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District Attorney Warns Hart District On 'Secret Ballot'

Hart district officials were warned Wednesday by the District Attorney’s Office for the procedure they used in selecting Chris Fall to replace Paul Strickland’s seat on the governing board.


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A complaint was received regarding the June 5 appointment, which occurred after a five-hour interview process and several rounds of voting.

After a lengthy review, investigators alleged a Brown Act violation.

“Based upon an examination of the June 5, 2013, ballots from each round of voting, it would appear the voting was conducted by secret ballot since none of the ballots nor the minutes of the meeting contain the name or other identifying information of the board member who cast each vote,” according to a letter from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office’s Public Integrity Division.

Hart district board President Joe Messina said  district officials had not had a chance yet to fully review the letter or its claims with legal counsel.

“When I was made aware of what was happening, I spoke with the superintendent, who contacted our legal counsel, and we will work together to address the concerns of the District Attorney’s Office,” Messina said. “We’ll be giving the District Attorney’s Office more information that they may not have about the (selection) process so that we can move forward without any misunderstanding.”

Hart district Superintendent Rob Challinor said district officials, including himself, were never contacted during the investigation.

The votes were conducted in open session, but the results of the votes were not made public in the meeting's minutes, which was cited as the violation.

The letter states that a Brown Act violation of this nature could result in a lawsuit, and the results of the improper action could be rendered null and void by a judge.

In the case of Fall's appointment,  even if a legal recourse were deemed necessary over the alleged violation, it  would be moot because Fall later resigned from the seat to avoid a potential conflict of interest regarding a contract negotiation before the governing board.

The William S. Hart Union High School District’s governing board oversees all of the Santa Clarita Valley’s public junior highs and high schools, which educated more than 20,000 students.

The Ralph M. Brown Act was passed in 1953, creates guidelines, rules and procedures for the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies.

“One aspect of the public’s right to scrutinize and participate in public hearings is their right to witness the decision-making process,” the letter states. “If the votes are cast secretly, the public is deprived of its right under the Brown Act.”


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District Attorney Warns Hart District On 'Secret Ballot'


Article: District Attorney Warns Hart District On 'Secret Ballot'
Source: Santa Clarita News
Author: Perry Smith