Editor’s note: As of approximately 6:00 p.m. Aug. 20, the Aug. 21 meeting of the Citrus College board of trustees has been cancelled.
The legality of a recent raise awarded to Citrus College superintendent/president Geraldine Perri by the Citrus College board of trustees is expected to be called into question at tomorrow’s meeting by a member of the local community.
Trustees Susan Keith, Patricia Rasmussen and Joanne Montgomery all voted in favor of a contract that will increase Perri’s base pay by four percent over the next four years, overriding dissenting board members Edward Ortell and Gary Woods.
Gil Aguirre, a 55-year-old resident of San Dimas, alleges that the raise was invalidated by a number of Brown Act violations that took place during the process of amending Perri’s contract. On Aug. 16, Aguirre sent a letter to the board demanding that they repeal the raise and make a written admission of the violations.
The Ralph M. Brown Act sets forth guidelines that govern all meetings of California public officials—including city councils, government agencies and board meetings for community college districts. In his demand letter, Aguirre references California Government Code section 54957, the section of the Brown Act which states, “Closed sessions held pursuant to this subdivision shall not include discussion or action on proposed compensation except for a reduction of compensation that results from the imposition of discipline.”
Aguirre said that after reading the Clarion’s coverage of an exchange between trustees Rasmussen and Ortell during the July 17 meeting, his alarm bells started going off. Rasmussen accused Ortell of “grandstanding in front of the public” for voting no. “It is bad boardsmanship to come back after the fact and deny what is approved in closed session,” she said.
Later, Keith would tell the Clarion, “You can bend to public pressure at any time, but we had already discussed [the raise] and it was a unanimous decision.”
“It was very clear that this decision had been reached prior to the meeting taking place,” said Aguirre.
Aguirre says he has no relationship with Citrus College and is just “an open government advocate.” But this is not the first time he has been involved with a school district and the Brown Act.
Exactly two years before sending a demand letter to Citrus College, Aguirre, with the help of attorney Kelly Aviles, sent a similar demand letter to the Pomona Unified School District. Pomona Unified would issue a statement from their legal counsel later in the year acknowledging the infractions, which involved placing information items on the board meeting agendas.
Aviles is the vice president for open government compliance at Californians Aware, a nonprofit organization that advocates improving compliance and understanding of the state’s public forum laws. Aviles is a former Citrus student herself, having earned a legal secretary’s certificate at the school before graduating from the University of La Verne College of Law in 2006.
She is also the daughter of government activist Richard McKee, whom the Los Angeles Times described in his 2011 obituary as “one of California’s most effective advocates for open government.” McKee was a co-founder of Californians Aware, and the advocacy group’s litigation fund bears his name.
“I always say when you grow up on a farm, you learn about tractors,” Aviles said. “But for me it was growing up [learning about] open government and government transparency. At Christmastime, those were the conversations [my father and I] would have.”
Aviles said when Aguirre told her the details of the Citrus board meeting, her first reaction was disappointment in her alma mater, but immediately after reviewing the audio of the meeting she knew something was amiss.
“It’s really not a personal thing,” Aviles said of the demand letter. “We believe in the Brown Act and we believe in transparency across the board.”
The demand letter also stipulates that the board make changes to improve the availability of its meeting agendas.
Section 54954.2 of the Brown Act states “At least 72 hours before a regular meeting, the legislative body . . . agenda shall specify the time and location of the regular meeting and shall be posted in a location that is freely accessible to members of the public.”
However, as of 3:30 p.m. Aug. 20—about 24 hours before the board’s Aug. 21 meeting—the agenda for July 17 was posted inside the doors of CI 159, where board meetings take place.
Aviles and Aguirre said that they are prepared to file suit against the board of trustees if their demands are not adequately met.
“I got no dog in this hunt. I don’t represent any unions or teachers,” Aguirre said. “I’m a member of the public, and my tax dollars fund this organization. This agency has an obligation to conduct itself in an open and transparent fashion in compliance with the law. And that’s what my issue is.”
Efforts to reach members of the board of trustees have gone unanswered as of press time.