Flores said Wednesday. “This board is dysfunctional.”

Flores said he was shocked by what he saw as Vickers’ loss of control over the meeting. Her attempt to deny hearing a speaker who chose to remain anonymous was thwarted as a Brown Act violation by attorney Jennifer Zeiter from the audience. Vickers also appeared to some at the meeting to threaten to shut down public comment after 20 minutes, but relented when the audience erupted and the board approved extending the time. 

 “The tone of the meeting from several of the speakers was rather impolite, degenerating into shouting and speaking out of turn,” Vickers stated in an email. “We also had several speakers who were courteous and calm.”

She said that it is protocol for public comment to be limited to 20 minutes on one item and that the board must be consulted and agree to extension of the time allotted.

“That is what I did, and the board members concurred, and we took the next speaker,” said Vickers. “I did not suggest ending public comment.”

According to the agenda made available to the public, speakers are limited to three minutes each with a maximum of 20 minutes per topic, not 20 minutes overall. 

“A pox on all your houses,” said TuRae Fazio.

Reports by district officials and board members followed the public comment period. Board clerk Carol Normandin was told that it was an appropriate time for her to make some comments. She had a list.

“We haven’t had a subcommittee meeting,” Normandin said. “Board member Perry never nominated herself as president. [School district attorney] Mark Bresee’s [law]suit in San Diego was upheld, dismissed for lack of merit.” 

Normandin also stated that the board could not include Perry in discussions of her potential lawsuit. 

And finally, “Even if she doesn’t receive confidential information, she still has a vote and she still has her voice,” Normandin said.

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