A group seeking to recall Central Unified School District trustees following the firing of Superintendent Mark Sutton says it has filed a complaint alleging that trustees met secretly in violation of the Brown Act before the dismissal vote.
But school board president Cesar Granda tells GV Wire that the trustees never met outside of a public meeting to discuss Sutton’s contract.
“It never happened,” Granda said. “We take these allegations seriously as a board. We are following the request (for information.) Once we provide information, we will prove these allegations are false.”
The Feb. 27 vote to fire Sutton upset some community members. They formed Central Community United PAC to recall two of the trustees. They also hope to vote out three more trustees in November.
Aaren Rodrigues, the PAC’s treasurer, filed a complaint with the Fresno County District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit. The group sent a copy of the letter to the district as well. (Read the complaint here).
The group is demanding that the board reinstate Sutton. The former superintendent said two weeks ago that he would like to return to the position.
Said Rodrigues: “We feel the board, which is an elected seat where transparency is supposed to happen, has a hidden agenda which was made evident when they failed to listen to those who elected them.”
Brown Act Allegations
The complaint alleges four violations of the Brown Act, a state law that says any meeting of a majority of members must be conducted in public. Among the purported violations:
— A majority of members met in private to discuss not entering into negotiations with Sutton and then met again in private to fire him.
— The board communicated via intermediaries. These intermediaries are not identified in the complaint.
— A majority of board members met in private to select an interim superintendent. On March 6, the board installed assistant superintendent Kelly Porterfield into the interim role.
Business Consultant Denies Involvement
Some people involved in the recall have said that the intermediaries were Richard Martinez, a business consultant, and his wife, Judee Martinez. Judee Martinez is president of the union representing Central Unified teachers.
“I have never at any time sat with four or five board members to fire Mark Sutton. That is just stupid,” Richard Martinez said. “If that is their allegation, good luck proving it because it never happened.”
Richard Martinez, however, said that he had spoken with a few trustees about issues such as class size and public funding.
GV Wire attempted to reach Judee Martinez for comment but did not receive a response by time of publication.
Recall Petition Moves Forward
The Fresno County Elections Office confirmed that it received a Notice of Intention for the recall of Central Unified Trustees Phillip Cervantes and Richard Solis. Proponents need the clerk’s approval of the document before they can start collecting signatures.
Rodrigues said that could come as early as next week.
Trustees Respond to Recall
The two board members targeted for recall are answering their critics.
One of them is Trustee Phillip Cervantes, who actually voted against Sutton’s firing.
“If people don’t want me to represent them, I understand that. It’s due process,” Cervantes told GV Wire.
Cervantes verified that a letter posted on Facebook is his response to the recall effort.
“I am committed to honoring our employees’ right to privacy and preserving the integrity of the District’s policies mandating the confidentiality. By the same token, I recognize how important transparency is for the community. While I share the desire for open and rank communications, I have to balance the need for transparency, with my obligation to honor Mr. Sutton’s privacy,” he wrote.
Unlike Cervantes, Solis voted to terminate Sutton. Another document, which lists Richard Solis’ name and address at the bottom, is turning up on the doorsteps of school district residents.
“DON’T SIGN THIS PETITION it will cost our children approximately $60,000-$70,000 on a Special Election, better used towards your child’s education,” the flier states.
The flier calls the proponents a “special interest group.”
Solis has not returned GV Wire’s calls requesting comment.