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Group unappeased by EUSD response to alleged Brown Act violations

The Encinitas Union School District board sought last week to move past alleged Brown Act violations stemming from an August retreat, but an open-government group still isn’t satisfied.

In early September, Californians Aware sent the district a letter claiming it had violated the Ralph M. Brown Act, because a majority of its five-member board had attended an administrative retreat at La Quinta Resort & Club in Palm Springs.

EUSD, the letter went on to say, also ran afoul of the Brown Act by holding a retreat attended by board members outside the district.

The Brown Act guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in elected officials’ meetings.

Californians Aware stated that the district must rescind any actions taken during the retreat and pledge to abide by the Brown Act in the future, or face a lawsuit.

The EUSD board agreed Sept. 30 in closed session to approve a response letter with the aim of complying with the request, but without admitting a violation, according to district Superintendent Tim Baird.

“The board of trustees took no action during the course of this management retreat,” the letter says. “However, to avoid unnecessary litigation and without admitting any violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act, the board of the Encinitas Union School District hereby unconditionally commits that it will cease, desist from and not repeat the challenged past action as described.”

The board’s action was then announced in open session, Baird said.

“The board doesn’t believe there was a violation,” he said, adding that the retreat trained management staff, and the board didn’t craft the itinerary.

“This board always puts the interests of the district ahead of their own,” he said. “It would probably be more satisfying for them to fight this fight and be proven correct in the long run, but this was a simple compliance measure.”

However, attorney Kelly Aviles, representing Californians Aware, stated that the district’s action at the Sept. 30 board meeting wasn’t enough.

“If the board indeed believes that making an announcement after a closed session is sufficient, it is mistaken,” she said in an email.

Aviles cited a government code section that states: “The unconditional commitment must be approved by the district in open session at a regular or special meeting as a separate item of business, and not on its consent calendar.”

To comply, she has said the district needs to put the item on the agenda, include relevant details in the agenda packet, and approve the Brown Act corrections in open session.

According to a letter to the district from Californians Aware, if the board doesn’t abide by the Brown Act going forward, a lawsuit could result, and Californians Aware would seek to recover court costs and attorney fees.

Baird said it seems Californians Aware is trying to entangle the district in a lawsuit.

“There are legal groups such as this one that make a nice business for themselves by finding government agencies and niches in the law and entangling government agencies into legal situations that cost a lot of money and result in settlements for the attorney,” he said.


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