LANCASTER — One-hundred and fifty-six days after the Nov. 6 election Antelope Valley Union High School District governing Board President Robert “Bob” Davis, Vice President Victoria Ruffin and Clerk Amanda Parrell were served with a notice of intent to recall prior to the start of a tumultuous four-hour Board meeting that included charges of racism directed at longtime trustee Jill McGrady.
Ruffin and Parrell were elected to the governing Board on Nov. 6. They took the oath of office on Dec. 12 along with new trustee John Rush, who ran unopposed, in the District’s first election under a by-trustee area election system.
The proposed recall follows several controversial decisions by Davis, Ruffin, and Parrell, who comprise the Board majority. Those actions include approving a $75,000 contract for four month’s work with Davis associate Kathleen Van Antwerp’s Full Circle Consulting Systems Inc. for a pilot implementation of the group’s S.T.O.P. Educational model.
Davis, Ruffin and Parrell also voted to award a contract to D’Vacor Entertainment Group, a northern California-based events and entertainment planning company led by Ruffin associate Rose Lyles to create individual websites for the trio, at an estimated cost of up to $5,000 each and $1,000 a month for maintenance. The open-ended contract also included travel expenses.
Davis announced at Thursday’s meeting that D’Vacor withdrew its contract with the District. The District received an email from Lyles withdrawing from its contract with the District. A D’Vacor representative did not respond to voice-mail or email messages seeking comment.
Davis, Ruffin, and Parrell also approved a $48,500 contract with a newly formed security company led by Bruce Frank, a former co-worker of Davis, to conduct a security analysis of the District.
Another controversial Board majority decision was the three-year contract with Los Angeles-based attorney John W. Harris. Harris charges $400-an-hour for his services. Davis, Ruffin, and Parrell approved the open-ended contract despite the District’s existing contract with the firm of Fagen, Friedman, and Fulfrost, one of the state’s leading educational law firms, and in-house general counsel Bridget Cook.
Perhaps the most controversial action by Davis, Ruffin, and Parrell did not involve a contract to a friend or associate but money denied to district employees.
Davis, Ruffin, and Parrell voted against a 2% ongoing pay raise and 2.5% one-time bonus for the employees that include district administrators as well as school site principals and their executive secretaries, security directors and confidential employees such as those who handle personnel data. Their action came after the Board approved similar packages for teachers and classified employees.
Special education teacher Sue Strom read the notice of intention to circulate a recall petition during the portion of the meeting set aside for comments for public business from the floor on non-agendized items. That came more than three hours into the meeting and after Davis called for a recess.
The grounds for recall, according to the notice, came about “as a result of many disturbing items that have come forward in recent board meetings, including but not limited to: the failure to support the families of students in denying an established and successful parent program, excessive expenditures on personal web pages and electronics for board members, duplicative expenditures on services or lawyers and counseling programs, unnecessary expenditures on security paperwork services, troubling contracts to friends and associates, and a general lack of discussion, communication, and respect toward others that would not only be expected of board members, but also that is necessary to the faithful fulfillment of duties toward the members of the Antelope Valley Union High School district in executing stewardship of sacred educational funds for our students.”
“These are not the only grievances shared by many, many of the general public of the Antelope Valley, but there is a 200-word limit,” Strom said.
Strom added as teachers they answer to their administrators if they step out of line. Administrators, in turn, answer to Superintendent David Vierra’s cabinet. Vierra answers to the Board.
“You answer to the voters … This will be chance for you to weighed and measured by the voters of this Valley who you answer to,” Strom said. “God bless our Democratic system of checks and balances.”
Davis, Ruffin, and Parrell have seven days to respond to the notice of intent.
The recall proponents cannot begin to collect signatures until after Los Angeles County elections officials have verified the form and wording of the recall petition. Recall proponents will then have 160 days to collect signatures.
Achieving a recall election is not easy. However, the petitioners may benefit from the District’s new by-trustee area election system. At minimum the recall proponents will need to collect signatures from 10% of the registered voters within Davis, Ruffin, and Parrell’s individual trustee areas, rather than the District’s total number of registered voters. However, L.A. County election officials recommend collecting more signatures as a cushion to account for invalid signatures that would be thrown out.
For example, Davis’ Trustee Area No. 3 has 39,821 registered voters, according to figures provided by the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office. The minimum 10% would mean petitioners would need to collect at least 3,982 signatures. More likely they would need to collect signatures from 20% of registered voters, or 7,964 signatures. Parrell’s Trustee Area No. 4 has 34,164 registered voters, the lowest total number of registered voters of the three. The minimum 10% would be 3,416 signatures. In order to account for invalid signatures they would need to collect 6,832 signatures.
Ruffin’s Trustee Area No. 5 has 36,938 registered voters. If proponents were to collect signatures from 20% of registered voters they would need at least 7,388.
Davis, asked via email about his response to the proposed recall and how he would characterize the public’s view of the Board, wrote:
“Taking the words from an earlier article the AV Press wrote when the new board members were elected back in November 2018, Change is coming to the Antelope Valley Union High School District. As you have witnessed over the last few months, change has been occurring. However, I believe change is always difficult to accept. It appears this new board has a vision to represent all students of the Antelope Valley. If we are speaking of the same general public’s view that I hear and see through my lens then I believe that this board is on the right track. In addition, I agree with the democratic system of valuing everyone’s opinion on this subject,” Davis wrote.
Ruffin and Parrell did not respond to emails seeking comment by press time.
Davis, Ruffin and Parrell went on the offensive early in the meeting.
“I move that the Board authorizes President Robert Davis to confer with legal counsel Harris and Associates on behalf of the Board consistent with the professional service agreement with the District,” Ruffin said.
McGrady pointed out the item was not on the agenda.
“What Board bylaw are you relying on to say that you’re allowed to make a motion at any time to add an item to the agenda,” Cook asked.
Ruffin repeated her motion, but it did not go anywhere.
“OK, we’ll discuss that later. Thank you,” Davis said.
“So we’re not doing that now?” Rush asked.
Parrell then accused McGrady of violating the Ralph M. Brown Act, the state law that forbids secrecy in government decision-making.
“Mrs. McGrady, I wanted to inform you that per the public records act that my personal information is made public,” Parrell said in reference a personal email address.
Parrell was apparently referring to a March 26 email McGrady sent to Senta Greene, Van Antwerp’s partner in Full Circle Consulting Systems, asking for an itemized invoice for Full Circle’s $15,000 general invoice sent to the District on March 11.
McGrady included her Board colleagues and Vierra on the email’s list of addressees.
Parrell stated that her personal email address has not been released to the public, or the district, However, she does have one personal email account listed as a contact on District’s website.
McGrady included the other personal email account in her email to Full Circle, according to a copy of the email the Antelope Valley Press received via a public records request.
“It seems like there is an investigation of me,” Parrell said. “Additionally, any information that is requested, whether it be closed session or any form of business, would be considered a violation of the Brown Act.
Parrell added it is “grounds for a violation that will be investigated.”
In reference to the March 14 meeting Davis claimed a closed session item was released to the public. He asked Cook how the Board would determine whether it was a Brown Act violation.
“It’s already been made public by the newspaper,” Davis said, apparently in reference to the Antelope Valley Press.
“If it’s a closed session item it’s probably something that you don’t want to divulge,” Cook said.
Cook added the Board could have a consensus to have it reviewed by legal counsel.
“If a member of the Board believes that there’s been a Brown Act violation by revealing something in closed session the Board has the right to make a report to the District Attorney’s public integrity division, or address it as a Board as a whole,” Cook said.
Davis was apparently referring to Valley Press stories that the Board consulted with Harris, the $400-an-hour attorney, during the March 14 closed session. The nature of Harris’ consultation is not known.
Davis then asked Cook what constituted a serial Board meeting by a Board member.
Cook responded that occurs when three or more Board members participate in a discussion, or come to a consensus, about an issue that is Board business.
Davis asked whether that included sharing information via email. He asked about the process for a Board member to request information about the District or program.
Cook said the Board member would contact Vierra.
Davis distributed McGrady’s email to the Board, saying he believes she violated Board Policy by requesting the information directly from Full Circle. He also deemed the email a “serial meeting.”
Davis also pointed to a typographical error in the email, where McGrady mistyped the email address for Full Circle Consulting System using the letter “k”,” which is next to “l” on a standard keyboard. The error would presumably mean Greene never received the email.
“I believe this was done intentionally to be hostile and intimidating to Ms. Greene, which her program has been approved by this Board,” Davis said.
Davis added, “I believe this speaks volumes to your hostile and degrading behavior Mrs. McGrady that you have put on display during the past Board meetings, not only to Miss Greene, but to three other vendors that have come before this Board.”
However, Greene has never addressed the Board, or made a presentation. That was Van Antwerp. The list does include Harris, Lyles, and Frank.
“Even those these professionals provide different services they all have one thing in common. That commonality is that these individuals are all black American,” Davis said, to jeers from the audience.
Davis called for a public apology from McGrady to Greene. He then shifted gears, and said McGrady has a conflict of interest when it comes family members who work for the District.
“As Board president I will be submitting a complaint package to the district attorney’s ethics department downtown,” Davis said.
McGrady confirmed she asked for an itemized invoice from Full Circle Consulting Systems.
“I guess I need to check my typing. I understand now why I didn’t get a response from them” McGrady said.
McGrady wanted to know how the District’s $15,000 was spent, including how many trainers were used, who they were and their qualifications. She also wanted to know how many teachers, staff, parents, and officers were involved. In addition, she asked for how many hours were involved in planning, preparing of materials, and content, plus how many hours were spent on the training itself.
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