The Brown Act governs local public agencies as to how they conduct the public’s business. It was meant to empower citizens by informing them of items to be considered for action and avoid back-room dealings by politicians. Government Code 54954.2 (3) states in part, “No action or discussion shall be taken on any item not appearing on the agenda.”
The William S Hart Union High School District has a well-deserved reputation for violating the Brown Act with great frequency on important issues, and they did so again at the July 14 meeting. After consideration of item IXA, the board voted 4-1 to “retire” the Hart High Indians mascot. Trustee Joe Messina courageously registered the single no vote.
The agenda item read, “The governing board will vote to determine whether to keep or retire the Indian mascot at Hart high School. Should the board vote to retire the Indian mascot, the board will provide direction to staff on next steps including the establishment of a timeline for the change and the process for selecting alternatives.”
At the conclusion of public comment and board discussion, Trustee Robert Jensen made an illegal motion that bundled a number of items that were not on the agenda along with the “retirement”of the Indian mascot. These items included:
Amend the Hart High Constitution to add a name of honor, “The Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians.”
Place a mural on at a proposed plaza meant to educate students about Native Americans.
Establish a William S Hart cultural center on the campus of Hart High.
Add a component to the Hart High student handbook that presumably discusses local Indian history.
By omitting these specific items from the agenda, the public was denied the ability to decide whether to attend and comment about the items. All of these will require expenditure of district resource and there was no consideration given to fiscal impact.
The language in a relevant court decision, Carlson v. Paradise School District, states it well. The agenda item was “entirely misleading and inadequate to show the whole scope of the board’s intended plans.”
I have filed a cure and correct letter with the William S. Hart Union High School District asking them to revisit item IXA. I encourage the trustees to acknowledge their illegal action at the Sept. 1 meeting by declaring their action null and void , and to respect the letter and spirit of the Brown Act in the future.
Stephen C. Petzold