Showdown in South County School District

News of a damning District Attorney report that found four current and three former trustees who served on the board of the 51,000-student Capistrano Unified School District repeatedly violated open meeting laws by holding illegal closed meetings (See, "Brown Act Blues," Oct. 18), culminated today with a break between newly elected trustees and the so-called "old guard."

The district and the board have been tightlipped since the report was released last week. The board's silence was broken today, days before an anticipated closed session meeting Monday to discuss, well, the board's problems with closed session meetings. The drumbeat for resignations has been building since the report was released, first with the GOP's call on Monday for the resignation of the four remaining trustees (some of them Republicans) who were investigated by the DA, and then today, with a surprise joint statement by the board's three new trustees.

The statement released by Ellen Addonizio, Larry Christensen and Anna Bryson, the three "reform" trustees elected last fall, said the trio is saddened but not surprised by the DA's findings of "systematic violations" of the open meeting law know as the Brown Act.

The trio seems to also be calling for more than one person's head: "We believe our school district will begin to heal and move forward once those officials who breached the public’s trust by systematically violating the law are held accountable for their actions."

The four remaining trustees in question who sat on the board during the period of time investigated by the DA are Marlene Draper, Sheila Benecke, Mike Darnold and Duane Stiff. Draper and Benecke are both the subject of an ongoing new recall campaign. A bulk of the 13 violations found by the DA were conducted during so-called "performance evaluation" meetings of then-Superintendent James Fleming (who is now facing criminal charges; See "Hard Knocks," Oct. 5), where building contracts, public speakers and press messaging were among the slew of topics discussed and never reported to the public.

Addonizio, Christensen and Bryson are also pushing for a discussion of the DA's findings in public, not in yet another closed-session meeting scheduled for Monday (see agenda here under "Oct. 22 - Special Meeting"). "We are also concerned that the [sic] a special meeting of the CUSD Board of Trustees has been called for October 22nd for the purpose of discussing and formulating our response to the District Attorney’s Report…behind closed doors in closed session." (italics and bold added).

Smells like a showdown. Stay tuned.


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