City of Mission Viejo files lawsuit against SVUSD without prior council authorization

 Having just returned from a three week African   vacation I am blogging a current story from the Mission Viejo Dispatch  blog.

While this story relates to school closings in  the Saddleback Valley Unified School District and may have entailed a statute  of limitation concern, there was no justification in bypassing the city council  where the council majority are rubber stamps for the city manager.

In prior years we had called for Special Meetings of the council for emergencies.

Millions of Americans were outraged when our congressional representatives approved massive spending programs without reading the proposed legislation  yet here we have an illustration that an action  was just taken prior to the city council viewing the law suit.

City Files Lawsuit Without Prior Authority From  Council: Brown Act Violation?

by on September 15, 2009

 At September 8’s City Council meeting, the City Attorney reported the Council approved litigation against the Saddleback School District on a 3-1-1 vote during its 5 p.m. closed session.  Yesterday the Dispatch checked with the OC Superior Court to see if the lawsuit had been filed.  Surprisingly, the filing was made on September 8, before the Council vote. 

    The situation raises questions about the relationship between staff and council.  Does staff assume it can proceed with significant actions because it has a rubber-stamp Council majority?  Or did the Council majority give the thumbs up to City Attorney Bill Curley before its meeting, which would clearly be a violation of the Brown Act?  The OC Register was incorrectly led to believe in a September 9 article the suit was being filed on the 9th, after the meeting.

   It was the City Clerk’s understanding from Curley that the suit was filed without authority because of a statutory deadline.  Evidently staff determined the filed lawsuit wouldn’t be served on SVUSD if not subsequently approved by the Council.

   That logic seems strained.  First, a lawsuit is a serious matter to put on court and public records without authorization, even if later dismissed.  Second, considerable legal time and City expense went into preparing the filed complaint, without being pre-approved.  Third, it would have been easy enough to schedule an earlier special or emergency meeting of the Council to consider approval of the litigation.

   The complaint is aimed at forcing the Saddleback Trustees into conducting a full environmental report (EIR) regarding the conversion of O’Neill Elementary School for use by the District’s Recreation Department, and for using some classrooms for adult education.  SVUSD says four classrooms will be used for classes of 12-15 adults.  The conversion has already been implemented.

   The Council’s stated goal is to re-open O’Neill, but the former students are already attending other schools.  It seems questionable that a sufficient number of students could or would return at semester break, even if an EIR were ordered.

   Earlier this year parents of the affected children proposed a charter school at O’Neill.  The application was not approved by the School Board, but the parent group has not exercised its right to appeal the application to the Orange County Board of Education.  At the July 20 meeting of the Council, parents urged the Council to carry the ball, but the Council has also failed to initiate an appeal. 

   At that July meeting the Council adopted a resolution to call on Superintendent Fish and the Trustees to re-open O’Neill or conduct a full environmental report.  At the same meeting the Council authorized a $15,000 resident survey to determine opinions about SVUSD, O’Neill, and forming a new MV School District.  The survey was to be completed by September 1, but the results have not yet been publicly released.

   The Council has another environmental lawsuit pending against Capo School District – for its reduction in student busing.  Saddleback subsequently took similar action on busing, drastically cutting routes, but the busing issue wasn’t included in the lawsuit against SVUSD.  Mayor Frank Ury, formerly defrocked by voters as a Trustee in the Saddleback District, has led the Council on a belligerent and costly path against both Capo and Saddleback.  Fellow Councilman Lance MacLean joined in by angrily advocating throwing everything, “including the kitchen sink,” into the suit against Capo.

    The Council is frustrated because it feels MV schools have not received their fair share of resources from the Districts.  It also believes some schools have deteriorated because low-performing students have been imported from outside Mission Viejo, and that some boundaries are not practical in terms of travel distances. If the grand scheme of the Council majority is to achieve financial parity with new school boundaries, that process must go through the OC Board of Education and the California Board of Education, not through the courts in the form of strategic environmental lawsuits. 

    It appears the City may be seeking leverage from the lawsuits, but Superintendent Fish opined to the Register that only Mission Viejo’s attorneys would benefit, not the kids.

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