Former All-Pro Cedrick Hardman's controversial status as a Laguna Beach High School football coach Tuesday night triggered the first step toward recalling four school board members.
Representatives of Citizens United for Responsible Education served papers giving notice of their intent to recall four of the five Laguna Beach Unified School District trustees at the board's Tuesday night meeting.
The documents accuse the four board members of several misdeeds, such as mismanagement of school funds, but made no mention of the Hardman controversy.
4 Trustees Served
The four board members served with the papers were Susan Mas, Charlene Ragatz, Carl Schwarz and Janet Vickers.
CURE was formed after the four board members last month voted to allow Hardman to work as a volunteer, unofficial football coach despite his arrest in September on a drug-possession charge. Before his arrest, Hardman, a former player with the San Francisco 49ers, had been the Laguna Beach High regular football coach.
The board suspended him without pay after his arrest but later said he could continue coming to team practices as a volunteer. The board's vote to allow him to continue as a volunteer was 4 to 1, with board member Harry Bithell voting no. He was the only board member not served with recall papers Tuesday night.
After being served, the four trustees gave brief rebuttals. Mas, in an emotional statement, said that in retrospect she would not have allowed Hardman to return as a volunteer. The overflow audience gave her a standing ovation when she finished.
Vickers and Ragatz both said they found it difficult to respond to the lack of specifics in the brief recall allegations. Schwarz said, "In a sense this (recall effort) is kind of devastating. . . . We adopted what we thought was a reasonable compromise (in the Hardman matter)."
The board members now have seven days to file formal responses to go on the recall petitions. The Orange County registrar of voters office said that the petitions would probably be ready for circulation in mid-December and that 3,515 registered voters' signatures will be needed on each of the four petitions to effect a recall. Those circulating the petitions will have 120 days to get the signatures.
Arrest Sparked Dispute
The dispute stems from Hardman's arrest Sept. 20 on Laguna Canyon Road. Officers stopped him on suspicion of speeding. The two arresting officers said they saw a small plastic bag containing a white substance, later identified as cocaine, in Hardman's briefcase as the coach fumbled to find his driver's license.
Hardman then allegedly resisted arrest, and police said it took three officers to subdue and handcuff him. He was charged with felony possession of cocaine and misdemeanor resisting arrest. Hardman already was on probation for a previous arrest for driving without a license and possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.
On Sept. 23, the Laguna Beach Unified school board suspended Hardman from his coaching duties, without pay.
On Oct. 24, South Orange County Municipal Judge Richard D. Hamilton said he would suspend the felony charge if Hardman enrolled in a six-month drug diversion program, and Hardman agreed. Hardman subsequently asked the school board to allow him to return to coaching.
On Oct. 28, after a long, emotional meeting, the school board decided on a 4-1 vote that Hardman could attend practices and assist as an unpaid volunteer but would remain suspended as coach.
Bithell Opposed Action
Board member Harry Bithell opposed the motion, saying, ". . .I feel his volunteer work is essentially reinstatement, no matter what we might say."
The board's Oct. 28 action prompted a storm of reaction. Among complaints sent earlier this month to the school board was a protest letter from the Laguna Beach Police Employees Assn. That letter said, "It appears that a winning season is more important to you than your prior stand against drugs."
Hardman was hired in 1985 as Laguna Beach High's head coach after some volunteer coaching. His contract paid him a $1,700-a-year stipend for two to three hours of work a day for about five months each year. He had no other school duties.