Harris

Harris

LANCASTER ­­— Antelope Valley Union High School District’s governing Board will conduct a special meeting at 10:30 a.m. today to consider authorizing three separate actions for the legal counsel hired by the Board majority, including to prequalify a neutral third party investigation/consultancy firm to review concerns of alleged discrimination and disparate treatment in the suspension and expulsion of students of color/minority.

Board President Robert “Bob” Davis, Vice President Victoria Ruffin and Clerk Amanda Parrell approved an open-ended contract with Harris & Associates at the Jan. 24 meeting. Trustees Jill McGrady and John Rush voted no.

The Board majority approved the Harris & Associates contract despite the fact the District has an existing contract with Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost, one of the state’s leading educational law firms. The District also has longtime in-house general counsel Bridget Cook.

Davis signed the contract with Harris & Associates on Feb. 1.

The Board has used the services of $400-an-hour attorney John W. Harris and his $375-an-hour senior associate Herbert Hayden several times since then, apparently without authorization.

Harris attended governing Board meetings on Feb. 14 and Feb. 28 at Davis’ invitation. He appeared to sleep through portions of the Board’s Feb. 14 meeting. He participated in the March 14 and April 11 Board meetings via teleconference.

Harris has also met with Davis and Superintendent David Vierra at least one time to review the agenda.

Hayden, apparently at Davis’ direction, drove to the Antelope Valley this month to pick up a letter. In addition to his hourly rate, Harris, and presumably Hayden, is charging the District for travel time to and from the Antelope Valley.

The firm has yet to submit an invoice even though the contract calls for it to do so monthly.

McGrady asked Davis at the March 14 and April 11 meetings how many times he met with Harris.

Davis did not answer. Instead, he asked McGrady to submit her questions to him.

McGrady has repeatedly expressed concern about the attorney’s use and his cost to the District.

“We have not publicly chosen designee to authorize the use of these attorneys,” McGrady said at the April 11 meeting. “And as you continue to use the attorneys, we have not properly agendized or set parameters for their use.”

That looks to be resolved today.

The Board will consider whether to authorize Davis to confer with legal counsel Harris and Associates on behalf of the Board, subject to the requirements of state law and Board policies, regulations and bylaws, including Board Bylaw No. 9124, according to the agenda.

According to Board Bylaw No. 9124, the “Superintendent may confer with the district’s legal counsel at his/her discretion and shall provide the Board with desired legal information when so directed by a majority of the Board. The Board also may authorize a specific member to confer with legal counsel on behalf of the Board.”

The Board will also consider whether to authorize Harris & Associates to prequalify a neutral third party investigation/consultancy firm to review the concerns of alleged discrimination and disparate treatment in the suspension and expulsion of students of color/minority students in the District.

The Board will also consider whether to authorize Harris & Associates to prequalify a neutral third party investigation/consultancy firm to review the concerns raised during the April 11 public comments about alleged discrimination and disparate treatment in the district’s hiring and promotional practices.

According to the agenda, at least two firms will submit bids on the services to be performed. The prequalified firms will present to the Board in open session and will be selected during such session.

The special meeting is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. in the boardroom at the District office, 44811 Sierra Highway.

The meeting is being held in the morning despite Ruffin’s stated desire to make Board meetings more accessible to commuters. The Board majority moved the meetings from 5 p.m. on the first and third Wednesday of the month to 7 p.m. on the second and fourth Thursday of the month.

That move hurt student leaders whose schedules were organized around the previous meeting days and time.

Ruffin works for the Oxnard Union High School District, which holds its regular meetings on the first and third Wednesday of the month. Oxnard Union High School District is on spring break this week, so it appears Ruffin will not miss any work to attend the special meeting,

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