Letters to the Editor
November 19th, 2009

To the Editor:
The most important responsibility I have as a board member is to review and study any and all situations that concern students who attend Piru and Fillmore schools and to vote or work towards anything that I believe will be in their best interest.
I voted to deny the Piru Charter School after many hours of studying the situation along with my fellow board members. Unfortunately, the Piru Charter was presented once the process had begun without any notification to our district. The petitioners failed to include administration, certificated, classified and more importantly parents and community members in the planning, the design, and the decision making processes of the petition that was submitted.
I am not opposed to charter schools; however, I am without a doubt opposed to this petition creating the Piru Charter School. I am not opposed to “something new” as was stated at the meeting held in Piru although that “something new” must be in the best interest of our students, which I did not find in this proposed Charter. The presenters stated that there were “great things” this Charter would provide, yet they failed at both meetings to provide us with what these “great things” would be. The Charter only replicated the current instructional offered at Piru, with the promise of reducing some classes in the upper grades and even the reduction of the upper grades classes were not guaranteed.
Another factor in my decision was the lack of support demonstrated by the community. At both the October 21 and the November 9 meetings in Piru, there was very little support for the Charter. Eighty-five percent of the speakers at our public hearing on October 21 spoke against the Charter. Over 200 attended that meeting and even those who did not speak, were against the charter because they were excluded from the planning process and did not see how the Charter was going to improve upon the great progress the school has made. Their fear was that it was going to derail that progress.
Piru is a successful school making great strides in achievement. There are a select few who now wish to take credit for this success, and such prideful boasting is an insult to everyone's hard work. I have observed time and time again the combined efforts of everyone who is employed and volunteers at the site, and I have witnessed the positive results they have accomplished.
Simply put, the Piru Charter was overwhelmingly not supported by the community and without support it cannot be successful.
Virginia A. de la Piedra
FUSD Board Member

To the Editor:
Piru Charter School Moves Forward…
Despite what some may think, the plans for Piru School to become an independent charter school, run by a Board of Directors composed of Piru parents, community members and staff, continues to progress. It is the intention of the petitioning group that Piru School will open as an independent charter school next school year. In the State of California, approval of a charter petition is a multi-stage process. By law, the petition must be submitted first to the local district. However, since most local districts have an inherent bias towards preventing any competition or loss of control or loss of funding, the California charter law has built into it the provision that County or State Boards of Education may also approve a charter even when a local school board has turned it down. The Piru School charter petitioners want what is best for the children of our community, and believe that it is important that parents have the right to choose their child's school. We welcome questions and/or enquiries about the plans for the upcoming year.
Sincerely, Chris Pavik
You may reach the Piru School Charter Petitioners with your questions at: pirucharterschool@earthlink.net or you can reach us at our address: Piru Charter School, P.O. Box 555, Piru, CA 93040.

To the Editor:
I am writing concerning the FUSD Board of Education’s recent decision to deny the Piru Charter School Petition. For me, this decision was a simple one to make for the following reasons:
1.) The lead petitioners failed to involve the Piru community in the process. I could have voted for a Charter School if the petitioners had simply ensured the success of the school by getting buy-in from the parents and community. As made evident to me by the hearing on Oct 21st, they did not do this. The standing-room-only crowd that overwhelmingly opposed the charter on that night made a huge impact on everyone that attended. It was glaringly obvious that the petitioners did not involve more than just a few parents. They also did not involve Piru staff other than the petitioners. Nor did they involve the wider community of Piru. In short, they totally misunderstood one of the key ingredients necessary for the success of a charter, especially one in a small, remote town like Piru: You need community buy-in.
3.) The petition itself did not bring anything new to the Piru School or community. One petition supporter complained saying, “When are we going to start talking about all the great things this charter school is going to do?” Well, we gave them all the time they wanted to make a convincing argument about those great things at the Oct. 21st meeting. We also gave them unlimited time to counter the problems identified by Superintendent Sweeney in his recommendation to the board at the Nov 9th meeting. Yet they could not articulate any of these “great things” to me or any other board member well enough to get even one vote. I could have voted for a well-thought-out, innovative charter petition. This one was neither.
John Garnica
President, FUSD Board of Education

To the Editor:
I am writing this to possibly save you the time and frustration that I recently went through. I received an e-mail from Bank of America (it said.) It informed me that someone has been trying to access my on-line banking and would I try to open my banking account to see if was still active and everything was OK. It said that if I didn’t access my account it would automatically be cancelled in six hours. The letter had an official place to “click” and it led to an equally official Bank of American on-line sign in page. I was to enter my on-line ID and pass-code. Now, I didn’t fall for this for two reasons: One, I do not have an account with Bank of America and two; If I did, I am not that dumb to be taken in by this scam. I am sure that there are a few in thousands that might fall for this and that is all they need to clean out an account with little effort spent on their part.
Thinking that law enforcement would like to have their e-mail address and possibly back track them somehow, I called the District Attorney. After three passed calls I finally got someone that said they were not interested and I would have to call my local law enforcement. If they thought it was important they would get in touch with us. I called our local Sheriff Department and told them the story. They immediately said they were not interested as there are so many scams they cannot possibly take the time to run them down. They just hope the public is aware and doesn’t fall for this sort of thing.
I thought, maybe Bank of America would want to know that someone is using their system to get some illegal money. I called Bank of America with a number I got from Google. I tried for about ten minutes and could not get a “live” person. Then I called the branch in Santa Paula and again could not get a live person. I finally gave up and took a copy to my local bank, gave it to them and told them to pass it on to B of A if they knew how. You can’t say I didn’t try to be a good citizen but sometimes you wonder if it is worth the effort.
It is no wonder we have so much of this going on if there is no one to pursue the bad guys. You would think there would be just one place you could call to report things of this nature. The D.A. and Sheriff’s departments sure didn’t refer me to anything. Its open season on us folks; so be aware and suspicious at all times.
John Heilman
74 year native.

To the Editor:
The recent Brown Act violations now admitted by the Fillmore City Council illustrate how easily elected officials can impede the public’s right to be involved in the decision-making of their local government. From the facts, it can be argued that the Council acted improperly to avoid embarrassment. That is, they violated the Brown Act in an attempt to avoid the embarrassment of having to admit they had violated the Brown Act.
Now, by executing a settlement agreement to end the lawsuit McKee v. Fillmore City Council, the City Council will remedy errors in judgment by agreeing to a 2-hour retraining on the requirements of the open meetings law.
However, there remains an even greater concern for the residents of Fillmore, and all the citizens of Ventura County - - a District Attorney’s Office either ignorant of the law or willing to compromise itself by sanctioning these obvious violations.
Acting on no formal complaint, but only an opinion piece in the local newspaper, the District Attorney says his office instituted an “investigation” into Fillmore’s actions. Then the office issued a baffling 5-page opinion, which included legal interpretations long ago repudiated by both the courts and the California Attorney General’s Office.
For example, the DA says it was proper when the Fillmore City Council included the opposing party to pending litigation in a closed session to discuss the issues and reach a settlement. Yet, in more than 30-years of opinions, the courts and the Attorney General have said such a closed session with a potential plaintiff violates the Brown Act.
The DA also says that the Council may cure its violation of denying the public an opportunity to comment prior to the Council taking action, by offering the public a chance to comment after the Council’s vote had already been announced. However, the Attorney General’s pamphlet on the Brown Act says, by the plain language of the statute, the public is always guaranteed the right to provide testimony before any action can be taken by the Council.
Why would the DA distort the law to support the City Council? It couldn’t be politics, could it? Is this evidence of an attorney “good old boy” network at work?
In this regard, it should not go unnoticed that the DA never contacted those making the allegations of Brown Act violations, even though we filed suit more than a month before his Office issued its opinion. However, while investigating these open meeting violations, the DA’s Office had no problem finding time to meet secretly with the attorneys representing Fillmore.
It is precisely this type of corruption that severely weakens the public’s ability to retain control over their local government. Fortunately for me, I live in Los Angeles County where DA Steve Cooley’s Public Integrity Division has a proven track record of vigorous Brown Act enforcement, most likely the best in the State.
I suggest that at the next election, the people of Ventura County should assure themselves a District Attorney who is more interested in protecting the public’s rights, than the backsides of political cronies.
After all, the promise of a government of, by, and for the people depends on the ability to exercise control over its elected representatives. Or as the California Legislature stated clearly when revising the open meeting law, “complete, faithful, and uninterrupted compliance with the Ralph M. Brown Act is a matter of overriding public importance.”
Richard P. McKee
Richard P. McKee is president-emeritus of Californians Aware, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the public’s right to open government by enforcing the Ralph M. Brown Act and the California Public Records Act.

To the Editor:
The District Attorney’s Office agrees with Californians Aware that the Brown Act (public meeting law) is an important right of the public. Each year we investigate and evaluate a number of potential violations regarding city councils, school boards, and other legislative bodies. We take this responsibility seriously and take appropriate action, including sending warning letters.
Regarding the allegations against the Fillmore City Council, we obtained and reviewed all of the pertinent documents and video recordings. We concluded that the council violated several provisions, including an exchange of e-mails that constituted an improper “serial meeting,” and irregularities regarding a closed session to address the original violation. We do not agree that Councilman Conaway was a “potential plaintiff” who should have been excluded from closed session discussions – he had not threatened to sue and was never a party to any litigation in this matter.
The Brown Act specifically provides that a public body may not be sued to void its actions unless it is first given the opportunity to “cure or correct” the violations. The city council did so here by discussing the issues in a properly-noticed open session, including an opportunity for public comment. A lawsuit by the DA against the city would have been an unnecessary and inappropriate expenditure of public funds because the council took prompt action to resolve the problems and no additional violations were threatened.
I understand that Californians Aware disagrees with some of our conclusions, although the inflammatory tone of their comments is unfortunate. Public access to the meetings of legislative bodies is a hallmark of our democracy and the District Attorney’s office will continue to ensure that this right is honored.
Very truly yours,
Special Assistant District Attorney
Ventura County