TheLiberalOC challenges GGUSD Trustees to come clean about Brown Act violation

TheLiberalOC has submitted a letter to the Garden Grove Unified School District Board of Trustees challenging them to come clean and admit violations of California’s open meeting statutes (The Brown Act) at their December 15, 2009 organizational meeting.

At the January 5, 2010 meeting of the Board, Trustee Dr. KimOanh Nguyen-Lam alleged that violations of the Brown Act appeared to have occurred at the December meeting. Before a packed board room that included many high school students covering the board meeting for their civics class, Dr. Nguyen-Lam related the actions that she witnessed at the board’s organizational meeting on December 15, 2009.

Lan Nguyen (top) and former Trustee Trung Nguyen (File Photo-TheLiberalOC)

“Right before the board meeting began, as we were sitting in our seats, up here on the dais, which at that time from left to right, Mrs. Linda Reed, Mr. Lan Nguyen, myself, Mr. Bob Harden, and Dr. George West – Mr. Lan Nguyen walked over to Mr. Bob Harden and asked him, in a hushed voice, if he agreed to be the next board president. Mr. Harden said yes and nodded his head to show his consent. Then Mr. Lan Nguyen turned to Dr. George West and asked if Dr. West could nominate Lan for the Vice-president post. Dr. West laughed out loud and teased Lan for wanting only the “second position” – but he also agreed to do the nomination. This took place just a few minutes before Dr. Schwalm (GGUSD Superintendent) called the meeting to order and we all stood up to do the pledge of allegiance.

In response to Dr. Nguyen-Lam’s allegations a stunned Lan Nguyen admitted that he did indeed talk to Bob Harden about whether he wanted to be president but denied that was a violation of the act. Given that this conversation took place right next to George West, it is difficult to believe that Dr. West did not hear the conversation and agree to the deal since Dr West indeed nominated Lan for vice-president. When asked directly by KimOanh what happened on December 15th, Dr. West said he did not recall.

The letter, submitted by TheLiberalOC publisher Chris Prevatt, states:

Dr. Nguyen-Lam disclosed that she had witnessed conversations between three other Trustees, Lan Quoc Nguyen, Bob Harden and George West in which, prompted by Trustee Lan Quoc Nguyen, they discussed and decided their planned actions including their individual votes on matters of the nominations and election of Board officers scheduled for decision at that meeting.

Such discussions when a quorum of Trustees are present are specifically prohibited under GC § 54953.  In this case, in addition to the three Trustees involved in the conversation, because the discussions were witnessed by Trustee Nguyen-Lam a total of four out of five Trustees were present when a matter was discussed and decided out of public view. Trustees Nguyen, West and Harden acknowledge at the January 5th meeting that conversations regarding the agenda item did occur, yet some stated that they did not recall the details of those discussions.

In light of these facts and under the provisions of GC  § 54960.1, I request on behalf of the internet publication that the Board of Trustees take action to remedy this apparent violation of the Brown Act. I request that in the interest of public disclosure of prior Board actions that:

  1. Trustees Lan Quoc Nguyen, Bob Harden and George West disclose publicly that they were all present for, and did indeed have, conversations just prior to the December 15th Board meeting in the Board Hearing Room at which time they did discuss the nominations for  and election of Board officers.
  2. The Board of Trustees acknowledges publicly that such conversations appear to be potential violations of the spirit, if not the letter of, the Brown Act California’s open meetings statutes.
  3. The Board of Trustees affirm their commitment individually and publicly to refrain from such discussions in the future.

Please be aware that the Brown Act authorizes a court to enter a declaratory judgment against a legislative body for violating the Brown Act in the past where “there is a controversy over whether a past violation of law has occurred.” California Alliance for Utility Etc. Education v. City of San Diego, 56 Cal. App. 4th 1024, 1025, 1030, 65 Cal. Rptr. 2d 833 (1997). “[T]he ripeness doctrine does not require that to obtain declaratory relief [plaintiffs must] allege and prove a pattern or practice of past violations.” Id. at 1029 (emphasis added). Rather, a declaratory relief action is proper if plaintiffs allege that a government body has violated the law, and the body or its counsel refuse to acknowledge a violation. Common Cause v. Stirling, 147 Cal. App. 3d 518, 524, 195 Cal. Rptr. 163 (1983). The legislative body’s refusal to acknowledge a past violation is generally sufficient evidence that future violations are likely to occur. Id.

The Garden Grove Unified School District Board of Trustees has 30 days to cure or correct the alleged violations of the Brown Act before court action can be sought.