Former Police Chief Joseph Rouzan was appointed to the Inglewood school board last week, but community groups vowed to continue their drive to force the board to hold a special election.
Even before the board voted 3 to 1 on Nov. 10 to appoint Rouzan, parents and community activists were handing out election petitions at the crowded meeting. Some said they had little quarrel with Rouzan but called for an election because of dissatisfaction with how the board handled the appointment. Several of the 19 unsuccessful applicants for the vacancy said they may run for the seat if the petition drive succeeds.
Rouzan was nominated by board President Lois Hill-Hale and also supported by members Rosemary Benjamin and Caroline Coleman. Board member Zyra McCloud voted no, telling the packed meeting room that her vote was a protest against the appointment process.
The board has refused to make public applications submitted last month in which candidates described their qualifications, despite requests from The Times and the Daily Breeze, which asserted that they were public records.
On Oct. 28, the board scheduled a closed meeting to interview four finalists, but decided at the last minute to hold them in public. McCloud refused to participate, saying the public should have been notified that the interviews would be open.
Lawyers for the county counsel's office told the board last week that a closed session Oct. 21--when the finalists were chosen--was an apparent violation of the Brown Act, the state's open-meeting law.
To "cure and correct" any legal problems, the county counsel advised the board to consider all 20 applicants for the post when it met Nov. 10, and the board had announced that there would be "review and discussion" of the 20 applicants.
The board provided audience members with short descriptions of each of the candidates before the vote. At least seven applicants attended the meeting. Three of them--Larry Aubry, Gloria Grattan and Rouzan--were nominated by board members and allowed to make five-minute statements. The nominations of Aubry and Grattan died for a lack of a second.
Before Rouzan's appointment and swearing-in, Hill-Hale gave a lengthy chronology and defense of the procedure used to fill the vacancy, left by Ernest Shaw when he died in September with nearly two years of his term remaining. She said the board "bent over backwards" to keep the public informed.
"We will not allow anyone to cast aspersions on our integrity," she said. "We have absolutely nothing to hide. We have been above board with the public and more than candid with the press."
Alluding to the disputes over closed meetings and release of information, Hill-Hale said there are "gray areas" in the law that lead to different interpretations and disagreement among attorneys.
Lawyers for the county counsel's office, the California Newspaper Publishers Assn. and The Times have maintained that the Brown Act clearly prohibits closed sessions to consider potential appointees to an elected seat.
Hill-Hale said the procedure was prepared and given "a clean bill of health" by board attorney Artis Grant and attorney Audrey Oliver of the county counsel's office. In an interview, Oliver confirmed that she had guided the board in planning the appointment process.
Hill-Hale said repeatedly during the meeting that the board's actions in recent weeks were approved by the county counsel. But Oliver, as well as other county attorneys, said they had never told the board that any part of the process could occur in closed session.
McCloud had asked for discussion of the appointment before a vote, but Hill-Hale, presiding over the meeting, apparently forgot to call for discussion and the voting was conducted immediately after Rouzan's nomination was seconded. McCloud and the other board members did not get a chance to speak until after the swearing-in. Hill-Hale apologized for the omission.
In her statement, McCloud criticized the process. "If we start out with disrespect and disagreement to the community, it never ends," she said. "This process has been prejudiced. We cannot reverse what has happened and that is unfortunate for Mr. Rouzan."
Rosalynn Miller, president of the district PTA council, told the board that her group considers the appointment unacceptable because of "the violations of the Brown Act."
"Parents and community must be included and welcomed to contribute to the process," Miller said. "Your mistakes may cost the district whatever it will cost to rectify the problems of filling the vacancy . . . fair process and the majority rule is worth it."
Terry Coleman of Concerned Citizens of Inglewood said: "We have studied the laws and challenge you to do the same."
Among the likely candidates if an election takes place is applicant and former board member W. R. (Tony) Draper, a vocal critic of the current board who has considerable name recognition.