ENCINITAS — An open-government watchdog group has threated to sue the Encinitas Union School District over a three-day district management retreat attended by four board members, which the group says violated state open-meeting laws.
The district received a cease-and-desist and cure-and-correct demand from the law offices of Kelly Aviles, the attorney representing Californians Aware, a group that advocates on behalf of citizens’ rights to open public meetings.
The demand letter gives the district 30 days to reverse any decisions the board may have made on the trip and to publicly acknowledge that it did violate the act, or be sued.
School district officials have defended the trip and argue that it did not violate the spirit of those open-meeting laws.
“Essentially, a judge could compel the district to disclose any decision that it made during the retreat,” said Cory Briggs, a San Diego attorney who also specializes in open-meeting laws.
Originally, residents questioned the district’s fiscal responsibility for taking the Aug. 6 through Aug. 8 retreat, which was held at an upscale resort near Palm Springs. Later, however, residents began to question why the retreat, if four of the district’s five sitting board members attended, was not publicly noticed as required by the Ralph M. Brown Act, the state laws that protect the public’s right to open meetings.
One resident reached out to Terry Francke, general counsel and founder of Californians Aware, who informed district Superintendent Timothy Baird in an email that he believed the trip indeed violated state law.
Baird has argued multiple times that the trip was not subject to the Brown Act because it was organized by staff and the board did not participate in the planning of the trip, nor did it discuss or deliberate on action within their jurisdiction.
This is irrelevant, Aviles wrote in the cease and desist letter.
“Contrary to Mr. Baird’s position, there is nothing in the Brown Act or case law that requires the Board to initiate the retreat or build the agenda — mere attendance and discussion is sufficient,” the letter states, citing several cases that establish the precedent. “When the majority of a local legislative body attends a meeting dealing with its agency’s issues, even though it may neither discuss nor act upon matters connected with those issues, its mere presence to obtain information presented at the meeting is sufficient to trigger the open meeting requirements of the Brown Act.”
The letter demands the district rescind any decisions made by the board on the trip, and publicly acknowledge the transgression, as well as give an unconditional commitment to refrain from similar actions, during an agendized discussion at a future board meeting. The item must not be on the consent calendar agenda, Aviles’ letter also states.