News

Editorial: A strange definition of transparency

 

Any political candidate will let you know that one of the most important factors in deciding whether to run for office is figuring out who else is entering the race. If there's an incumbent or a popular figure, it might be best to sit out the election and wait for next time. If there aren't many viable candidates, then it's time to throw your hat into the ring.

Which makes the behavior of Ellen Wheeler, the president of the Mountain View Whisman School District's board of trustees, very troubling. Currently, the district is accepting applications to fill the seat left open by last month's resignation of board president Chris Chiang. In the normal course of events, copies of the submitted applications are available to the public and the press as soon as they are filed, just as they would be for candidates running in an election.

Wheeler, however, has directed that no information about applicants for the board seat will be released by the district office until the application deadline has closed on Aug. 3. That means that anyone weighing the decision to apply won't have access to a vital piece of information: Who else is in the running?

What makes this disregard for the public process even harder to swallow is that Wheeler, in an email to the Voice, describes her decision to hide applicant information as being in the interest of "transparency of process and fairness to all candidates."

Wheeler, who is on the board's subcommittee to screen applicants, created a timeline and decided when applications would be made available to the Voice and declared that all applicants would be featured in a news story prior to the board's special meeting Aug. 18 to appoint someone.

She offered to forward copies of the applications to the Voice on July 31, shortly before the deadline, but only after she and another board member reviewed them, with the stipulation that the newspaper would not publish anything about them until Aug. 7. She later rescinded that offer after canvassing the rest of the board members and one of them objected, she said.

Needless to say, the Voice never agreed to delay its reporting on board applicants, although that didn't stop Wheeler from announcing her timeline, and the Voice's supposed cooperation, at a July 16 informational meeting that drew 10 prospective applicants.

Wheeler says that she's only looking out for the applicants. "It's important that all of the candidates feel like they are being treated fairly, and giving them all the same timeline and chance at publicity provides that fairness," she told the Voice in an email.

The reality is that four declared applicants have already gone public and spoken to the Voice, negating Wheeler's argument. As of Tuesday, four people -- including three unknown to the Voice -- had submitted applications, but district staff, at Wheeler's direction, refused to release even their names.

In the opinion of Nikki Moore, an attorney for the California Newspaper Publishers Association who specializes in public records and open meeting laws, Wheeler's actions violate state law, which deems the applications to be public information.

The Voice on July 27 filed a Public Records Act request to obtain copies of the applications. Wheeler has said that the board's legal counsel told her she can withhold the applications, but has yet to provide any legal basis for that claim.

For a school district that's been mired in controversy -- most recently, the ongoing conflicts with board member Steve Nelson and Chiang's announcement that he resigned in order to pursue a recall campaign to replace Nelson -- the appointment of a fifth board member is of enormous significance to the Mountain View Whisman community.

This often fractious board needs to come together as a cohesive body to tackle major issues, including redrawing attendance boundaries, opening a new school and spending tens of millions of dollars to rebuild the Castro Elementary campus to accommodate two schools. It's hard to have any confidence in the board's ability to make good decisions when its president uses such poor judgment in the selection process for a new trustee.

— The Opinion of the Mountain View Voice

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Comments

11 people like this
Posted by Ellen Wheeler
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Aug 3, 2015 at 12:24 pm

Posted on Town Square on 7/31:
This editorial is incorrect in its assertion that this candidate application timeline was created by me as board president. In fact, the entire board, at its board meeting on June 30, discussed and voted on a timeline for this process. The board unanimously voted to have candidate applications due at 4 PM on Monday, August 3rd. At 4:05 PM a subcommittee of the board is directed to review all applications to ensure that the applications fulfill the statutory requirements for this office (resident of the school district, registered voter, etc.). The board also directed that on August 4th the applications would be sent to the board and posted on the district website (mvwsd.org). We hope that our community members go onto our website this Tuesday to read the applications. Our interview/selection meeting is Tues. August 18, 6 - 10 PM.


5 people like this
Posted by Observ
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 3, 2015 at 3:51 pm

I commend Wheeler. This paper's tabloid coverage and muck racking would just turn off the kind of informed and caring board member the district needs.


15 people like this
Posted by Common sense
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 3, 2015 at 4:58 pm

Posted on Town Square August 1 after Ellen Wheeler's first posting of the comment above (and she has not yet responded further there either). Please note also that you are now reading the second copy of this story on the Voice website, the original is here: Web Link

Ms. Wheeler, what about the article's main points, which your comment didn't address:

'In the normal course of events, copies of the submitted applications are available to the public and the press as soon as they are filed, just as they would be for candidates running in an election.'

'Wheeler, in an email to the Voice, describes her decision to hide applicant information as being in the interest of "transparency of process and fairness to all candidates." '

' "It's important that all of the candidates feel like they are being treated fairly, and giving them all the same timeline and chance at publicity provides that fairness," she told the Voice in an email. The reality is that four declared applicants have already gone public and spoken to the Voice, negating Wheeler's argument.'

'In the opinion of Nikki Moore, an attorney for the California Newspaper Publishers Association who specializes in public records and open meeting laws, Wheeler's actions violate state law, which deems the applications to be public information.'


7 people like this
Posted by More Than Enough
a resident of Rex Manor
on Aug 3, 2015 at 5:26 pm

@ Common Sense:

I did not see a point in your post. We already know the Voice and the District have different views of the legal obligations involved. As I recall, the District should be held innocent until proven guilty. They are not hiding anything, only making this extraordinary summer task efficient for themselves. Anybody who wants to know can see everything tomorrow, as indicated by Trustee Wheeler. No beef here, honestly.


18 people like this
Posted by Common sense
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 3, 2015 at 6:04 pm

"More...:" Did you not read the full editorial?

The Voice (with this editorial, distributed in print on Friday) raised various issues about Wheeler's handling of the candidate applications last week -- how it departs from past practice, and the irony of Wheeler's assertion of "transparency" -- hence the editorial's title. Wheeler commented on one detail above, but has not responded to the rest of the article, i.e. to its overall thrust.


8 people like this
Posted by svsportz
a resident of Willowgate
on Aug 3, 2015 at 6:11 pm

Hilarious! These "citizens" of our city not interested in transparency and not interested in fair visualization of facts. I wonder who these "citizens" really are and why they are so immediately anti-disclosure. Smells fishy all around to me. What is Wheeler's true motive to squelch information like this? Poor Mountain View seems to be getting much more than our share of suspected behavior all around these days. At a minimum, Wheeler's behavior is strange to me.


7 people like this
Posted by More than Enough
a resident of Rex Manor
on Aug 3, 2015 at 9:22 pm

I read the entire piece and I disagree with the premise. It will all be public tomorrow. The records act may be being misrepresented to the benefit of the Voice, I don't know. I do know that the quoted attorney may not be the only one with a valid opinion.


11 people like this
Posted by voter
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 4, 2015 at 9:18 am

if you are looking to find out information regarding the MVWSD their website is lacking in all regards. I Checked this morning and as of 9 am there are no statements from the candidates. You would think that since the board is well aware of the negative public perception surrounding the disclosure of applicants that they would have directed staff to post the statements at the start of business today.


4 people like this
Posted by Greg Coladonato
a resident of Slater
on Aug 4, 2015 at 10:28 am

Greg Coladonato is a registered user.

The redacted candidate applications are available now: Web Link

In case that link is changed and doesn't work any longer, you should be able to get the new URL from this page: Web Link


9 people like this
Posted by Gary
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Aug 4, 2015 at 10:34 am

It appears that Ms. Wheeler not only orchestrated an ongoing violation of the CA Public Records Act (Government Code Section 6253(a)) but also the Brown Act (Government Code Section 54952.2(b)(1)) in "canvassing" the three other board members (not at a meeting) about whether to allow the Voice to inspect public records plainly not exempt from disclosure. It is not a matter of "opinion." The Public Records Act and the Brown Act are two of few laws that serve as a hedge against corruption in local government in California. Ms. Wheeler's post followed by her failure to respond to the other posts above (not mine) about the unlawful decision to deny access to the applications as required by the Public Records Act only makes the matter more serious. Moreover, these violations are part of a pattern. Ms. Wheeler orchestrated the censurng of board member Steve Nelson using Board bylaws that were and remain unlawful under Education Code Section 7052. While Mr. Nelson admitted to some inappropriate conduct, the bylaws cited seek to forbid board members from going public with much of anything. The Board should have fixed those bylaws after I explained their unlawful overbreadth in late 2013. These recent episodes remind me of the process arranged by Ms. Wheeler in closing Slater school. The common themes appear to be control by Ms. Wheeler and limting the release of information to the public. So, while we can appreciate Ms. Wheeler's dedication and hard work, her ends do not justify unlawful means.


3 people like this
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of Rex Manor
on Aug 4, 2015 at 11:12 am

@Gary, If these breaches are really this serious, perhaps you should stop trying to convict Trustee Wheeler in the court of public opinion. You seem to know a great deal of Law, and presumably can figure out what citizen legal remedies are available.

As I have previously seen here, great sport watching the district defend themselves.


5 people like this
Posted by Common sense
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 4, 2015 at 11:32 am

Gary: Exactly. Whatever "premise" the poster "More than Enough" may happen to disagree with, the Voice has cited a pattern of irregular and very possibly illegal activities. Mere access to the candidate information is only a part of this picture.


6 people like this
Posted by Gary
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Aug 4, 2015 at 1:32 pm

Part of the remedy is alerting the public (and other board members) to law violations. But there are legal remedies as well. I have prevously posted what appears to be the appropriate legal remedy.


3 people like this
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Whisman Station
on Aug 5, 2015 at 4:43 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

Sigh. I went through all this wiyh the PAUSD over the way the Board ( and Skelly ) broke several legal and ethics laws. during his tenure @ the PAUSD
If the PAO has a proper morgue for old editions, you can see the same problems with the PAUSD.

History repeats itself again.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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