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Did Fresno Trustees Violate Brown Act in Superintendent Search Decisions?
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By Nancy Price, Multimedia Journalist
Published 3 weeks ago on
April 26, 2024

GV Wire Publisher Darius Assemi says Fresno Unified trustees need to disclose their decisions taken in closed session on interviewing internal and external candidates for superintendent. (Paul Marshall/GV Wire Composite)

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An attorney representing GV Wire Publisher Darius Assemi has notified the Fresno Unified School Board and Superintendent Bob Nelson that recent decisions taken by the board behind closed doors on whether to interview internal and external candidates allegedly violated the Brown Act.

To this end, your advice that the Brown Act only requires you to disclose final votes (on naming a new superintendent) was wrong. … The attempt to narrowly construe the Brown Act in this manner undermines the Brown Act’s state purpose, violates the requirement to construe it broadly, and erodes public confidence in a government that must be open and transparent to the public.” — Letter to the FUSD School Board and Superintendent Bob Nelson from attorney Chad D. Morgan, on behalf of GV Wire Publisher Darius Assemi

The letter, sent Wednesday by Anaheim attorney Chad D. Morgan via email, claims the board’s attorney incorrectly interpreted the Brown Act as requiring the board only to release in open session its final decision on the new superintendent’s selection. The board’s decision to initially interview only internal candidates and subsequent decision to widen the search to external candidates as well as internal ones should have been announced in open session because the decisions were about the scope of the search and not individual candidates, the letter says.

The first decision was made during the closed session of the March 20 meeting but there was no announcement in open session of which trustees supported the limited search. The second decision came in open session at the April 3 special meeting by a roll call vote.

“To this end, your advice that the Brown Act only requires you to disclose final votes (on naming a new superintendent) was wrong. … The attempt to narrowly construe the Brown Act in this manner undermines the Brown Act’s state purpose, violates the requirement to construe it broadly, and erodes public confidence in a government that must be open and transparent to the public,” the letter says.

The Brown Act is California’s law that requires public agencies to conduct the public’s business in open sessions, except in certain instances involving litigation, real estate, and personnel matters.

The letter calls on the board to disclose its actions taken on March 20 and April 3 and threatens litigation if the board fails to comply.

A Fresno Unified spokeswoman did not immediately respond Friday morning to a request for comment. Board President Susan Wittrup confirmed Friday that she had received a copy of the letter during Wednesday’s board meeting. She said that she is “awaiting analysis by district counsel.”

Controversy Over Limited Search

Wittrup was at the forefront of a community drive lobbying the board not to limit its initial candidate interviews to current district employees. The district is in the process of finding a replacement for Nelson, who is leaving the district on July 31 for a faculty job at Fresno State.

Deputy Superintendent Misty Her, one of the highest-ranking Hmong-American public school administrators in the nation, was reported to be one of the candidates with an inside track on replacing Nelson. If the board has not selected a new superintendent by Aug. 1, Her is anticipated to serve as the interim superintendent.

After community pressure heightened in news conferences held by Wittrup, Fresno City Council members, the head of the Fresno teachers union, a retired judge, and other community leaders and in postings on social media, Trustee Claudia Cazares announced on social media that she was in support of widening the search.

Although the decision by Cazares and three other trustees to interview internal candidates was not publicly announced, GV Wire reported that Wittrup and trustees Veva Islas and Andy Levine supported interviewing external as well as internal candidates, putting them in the minority of a 4-3 board split.

The board’s 5-2 vote to table the scheduled candidate interviews on April 3 came during the meeting’s open session.

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Nancy Price,
Multimedia Journalist
Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email

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