Lawyers for the county counsel's office have advised Inglewood school board members to correct an apparent violation of the state public meetings law before selecting a new board member Tuesday.
The board's selection process has become as much an issue as the merits of the candidates, fueling a drive among community groups to petition for a special election.
Though four finalists were chosen last month, the board will heed the county counsel's advice and consider all 20 applicants before voting on an appointment Tuesday, a district spokeswoman said Friday.
The county counsel's office provides legal advice for school districts and other government bodies, including the County Board of Supervisors. County Atty. Edward Pozorski said that a closed session of the Inglewood school board Oct. 21 violated the Brown Act, the state's public meeting law. During that meeting, the board selected the finalists--Larry Aubry, Dexter Henderson, Claude Lataillade and Joseph Rouzan--from among the 20 applicants. The board had intended to appoint one of them Tuesday.
Selection Must Be Public
"They were apparently misadvised," said Pozorski, who emphasized that the consideration and selection of an appointee to a school board must be public under the Brown Act.
"Assuming there were errors, the law specifically provides that a legislative body can cure and correct its actions. We have advised them on how to do it correctly. They should consider the whole of the issue of the appointment of a person to the vacancy."
That recommendation apparently requires the board to reconsider, in public, all 20 applications.
District spokeswoman Jean Freeman confirmed Friday that all 20 applicants will be reviewed and discussed before an appointment is made. She cited an advertisement planned for today's Times that said the board also will review "the process used to notify the public, including the time frame to release information on candidates, et cetera." She said had no further information.
Board President Lois Hill-Hale and board attorney Artis Grant could not be reached Friday or Saturday to explain exactly what will happen during the appointment process Tuesday.
The decision comes after criticism of the board's selection process by board member Zyra McCloud, citizens groups, applicants for the vacancy and state Sen. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles), whose district encompasses Inglewood.
The controversy began when the district refused to make public applications submitted on Oct. 10 to fill the vacancy caused by the death of board member Ernest Shaw. The district said the process of filling the vacancy was a "personnel matter," and therefore was not covered by the California Public Records Act.
Attorneys for The Times and the Daily Breeze argued that the personnel exemption does not apply to applicants for appointment to an elected office.
Pozorski said Thursday that although McCloud had asked about the legality of a closed session, the district had not asked him whether withholding information on the 20 candidates was illegal. When a reporter described the situation, Pozorski said: "You've got a pretty good point there".
Walked Out of Interviews
In a dramatic display of dissatisfaction with the appointment process, McCloud walked out of the Oct. 28 interviews of finalists. The interviews had been scheduled to be held in closed session, but McCloud cited advice from Pozorski and Watson that a closed session would be illegal. After requests by the press and a last-minute call to attorney Grant, board members Hill-Hale, Rosemary Benjamin and Caroline Coleman decided to conduct the interviews in public.
But McCloud still did not participate because other board members rejected her request to postpone the interviews so the public could be invited to attend.
The district had announced the four finalists in an Oct. 23 press release, saying they were "unanimously selected" after "careful review and much deliberation" during the Oct. 21 closed session.
Hill-Hale said Wednesday that the board's actions, including the withholding of information about the candidates and selection of finalists, were legal. She said the closed-door selection of finalists did not constitute an "action" because board members did not formally vote when they narrowed the field. Attorney Grant supported that contention, saying the Brown Act focuses on whether action was taken.
But Pozorski and Terry Francke, legal counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Assn., said the Brown Act requires meetings to be open unless a specific exemption is cited permitting a closed session, such as a personnel matter.
Section 54957 of the Brown Act distinguishes applicants for an appointment to an elected seat from public employees, stating: "The term 'employee' shall not include any person elected to office or appointed to office by a local agency."