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Inglewood Vacancy on Agenda : School Board to Meet Behind Closed Doors

October 22, 1987|SEBASTIAN ROTELLA | Times Staff Writer

Inglewood school board members planned to meet in closed session Wednesday night to discuss 20 applications for a vacancy on the board, after refusing again to make the applications public.

At an open meeting Monday, the school board's attorney, Artis Grant, insisted that the board is not obligated by the state's public records law to release the information.

Board President Lois Hill-Hale said in an interview Wednesday that it would be "an affront to the board" to release the applications before the board reviewed them.

"The things that we do are legal," Hill-Hale said at the board meeting Monday. "We have the option of setting up timeframes as to when we want to release information or if we do not want to release information. We are following the elections code and following our own policies and procedures."

Grant compared the selection process of an appointee by the board to the selection of a new state treasurer by Gov. George Deukmejian, a process now under way.

"The press or public does not have the right to demand" information on the governor's selection process, Grant said.

The district had released only the names of the applicants before Wednesday. The Los Angeles Times and the Daily Breeze had requested copies of the applications, which the board has had since Oct. 12. The newspapers have argued that applications for appointment to an elected position are a public record, and that the law does not give the board discretion on whether to release them.

State Law Cited

Times lawyer Nancy Richman rejected the state treasurer analogy, noting that the California Public Records Act specifically exempts the governor's correspondence from disclosure.

The board's decision to continue withholding the information was criticized by some of the applicants and by board member Zyra McCloud.

"In my opinion as one board member, it should have been made public information for the people and the media and it should have been made public from the beginning," McCloud said in an interview Tuesday. "It concerns me that the community does not trust us because of past political agendas and problems in the district. We want the community to know what criteria we are basing our decision on. There is a feeling of distrust."

Eleven of the 12 applicants reached by The Times said they had no objection to their applications being made public.

"I concur that the information should be public," applicant Stewart Oatman said. "If someone's got something to hide, they shouldn't have put in their name."

Keep Politics Out of Process

Applicant Joseph Rouzan, a former Inglewood police chief, said he believes the board is trying to keep politics out of the selection process, but "maybe what they've done makes it appear the opposite."

The vacancy was caused by the death last month of board member Ernest Shaw, and the board decided to fill the vacancy by appointment rather than by election. But some community groups have said they may collect the necessary 678 signatures to force an election after the appointment has been made.

W. R. (Tony) Draper, an applicant and former board member who lost to Hill-Hale in the June election, said that if he were a board member he would have voted to make the applications public record. He repeated his criticisms of the board for not holding an election for the seat and for injecting secrecy into the selection process.

Dismissed Legal Grounds

"They are counting on the fact that most people don't know what's going on down there," Draper said. "But there are people concerned who want to know what yardstick they're using."

Draper dismissed Grant's legal grounds for the board's actions, saying, "Since he's been retained as a lawyer for the district, he'll find whatever opinion they ask him to find."

Another applicant, Claude Lataillade, agreed that the selection process "should be done in the public eye."

"It was my understanding that the application package would be public record," said Lataillade, one of several candidates who said the application form indicated that the information would made public.

Although Lataillade said he felt it would be appropriate to keep interviews with the candidates confidential, he added: "What the board has done is just to heighten concerns by not making the information available. We want enough data to make an objective, independent evaluation of the candidates and ascertain if the criteria are strictly political or some blend of qualifications and political considerations."

Applicants Dexter Henderson, Herbert Huff, Clarence Jones, William Jenkins and Victoria Pipkin said the applications should have been made public.

Two of the 12 applicants interviewed agreed with the board's action. Businessman George Dotson said the decision was up to Hill-Hale. He said criticism of the board by applicants is "self-serving" and predicted that the district will release the information.

"People are reading more into this than there is," said Dotson, who had no objection to his application being made public. "I'm sure they'll release it."

Applicant Loystene Irvin, another unsuccessful candidate for election to the board, also agreed with the decision to withhold information on the candidates other than their names. She said the applications contain personal information that should not be released.

Applicant Larry Aubry said he had no problem having his application released but said he does not know enough about the law to comment on the board's decision.

The eight other candidates could not be reached for comment.

The board is expected to choose finalists before making its selection Nov. 10.

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