By The Signal Editorial Board
This one doesn’t pass the smell test.
On the week before Tuesday’s election, The Signal became aware of the existence of a “cease and desist” letter from the Saugus Teachers Association’s attorney to the Saugus Union School District.
The letter involves a dispute between SUSD board President Chris Trunkey and STA President Deborah Rocha, who accuses Trunkey of trying to dig up “dirt” on her after the STA endorsed another candidate —Sharlene Duzick — for his Area 5 seat.
When we first heard of its existence, sources told us the nature of the letter, but we needed to see it to confirm its contents before reporting the details.
So, we asked for a copy. It’s a letter from the STA to the district, and as far as we know there would be no reason to believe it wasn’t a public record.
But the SUSD said we couldn’t have the letter, at least not right away. Upon our original request, made under the California Public Records Act on Nov. 1, the response we received from the SUSD was that the letter could not be made available until Nov. 9.
For those keeping score, that would be three days after the midterm election in which Trunkey was seeking re-election.
The law does allow a public agency up to 10 days to respond to a Public Records Act request. So, the district’s response to our request did not violate the law. However, the district’s refusal to release the letter before the election seems shady to say the least.
As it turned out, the district released the Oct. 26 letter sooner than they said they would, but still not before the election. It was released on Wednesday, after all the ballots were cast.
That’s a head-scratcher, isn’t it?
The letter was addressed to Board Clerk Paul De La Cerda and signed by Richa Amar, an attorney for the teachers association. It details the STA’s allegations that the school board violated the Educational Employment Relations Act and Trunkey violated the board’s Governance Standards and Code of Conduct.
The letter outlines all of the accusations and closes by saying “if the complained-of conduct persists, STA may bring legal action against the board and seek appropriate relief.”
We asked the district for a reason that the letter was being withheld until after the election. We were given none. And, as far as we know, there is no valid reason for it to be withheld. But we’re open-minded — if the SUSD wants to offer up a valid reason for withholding the letter, we’ll listen.
Superintendent Colleen Hawkins, Trunkey and De La Cerda have declined comment on the letter, and that is understandable. There could be litigation in the future between the teachers association and the district, so their legal counsel is probably advising them that the less said, the better. The board held a closed-session meeting Oct. 30 to discuss the district’s “significant exposure to litigation,” according to the agenda for that meeting.
But no one has explained the delay in releasing the letter, and on its face, the reason seems obvious: Politics.
The election was Tuesday. The SUSD withheld the letter until Wednesday, after Trunkey had apparently won re-election by just 144 votes over Duzick — the official outcome, of course, being subject to any shifts that may occur as provisional and late mail-in ballots are counted.
Why didn’t the district release the letter before the election? It’s a public record. It’s three pages long. If the office copy machine at SUSD headquarters was on the fritz, the total cost of a photocopy would be about 39 cents at one of your better office supply stores.
Or, they could save a tree, scan the letter and email us a pdf. Total time invested: maybe five minutes.
Turns out, they did send it as a pdf. On Wednesday. You can view the whole letter online at: bit.ly/2DtycAb
So, why was the answer “not until Nov. 9” when we first asked for a copy of a three-page public record? Why was it withheld until one day after the election?
What EVER could the reason be? It couldn’t possibly be that the district office, a public agency, was manipulating the timing of the release of a public record in order to protect a board member’s re-election hopes, could it?
Nah, it can’t be. They wouldn’t do such a thing.