Anaheim Union High School District board trustees Thursday night delayed placing a $249 million bond measure on the November ballot, after Voice of OC reported they potentially were violating California’s open meetings law.
Jeff Riel, legal counsel for the district, acknowledged there were mistakes and it was difficult for the public to find documents about the bond measure, but stopped short of saying the school district violated the law.
“I think the board and district have probably complied with the Brown Act, but to err on the side of caution, I would recommend that we table this issue,” he told the school board.
According to the Brown Act, agendas must be posted 72 hours in advance of a meeting and members of the public must have access to items as soon as they are available to the board. The law is intended to ensure that public business is conducted openly.
“The resolution and the document attached were not completed at the time of printing (by district staff),” said Riel. “When those documents are forwarded to the board, they also need to be made available to the public. It was difficult to access those documents, they were posted a few days later, and the documents were attached at the very end of the (241-page) document.”
He was referring to the resolution to put the bond measure on the November ballot, the full text of the bond measure, and the list of projects.
District staff later updated the file with the documents, but posted them out of order and at the end of the 241-page file.
An additional document specifying the tax rates to fund the bonds was only available at the meeting. Board members did not receive that until the meeting, Riel said.
The Board voted 5-0 to delay any action until a special meeting at 9 a.m. on July 17.
The potential Brown Act violation was raised by Greg Diamond, who was the unsuccessful Democratic candidate in last month’s primary election for District Attorney. He called the school district and attended Thursday night’s meeting after reading the Voice of OC story.
Diamond and Anaheim activist Cynthia Ward are leading another lawsuit against the City of Anaheim over stadium and convention center expansion approvals.
If the bond measure is passed, voters would pay a tax rate of $29.99 per $100,000 to fund the $249 million in school bonds, according to estimates provided by the district. The district money is needed, according to the district, for more than $1 billion in facilities improvements.
The district is still paying off more than $95.2 million from its last bond program, Measure Z, approved by voters in 2002 and only half as large as the bond program that currently is on the table.
AUHSD faced widespread accusations of mismanagement and a lack of oversight for Measure Z funds. One audit criticized the district for overspending on construction projects, causing a $49 million shortfall, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Since then, AUHSD had created a citizen oversight committee to oversee the use of bond money.
Yet board member Katherine Smith said she is against placing the $249 bond measure on the ballot for the same concerns that caused Diamond to drive from his home in Brea to attend Thursday’s meeting: a lack of transparency.
The resolution contains language allowing AUHSD to use bond money to purchase properties “for the purpose of expanding overcrowded school sites” and “acquire, renovate, upgrade, construct, furnish and equip facilities at other locations.”
That language, Smith said, was not included in a mailer sent to voters within the district, and she said she raised those concerns with the other trustees in closed session on Thursday.
“My concern is that the word “acquiring” is going to be on the school bond to the voters and when the voters voted in that survey that they would only vote or a bond that is going to improve our schools,” Smith said. “This is a slight of hand. This is not Las Vegas.”
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