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Board trustee conflict leads to special school meeting with district attorney to weigh | Dublin News


DUBLIN — After calls for three trustees to resign, the Dublin Unified School District (DUSD) board has scheduled a special meeting for July 12 to discuss whether the three board members committed Brown Act violations during the recent election change process.

While some believed that the breach had indeed taken place, others argued that the noise had more to do with a desire to dislodge the three. The school district attorney will review the matter during a meeting in mid-July.

The June 28 decision followed a flurry of public comment in response to a Facebook post that revealed Dublin resident Bill Carey had sent numerous emails and text messages to DUSD trustees Dan Cherrier, Gabby Blackman and William Kuo before the board’s vote on change of districts. Mary Harvey Washington, a parent and DUSD employee, obtained the messages through a California Public Records Act (PRA) request and posted them on social media. In emails and text messages, Carey encouraged trustees to vote for a map that placed two other trustees, Megan Rouse and Christine Pelham, in the same district.

During the Feb. 22 meeting, Cherrier, Kuo and Blackman voted for this map, known as “Scenario 1,” to be one of the final two maps selected. Rose and Pelham voted against the map, which moves Pelham’s home address from her own district to Rose’s. If both women decide to run for re-election in November, they will face each other.

Cherrier said in an interview that in February he voted for Scenario 1 over the other finalist, Scenario 4, because he believed it was the best choice, generating a large percentage of Latino voters while having the least impact on voters. He recalled that he paused before casting his vote because he knew the political implications of doing so for Rose and Pelham.

Under redistricting laws, politicians don’t have to consider whether elected officials can lose their seats if new maps are drawn and they no longer live in the area they represent.

Kuo said in an email that he also believes Scenario 1 was the better choice. The other finalist, he said, diluted the Latino vote and was not in the best interest of voters. He said “protecting trustees is a nice clause to have, but it’s not part of the general requirements laid out in the redistricting map.”

“Many voters who participated in the map’s public discussion periods also relayed to me their preference for Map #1,” he said.

Sherrier, the board president, denied doing anything improper before the vote. He said he never engaged in any joint conversations with Kuo and Blackman that would have violated quorum rules for the five-member panel, and never revealed which card he preferred to his colleagues until he voted during the public meeting. He also said he never told Kerry or any of his colleagues how he planned to vote. Known as a “serial meeting,” the act of communicating through an intermediary how an elected official plans to vote is also a violation of public meeting rules.

“I didn’t decide until the last night,” Sherrier said. “There’s no email saying, ‘I’m going to vote this way.'”

​​​​While copies of emails and text messages posted online showed Kuo, Cherrier and Blackman communicating with Carey and other residents, it did not appear that they participated in the group text message. Such a message would be a violation of the state’s Brown Act, which sets rules for what elected bodies must do publicly. It is not illegal or unusual for elected officials to receive correspondence from members of the public, as long as neither the quorum rules nor the rules of consecutive sitting are violated.

In an email, Kuo also denied wrongdoing, saying he was “certain that no serial encounter took place and no violation of the Brown Act occurred.”

“Nor have I had any text messages, emails or calls with the Blackman trustees and the Cherier trustees regarding the subject of redrawing the proxy card,” Kuo wrote.

Blackman declined to comment.

In an interview with The Independent, Washington said she filed the PRA after watching the Feb. 22 vote and feeling uncomfortable with the process.

“I don’t feel they’re behaving ethically,” Washington said. “Whether there is illegality, I do not know; I’m not a lawyer… There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes communication that isn’t open to the public. It should be a public process. This is an elected school board and we need to know what’s going on. We need to know how they make decisions.’

PRA documents, also released to The Independent, show Carey, a certified public accountant and corporate controller at a Santa Clara database company, wrote numerous texts and emails to board members to express his views on various card proposals.

In one of his posts, Kerry wrote: “Your decision is clear, reject scenarios 2, 3, 4 and 4a and vote for scenario 1. Under scenario 1, the current leaders will serve their terms and have the same opportunities as anyone else. otherwise, in their new area to participate in future elections (in particular, Christine will be treated the same as all other voters in the revised area 2)’.

In another, Kerry wrote: “Whatever the path, we can get support. We need to decide. What is more important to take out Megan or Christine or to strengthen the three eastern districts?”

In a comment on her Facebook post, Washington claimed that “a single unelected Dubliner is pulling the strings of most DUSD trustees.” She accused Carey of spending “considerable time and energy persuading Trustees Cherrier, Blackman and Kuo to vote for a map that shows Trustees Rose and Pelham in the same district.”

When emailed, Kerry said he was on vacation in central Europe and was unaware of the controversy involving his name.

“I wonder,” said Kerry. “It’s really vile and divisive. Why wasn’t I just asked?”

Cherrier described Carey as a Dublin resident who attended redistricting meetings and offered his opinion to the panel on which map they should choose.

“He was very interested in the first round of cards,” Sherrier said. “He came up with his own map. He was very involved. He is a caring person who wants the best. I don’t see anything wrong with that.”

Carey said he expressed his opinion because “trustee boundaries are about giving new communities in Dublin, including in the west like Schaefer Ranch and in the east like Wallis Ranch, the opportunity to choose their own elected officials.”

“It’s very important to me, and Scenario 1 was the only one that was consistent with the intent of the lawsuit and put the voters first compared to rigging to protect sitting presidents,” Kerry said.

Carey said he had no idea how the trustees would vote, never participated in a group text with them, or relayed the trustees’ decisions to others.

The process of redrawing district boundaries began weeks earlier in accordance with state and federal law after the last census. DUSD moved from at-large elections — where five board members represent the entire district — to district elections in 2017 after an attorney began suing statewide elections. The attorney argued that at-large elections violate the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) by diminishing the power of minorities to choose representatives. Many organizations, including the cities of Livermore and Pleasanton and the Pleasanton Unified School District, have moved to district elections instead of fighting the attorney general.

Following the 2020 census, the council had to adjust five areas due to population growth. Zone 4’s population nearly doubled to 17,500, creating an imbalance in areas that were supposed to be equal in number by law. Through a series of public meetings and work with a demographer, the council created six different maps with areas containing about 14,000 people. In addition to population size, the CVRA required the group to create districts where minorities — in this case Asians and Latinos — could have a large enough voting bloc to potentially elect a representative to the council.

Laurie Sargent, who will be co-president of the Dublin Association of Teachers next year, was among several teachers who spoke during the June 28 board meeting. Sargent told The Independent that the investigation should be conducted to “examine fraud, violations of (California School Boards Association) charter and rules, (Fair Political Practices Commission) non-compliance and collusion.”

Kelly Baalman, a parent and teacher at Fredericksen Elementary School, accused Sherrier, Kuo and Blackman of violating the Brown Act.

“The people of Dublin could not have known or viewed the comments in these private texts, only the comments shared by the trustees during school board meetings,” Baalman said. “We now know that there were two very different conversations. Although they were supposed to change the trustee district map to balance population and demographics, and they intended to do so publicly, they actually discussed plans for their own political gain and the demise of others out of the public eye. This is exactly the kind of backroom dealing that the Brown Act was written to prevent.”

Supporting Cherrier, Kuo and Blackman, Ramya Ramakrishnan, a resident whose texts advocating her position on redistricting were among those found in Washington’s PRA request, brought up the conflict between west side and east side DUSD that exists among residents of the city as the city grows. Ramakrishnan said that every year “there is a well organized attempt to overthrow the elected trustees in the eastern part”. Cherrier and Blackmon currently represent the East side.

Ramakrishnan said Cherrier, Blackman and Kuo could not be manipulated because they had “a clear sense of what was right and what was wrong.” The residents, who accuse them of violating the Brown Act, “made things up to confuse the public” to try to get them off the board.

“Make no mistake, this is about a handful of white people in one part of town trying to intimidate and silence trustees who represent Asian and Indian communities and have done a great job in key positions that have influence throughout the district,” she said. .

While Sherrier continued to say he did not believe there had been a violation of the Brown Act, he supported holding a special meeting with the district attorney to discuss the allegations. Kuo agreed, saying he wanted to hear from a lawyer if any mistakes were made.

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