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LA school board criticized for closed-door discussion of temporary representative

Mary Plummer/KPCC
Courtesy of USC

The Los Angeles Unified school board decided unanimously to tap former administrator Sylvia Rousseau to temporarily represent the south-central district until a special election can be held in June to replace late board member Margueritte LaMotte. But the way the board reached that decision - discussing its options in a closed-door meeting - is drawing fire.

"This is a classically political decision that needs to be made in public if it's made at all," said Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition. 

The school district argues that the 5-0 decision Tuesday to pull-in Rousseau was a personnel matter, thus exempt from the California Brown Act's public meeting requirements. (Board member Monica Garcia was absent.)

But Scheer said that doesn't hold water.

"They can call it what they want but they are appointing someone to fill-in for an absent board member," Scheer said.

Tom Waldman, a spokesman for the district, said the board will vote on Rousseau's contract in a public meeting next month.

After school board member Marguerite LaMotte passed away last December, stakeholders were divided on whether to elect or appoint a replacement. It's the only L.A. Unified school board seat to have been historically held by a black member - and community members and advocates lined up by the dozens often for several hours to speak to the issue in the weeks after LaMotte's death in December.

The school board decided to hold an election in June. But it also voted to consider appointing a temporary member in the interim. The district's general counsel determined the unusual temporary position was permissible, but could not have voting power.

Last week, the board voted 3-3 vote on appointing an interim. The deadlock prevented the process from moving forward. Half wanted to let the superintendent decide, the other half wanted to let District 1 stakeholders nominate potential candidates.

As board members sought to explain their position, board president Richard Vladovic shot down the discussion.

"I don't think this dialog is a good process to justify our votes," he said.

But then the board took the matter up in closed session Tuesday.

Scheer, of the First Amendment Coalition, said it's common for legislative bodies to want to remove sticky situations from the public's eye.

"Their instinct is to do exactly what the law forbids," he said, "and this sounds like an example of that."