The lawyer representing a student seen in a physical altercation caught on video with a school board trustee says the district is skirting the law when it discussed the case at a subsequent meeting.
On the Jan. 11 afternoon in question, surveillance video showed elected FUSD trustee Terry Slatic engage in a physical altercation with a student at Bullard High School. Slatic, and his assistant Michelle Asadoorian, are seen walking past student on campus. Slatic then turns around, and proceeds to yank the student’s backpack off his shoulder. Slatic placed the backpack on the ground. The student then grabbed it and ran away.
In a subsequent interview, Slatic told GV Wire that the student first used coarse language. When Slatic turned around, the student made threats to shoot and kill Slatic and Asadoorian.
On Monday (Jan. 28), attorney Roger Bonakdar sent Fresno Unified School District Superintendent Bob Nelson a letter to “cease and desist” from violating the state’s open meeting laws.
The attorney alleged that Nelson and the district are not properly following the Brown Act when it discussed the Jan. 11 incident at a special meeting called on Jan. 15.
Four days after the Slatic incident, the school board held an emergency meeting, where an item listed as “potential ligation” was held in closed session. The board made no announcement of what was discussed after.
While only listed on the agenda as “conference with legal counsel-anticipated litigation,” the Slatic incident was not specifically mentioned. Slatic confirmed to GV Wire that the board discussed the case that night.
A similarly listed “Conference with Legal Counsel Anticipated/Pending /Threatened Litigation” is listed for Wednesday’s (Jan. 30) board meeting. Again, Slatic confirmed that one of the two potential cases under that heading relate to the Jan. 11 incident.
Nelson Letter to Slatic
Bonakdar, writing on behalf of an “interested citizen,” said that the description on that Jan. 15 board meeting agenda is more vague than the law permits.
The attorney also referenced a letter sent the day of the meeting by Nelson to Slatic, first reported by the Fresno Bee.
In that letter, Nelson wrote that the purpose of the special board meeting that evening “is to give the Board an opportunity to evaluate the facts and circumstances surrounding your interaction with a student… As you must know, that incident raises a serious risk of liability for the District.”
Nelson also said he would share his “deep concern relating your conduct as a Board member.” The superintendent cited incidents including “directing (staff) to provide you with “failure analysis” reports of perceived shortcomings,” and “inserting yourself into meeting at which your attendance has not been requested and where it is not appropriate” among other complaints.
The letter also scolded Slatic for his tactics, including raising his voice and using profanity around staff.
Nelson also described a Jan. 10 email from Slatic “very disturbing to me.”
In recapping the email, Nelson said Slatic called himself a “‘sheepdog,’ a person who you say ‘has a capacity for violence.” Nelson said the email also contained a photo of Slatic in camouflage fatigues, holding an automatic weapon.
Brown Act Violations?
Bonakdar, in his letter Monday to Nelson, said that because he described the specific details of which case would be discussed at the Jan. 15 meeting, they should have been described that way on the agenda.
[Note: in the Jan. 28 letter, Bonakdar says the date of Nelson’s letter to Slatic and the meeting later that night was Jan. 16. Both are dated Jan. 15. Bonakdar did not respond to GV Wire questions to clarify.] “The public is entitled to notice on a published agenda describing what the board will discuss in closed session, subject to narrow exceptions not applicable here. The incident of January 11, which we know from Superintendent Nelson’s letter was discussed by the board in closed session, should have been limited to a conference with the district’s legal counsel (nowhere mentioned in Superintendent Nelson’s letter to Mr. Slatic regarding the planned discussion in closed session), and appropriately identified on the agenda,” Bonakdar wrote.
Bonakdar noted that other points brought up in Nelson’s Jan. 15 letter were not on that evening’s agenda.
The attorney’s letter to Nelson made demands to fix the problem. They included revealing if the topic on the Jan. 15 meeting was in fact about Slatic, whether other points in Nelson’s Jan. 15 letter were discussed, and if the board plans to discuss the Slatic incident again at the Jan. 30 meeting.
“The public is entitled to advance notice and the ability to witness in open session the discussion of the critically important board governance issues identified by Superintendent Nelson in his letter to Mr. Slatic of January 16,” Bonakdar wrote.
Bonakdar said that if the district does not fix these problems, he would proceed with litigation to enforce the Brown Act.
A school district spokeswoman confirmed that Nelson received the letter, but had no comment because they have not had time to review.
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