Vote to Replace ‘Warrior’ Mascot May Have Violated State Law, Attorney Says
The Dec. 9 vote by Fresno Unified trustees to change the Fresno High mascot logo from an illustrated Native American image needs to be set aside because of Brown Act violations, a San Francisco-based attorney is alleging.
In a letter sent Friday to trustees, Superintendent Bob Nelson, and the district’s constituent services office, attorney Ryan Griffith said he is working with a “number” of Fresno community members who believe the district did not properly inform them about the proposal to change the high school mascot.
When asked how many community members he represents, Griffith referenced a private Facebook group, Supporters For Retaining The FHS Warrior Native Image, which has more than 600 members and which he said “continues to grow.”
The Brown Act is the state’s law to guarantee open and accessible government, setting requirements for how meetings are announced and conducted, and how public records must be made available to those requesting them.
After a lengthy public hearing on Dec. 9, Fresno Unified trustees voted 6-1 to retain the Warrior name but to change the image, deemed by many to be racist and offensive. Fresno High students have been deliberating mascot logo options since then.
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Several Potential Brown Act Violations
Griffith’s Brown Act letter contends that the district may have committed several violations of the Brown Act, including that the Dec. 9 agenda item says the action will have no fiscal impact. The letter refers to a recent GV Wire℠ story reporting that the district expects to spend at least $400,000 to change the mascot on team uniforms, facility signs, and other items.
Related Story: Cost to Replace Fresno High ‘Warrior’ Logo Estimated at $400K in ...
The letter also alleges that the mascot change was to occur after school reopened. The board presentation did not list a date for the reopening but mentions “vague listening sessions were held.” The website says the agenda was amended but fails to show the amendments.
In addition, the demand letter alleges that the minutes show more than 100 public comments were submitted in favor of the mascot change but no comments from the mascot supporters, even though a petition was submitted on June 30, 2020 to retain the mascot. “Based on these facts it seems clear that one side had notice of the issue, while the other did not,” the letter said.
If the district does not respond within 30 days, Griffith said he will turn to the Fresno County Superior Court for judicial relief.
He told GV Wire℠ on Friday that he sent a lengthy public records request to the district Thursday, seeking documents and communications in connection with community meetings, the June 2020 petition in support of keeping the mascot, communications with Native American groups, and “any e-mails, text messages, or other documents with vendors related to contracting for a new logo.”
“If everything was done right and this decision was made with due process and proper information then that is fair,” he said.
Board President Valerie Davis said the board will need to check with its legal counsel to determine what actions need to be taken.
“For the record, I’m not surprised,” she said. “And if we have to rescind it, we’ll rescind it.”
That action could result in a new vote on the issue.
Slatic: Board Failed to Consider Costs
Trustee Terry Slatic, the only board member to vote against the mascot change, said the cost of the mascot change was not publicly discussed by the trustees who voted in favor of it.
“It was never a discussion of, what if this costs a million dollars? What if this costs ten thousand dollars? This board has to make a political statement,” he said.
Slatic said the board’s political bent is obvious and was clear when trustees voted 6-1 for an anti-racism resolution. He contends that the resolution means board members were declaring the district to be racist.
Related Story: Is Fresno Unified Racist? Trustees Argue Over Anti-Racist Resolution Intent
“This board, it just has a political agenda,” he said. “It is the silliest darn thing and for the record, this board is just like I remember being on the second-grade playground a long time ago. There’s no thought. It’s pure emotion. And it’s embarrassing that some of these trustees who claim to be well-educated just simply throw any intellectual thought out the door when it comes to this social justice crowd.”
Davis, saying she was speaking as an individual trustee and not for the board, said Slatic is entitled to his opinion.
“All of us have a voice, we all speak our own truth,” she said. “I would hope that my political agenda, I leave at the door. I try to govern and make the best decisions for all our children, not just beholden to the children in my own region, but the diversity that I celebrate goes through the whole district.”
District staff did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the Brown Act letter and for information about Fresno High’s current deliberations on the mascot logo change.
Update: A week after GV Wire sought comment from the district, spokeswoman Nikki Henry on Friday said the district does not comment on “pending or threatened litigation.” She said the district had received the letter from Griffith and consulted with the district’s legal counsel.