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Ventura County Focus

2 on Board Cleared in Dispute Over Meeting

November 02, 1996|REGINA HONG

The district attorney's office has cleared two Ventura County school board members of charges that they violated the state's public meeting act when they met privately with attorneys.

In an Oct. 29 letter, Deputy Dist. Atty. Mary Peace wrote that she found insufficient evidence to conclude county Board of Education President Marty Bates and trustee Wendy Larner violated the Brown Act during a Jan. 22 luncheon.

The prosecutor's office investigated a complaint filed in early August by Ojai lawyer Rudy Petersdorf, who alleged that--without input from other trustees or the public--the two board members gave attorneys instructions on how to reshape the board's relationship with the county schools superintendent.

Larner said she was "very pleased" to hear the results of the investigation.

"I fully expected this to happen and I'm glad it happened early," she said. "It's always disconcerting to have lies told about you or misstatements made about you, and I felt it was a particularly heinous tactic when we are in an election."

Bates said the accusations were probably made to attack Larner, who is up for reelection Tuesday. The allegation was there "to create a question in voters' minds, and the timing was such that it was probably unlikely to be resolved before the elections, so I'm glad this was handled expeditiously," Bates said.

Petersdorf, a frequent board critic, contends the investigation doesn't necessarily clear the two trustees of wrongdoing. "It doesn't mean there wasn't a violation," he said. "It means there's insufficient evidence, and of course the meeting took place in secret so it's very difficult to prove."

After the meeting with the two conservative trustees, attorneys came back to the school board with a plan for modeling Ventura County's system after that used in San Diego County. Ventura County elects its superintendent, whereas San Diego appoints the school administrator.

Trustees here are reviewing proposed policy changes, which would transfer some power from the superintendent to the five-member board.

Petersdorf said this week he is considering taking other legal actions against Bates, saying his freedom of speech was violated after he was cut short when he tried to broach the subject of Brown Act violations during Monday's board meeting.

Bates ruled Petersdorf "out of order" and the two quickly became involved in a shouting match. Petersdorf left after the board voted to table public comments.

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