|The simmering dispute over whether the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District should televise its meetings took an unexpected turn, sources revealed recently, after a Palo Alto attorney demanded that district officials turn over hundreds of e-mails and expense reports related to a June 9 meeting on the issue.
Real estate lawyer Peter Brewer, an acquaintance of Los Altos City Council member Ron Packard, made the California Public Records Act request on June 25, just two days after a second contentious meeting between two Los Altos council members and the high school district board. Although other items were discussed, the biggest dispute at the meetings was between council members David Casas and Packard and board trustees over televising future board meetings.
In his request to district Superintendent Barry Groves, Brewer asked for any "notes, letters, analysis, memos and e-mails" sent or received since Feb. 1 regarding a joint meeting between the district and council. He said he is interested in specific issues discussed at the meeting, including televising meetings, possible term limits for the trustees and any concerns raised by Casas regarding alcohol abuse on the high school campus. He also asked for expense reports from the five trustees since Jan. 1.
The request caused untold hours of work for school officials, and eventually yielded a four-inch stack of paper, a copy of which was obtained by the Voice. Exactly what Brewer plans to do with the information is unclear, and for the past week he was on vacation and did not return calls seeking comment.
"It has taken so much time to go through all these e-mails," said board president Judy Hannemann.
The information request is apparently part of an ongoing argument over the merits of taping and broadcasting public meetings. The Los Altos council normally televises its tapings, while the school board does not, and after much reluctance, trustees decided the council could tape their June 9 joint meeting. But trustees said they did not want to pay the $1,000 needed to televise each of their regular meetings.
Packard was not at the joint meeting, but Casas surprised trustees and his fellow council members when he announced he had looked into a pilot program to tape the trustees' meetings for free. Trustees could not be completely "transparent" without these tapings, according to Casas. Council members said they knew nothing about the deal, and several trustees said Casas' unprofessional manner put them off from wanting to discuss the issue further.
The trustees invited Casas to give another presentation on the subject at a board meeting on June 23. Casas, who brought Packard to the meeting, started off by questioning the trustees' expenses after a presentation from Hannemann, who had discussed her travels to an educational conference. He was also worried about technicalities of the agenda, he said, and possible violations of the Brown Act, which regulates the conduct of governing bodies. After another heated discussion, trustees again rejected Casas' proposals.
"When you are dealing with the Brown Act, you have to be hyper-technical," said Packard, who is a lawyer.
Following that meeting, local newspapers received an anonymous letter criticizing Casas. Packard responded for Casas, who has been out of town and unreachable for several weeks, by sending his own letter defending his colleague's actions and accusing trustees of writing the anonymous letter.
"It's a small town, and we all live close to each other," said trustee Julia Rosenberg. "Why would you be talking through the press?"
Trustees said they did not even know such a big rift between them and the two council members existed before the joint meeting on June 9.
"They have never told us what problem they want us to solve," said trustee Susan Sweeley.
But according to Packard, tensions between the Los Altos council and school board originated several years ago over parking at Los Altos High School. Construction at the school reduced the amount of parking on campus, causing students to park in nearby neighborhoods. The council has no jurisdiction over the school, but still gets complaints from neighbors.
"Every year come August and September, we have a flood of residents come complain," Packard said.
He said the parking issue needs to be taken more seriously by school administrators, and blames the trustees for their hiring process of these administrators. He also said that term limits for the trustees would help to keep them in touch with community needs.
The five trustees "are all fine people," Packard said. "But I am looking at the institution and how they are elected."
A similar dispute over parking at Mountain View High School has been ongoing for 40 years, but there is no known problem between the high school board and the Mountain View City Council.
Superintendent Groves said this was the first time he'd been hit by an information request since coming to the district two years ago.
Rather than spend his summer chasing paperwork for lawyers, "I want to move on and spend my time on working on issues good for kids," he said.
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