LANCASTER — Antelope Valley Union High School District’s Board majority met in closed session Thursday night and authorized the use of, and expenditure on, legal services by Harris & Associates to review and analyze the employment agreements between the District and Superintendent David Vierra and General Counsel Bridget Cook.
John W. Harris, the District’s $400-an-hour attorney, participated in closed session via teleconference, a district official confirmed Friday.
The vote was 3-0 with Board President Robert “Bob” Davis, Vice President Victoria Ruffin and Clerk Amanda Parrell voting yes.
Trustees Jill McGrady and John Rush left the closed session meeting when the action was taken, a District official said.
The action item for Harris & Associates was placed on the closed session agenda at Davis’ direction.
Rush asked during the meeting’s open session whether the item was not more appropriate for open session.
“I’m not aware of an exception that allows it to go into closed session,” Cook said.
Cook added she could not say whether Davis spoke to outside counsel about the item’s placement on the agenda.
“I’m not going to respond to a closed session item,” Davis said.
“You still didn’t answer the question as to why it was approved for the closed session,” Rush said.
“We’re not going to discuss closed session items,” Davis said.
Cook advised Davis to meet with Rush and talk about it at another time.
But Rush said he reached out to Davis four times to discuss something and did not receive a response.
“I know he got the message,” Rush said.
Also scheduled for closed session for the second meeting in a row were performance evaluations for Vierra, his cabinet members, and Cook. The previous Board conducted Vierra’s evaluation last November prior to the new Board majority seizing control of the District.
“I would once again like to remind this Board that we have one employee, the superintendent, and his contract is not up for renewal,” McGrady said.
McGrady also took exception with the Board’s use of Harris. She said the Board has not followed procedure under its bylaws concerning the use of Harris, and his $375-an-hour senior associate attorney Herbert Hayden, from Harris’ law firm.
“We have not publicly chosen designee to authorize the use of these attorneys,” McGrady said. “And as you continue to use the attorneys, we have not properly agendized or set parameters for their use.”
McGrady noted the District has yet to receive an invoice from Harris & Associates.
Under the contract signed by Davis on Feb. 1 Harris is supposed to submit an invoice within 30 days.
McGrady asked Harris for an invoice at the Feb. 14 meeting.
“He had 10 days to give us an invoice,” McGrady said.
Harris said at the Board’s Feb. 28 meeting that he would submit an invoice monthly.
McGrady asked Davis how many times he or other Board members talked to Harris or one of his associates this month.
“No comment,” Davis said.
“How many meetings have you had with anyone from (Harris’) office this month,” McGrady said.
Davis asked McGrady to submit her questions to him.
McGrady reminded Davis when she asked him at the March 14 meeting he said he would submit those to her.
“Where is it?” McGrady said.
Davis’ muffled response was inaudible.
“Did you in fact direct Mr. Hayden, an associate of Mr. Harris, to drive to Lancaster to pick a document?” McGrady said.
“I will answer that question Mrs. McGrady, and you know what? I’m not going to participate in your racial game …,” Davis began, which drew an audible response from the audience. “… of let’s move the goal post for the black man.”
Davis directed McGrady to ask Superintendent Vierra about it.
“We spent $375 an hour for him to drive here to pick up a letter and drive back. As far as I’m concerned that’s courier service. It’s a waste of taxpayer funds,” McGrady said, to applause from members of the audience.
Davis said they confirmed an appointment with Hayden via email for him to come to Lancaster.
“What occurred after that?” Davis said in an exchange with Vierra.
“It was informing Mr. Hayden that there was no need for him to come up here. That we could actually send them to him via email,” Vierra said.
“We can’t talk about … this,” Davis said.
Prior to the Board going into closed session, student trustee Noah Sveiven addressed the Board about the Harris & Associates item.
“I think the best time to correct an error is before it occurs, and so I hope that we can move this agenda item from private bit and place it in the section of the agenda that it belongs,” Sveiven said.
Davis did not acknowledge Sveiven’s suggestion.
“Mr. President, is no action going to be taken to correct the problem?” Sveiven asked.
“No,” Davis said.
“OK, thank you,” Sveiven said.
Lancaster resident Dennis Davenport addressed the Board in regard to the closed session item for Harris & Associates.
Davenport deemed it a “terrible mistake” for the Board to further use Harris’ services.
“He’s shown himself to be incompetent. He lacks respect for the Board that employs him, let alone he falls asleep at the meeting. It’s just he’s disgraceful. And so I caution you to continue to use somebody like that,” Davenport said.
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