By Miriam Raftery
Listen to audios of CVUSD meetings from Dec.-March (scroll down)
Photos: unobtrusive recording device on tripod used by ECM reporter at two recent meetings does not obstruct views or traffic.
June 6, 2019 (El Cajon) – It took cease and desist letters sent by two attorneys to the Cajon Valley Union School District for ECM to obtain recordings of public meetings previously denied, along with assurances that our reporters will not be threatened for recording school board meetings ourselves. But other important records requests remain pending beyond the time frames mandated by state law.
More than five months after our initial Public Records Act request for tapes of public meetings, the Cajon Valley Union School District has turned over all but one recording from December 2018 through March 2019. Miraculously, those include a Dec. 11, 2018 recording that the district previously informed ECM had been destroyed. The one missing audio file, for March 12, 2019, was not available to a technical difficulty, the district claims in a letter sent to Californians Aware attorney Terry Francke.
The records were provided to Francke after the attorney notified the district that its refusal to provide copies of recordings violated the Ralph M. Brown Act (California’s public records act) to ECM reporter Paul Kruze and to board member Jill Barto. The district’s purported destruction of the December recording after 30 days despite a records request made just one day after the meeting, as claimed by executive assistant Naomie Rodriguez, was also illegal, Francke informed the district.
The district sent its recordings only to Francke, with a short window to download copies, but never did provide copies directly to either Kruze or Barto, both have confirmed. Barto says the district has refused to provide CDs for any meeting prior to May, and that they told her they won’t provide CDs unless a request is made within 30 days of a meeting – backtracking off their vote in late March to retain recordings for a year and make them available on CD, as ECM reported.
So what was on the “destroyed” December audio tape since found? Among other things, a report by a public safety consultant with recommendations for correcting security flaws to protect students’ safety, as well as criticisms by parent Mark Robak over eight schools failing to meet state academic standards.
Copies of the district’s audio files we received are now posted below this article. (Note, some but not all of these meetings were also recorded by ECM; those recordings have been posted in prior articles. We requested all audios from the district for maximum transparency, since district recording equipment may provide clear audio of some remarks not picked up by our recording device farther away from the dais.)
Separately, attorney Cory J. Briggs sent a letter in mid-May to the district advising it was also in violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act for refusing to allow audio and video recordings unless reporters moved to the back of the room, and for threatening to arrest reporters if they did not comply. Multiple witnesses confirm the district did ask reporters including ECM editor Miriam Raftery and reporter Paul Kruze to move to the back. At the next meeting, our reporter was asked by district security director Ryan Love to move equipment to the back, where it could not be protected from damage or theft, if a reporter remained in the front row to listen and take photos.
View video sent to us by an audience member who captured a portion of the exchange on a cell phone: https://youtu.be/jN0k8-BB6vs. Kruze stayed in the front row.
Kruze says later, Love told him that an El Cajon Police officer could arrest him, though Kruze stayed put and police did not arrive. One Facebook videoblogger did move to the back, obtaining poorer quality audio and video as a result. At a third meeting, executive assistant Naomie Rodriguez asked Kruze to move to the back.
Briggs letter warned the the district that individual board members can be charged with misdemeanor crimes if they are present at a meeting at which they are aware of efforts to interfere with the public's right to information to which the public is entitled. This includes the right to record meetings, particularly in light of the board's past efforts to withhold recordings in violation of state law.
In a letter signed by Tamara Otero, CVUSD board president, sent to Briggs by the district’s attorney Daniel Shinoff, Otero claims “reporters were not threated [sic] or arrested with arrest” but acknowledges that they were “asked to move their equipment to the back or to the side of the room so they did not obstruct the view of the public at the meeting…” Our recording device, the size of a cell phone, was on a tripod lower than anyone’s field of vision, as the photos in this article clearly shows.
Otero concludes, “But in order to avoid unnecessary litigation and without admitting any violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act, the Cajon Valley Union School District hereby unconditionally commits that it will cease, desist from, and not repeat the challenged pat action as described above.”
The issue will be placed on the open meeting agenda June 11, 2019, Otero adds, but does specify precisely what the proposed action item will be. The district cannot rescind the commitment except by a majority vote in open session and noticed 30 days in advance to Briggs as “Rescission of Brown Act Commitment.”
ECM is grateful that the district has now complied with some public records requests. However, others are still pending and now far beyond the 10-day response time mandated by the Brown Act. Attorney Shinoff has begun routinely requesting 14 day extensions to even the most routine records requests, including our May 8 request for a copy of Superintendent David Miyashiro’s contract. Timeliness is important, given that his contract is up for renewal soon.
Francke, Calaware’s lawyer, has advised us that it is not legal to routinely request delays for items that should be readily available such as a contract, though extra time can be requested for more complex requests that require an extensive search, such as when older documents are put into a storage facility.
ECM has covered dozens of local boards and commissions since our inception in 2009, and this is the only district that has regularly failed to comply promptly to numerous records requests, and that has sought to obstruct or delay release of items commonly made easily accessible to the press and public through other local public agencies.
LISTEN TO MEETING AUDIO RECORDINGS: