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Faculty Federation files lawsuit against Governing Board

The Palomar Faculty Federation is suing the Governing Board for claimed violations of the Brown Act.

During the July 2018 Governing Board meeting, the Board discussed and approved an amendment for the contract of Superintendent/President, Joi Lin Blake. The amendment raised her base salary by $62,027 from her starting salary two years ago.

The Faculty Federation felt it was improper to do this in closed session and violated the Brown Act. The Federation then sent a “cease and desist” letter on Aug. 9, which are typically issued as a preceding step to a potential lawsuit, which notifies the recipient of their purportedly illegal activities, expressing their concerns with the violation and asked for a solution for the improper actions.

On Sept. 10 the District’s lawyer, Sharon J. Ormond, responded to the Federation’s cease and desist letter denying any act of wrong doing in regards to the Brown Act, although they did state that they plan on abiding by the Brown Act in all future meetings.

The response explained, “your letter does not allege, nor do the facts bear out, that the Board took action in closed session to approve the amendment. Had such been the case, the demand would align with the nature of the alleged violation…the amendment was plainly identified on the posted agenda.”

The Brown Act states that it is the Governing Board’s responsibility not to discuss matters, such as employee contract amendments in open session, rather the only obligation is to announce the resulting decisions decided in closed session in the open session.

The Board minutes on the Palomar website list under topic A, item 3, “review and approve third amendment to Superintendent/President contract.” It was later noted in the minutes by Board President Paul McNamara, when they reconvened in open session, “there were no report able actions taken in closed session.”

On Sept. 25 the Faculty Federation officially filed a lawsuit against the Board.

Teresa Laughlin, Co-President of the Faculty Federation said in an email, “We assert that the Board improperly, in closed session, discussed and approved the Palomar College President’s contract amendment.” She continued, “the Board’s lawyer did not agree with our attorney’s viewpoint. The next step is to have the matter adjudicated by a judge.”

Aside from the Superintendent/President’s contract the Federation has also pointed out discussions regarding investigating further on student housing in closed session. The only comment regarding housing discussion, according to Laughlin, was from Trustee Mark Evilsizer, stating the Governing Board was giving Dr. Blake the go ahead for further investigations into the opportunity.

“That ‘greenlight’ was never agendized and discussed in open session. This is troubling because members of the public who have concerns about student housing could not give input. The members of PFF have an interest in ensuring the Board is transparent and accountable,” Laughlin said.

Email inquiries were sent out to McNamara and Evilsizer, asking for a comment.

Evilsizer responded, “any issues dealing with district litigation (pending or actual) are legal matters that the Governing Board must address in closed session. This is prescribed by state law in the Brown Act.”

McNamara responded, “with regards to your questions, Laura Gropen will respond for the Board.”

Laura Gropen, the Director of Communications, Marketing, and Public Affairs emailed, “It is District policy not to comment on pending litigation.

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