Three members of the Dublin Unified School District Board of Trustees are facing allegations of collusion in their selection of new election boundaries earlier in the year, after documents that could point to behind-the-scenes efforts to effectively oust another trustee were made public last weekend.
Mary Garvin Washington posted documents she'd obtained to her personal Facebook page June 25 that include text messages among Board President Dan Cherrier, trustees Gabi Blackman and William Kuo, and a Dublin resident whose connection to the district is unclear, about the new trustee-area map that was ultimately approved in a Feb. 22 vote.
The board majority of Blackman, Cherrier and Kuo adopted the final map known as Scenario 1, which pushes Board Vice President Kristin Pelham out of her current Area 1 and into Area 2, potentially competing with current Area 2 Trustee Megan Rouse when that seat comes up for a vote.
"It is fascinating to see how a handful of residents and a majority of the board conspired to draw districts that intentionally pitted duly-elected trustees against each other," Washington, a resident and district employee, said in her Facebook post sharing the records.
As of Friday, Cherrier and Pelham each acknowledged separately they were aware of the publicly accessible documents, but declined to elaborate further. A special meeting on the matter has been scheduled for July 12.
The upcoming meeting was put on the calendar by the board following public comments on Tuesday, according to Pelham, and is set to focus on questions raised surrounding the Feb. 22 election map decision.
Cherrier said that the meeting "will show that all the allegations are not based in fact."
Bill Carey, identified as the key resident involved in the communications with the board majority revealed in the public records, told DanvilleSanRamon that he was traveling and did not know the details about the documents, but that they were "likely another orchestrated attempt to attack the board president in advance of the election."
A call to action for concerned residents led to a number of public comments on the matter at the district's most recent regular board meeting last Tuesday night – in which Washington and others reiterated allegations that the three trustees had violated the Brown Act, with the result of disenfranchising voters represented on the board by Pelham and Rouse. The audience also heard from supporters of the board majority during the meeting.
Rouse was absent from Tuesday's meeting, and the trustees present were unable to respond to public comments on non-agenda items under the Brown Act, according to Cherrier.
"Despite all the board conflict that I've seen over the years, I still held out hope that this board of trustees was an honorable institution," Washington said in a public comment at Tuesday's board meeting. "I still hoped that you were following your governance handbook to make sure you focus on giving every student the best possible educational experience."
"And then I watched three members box out another in the selection of area maps in February, potentially pitting two of their rivals against each other, and ignoring the will of the voters in Area 1," she said.
"Your handbook exhorts you to listen openly before making decisions, but clearly the three of you had already made your choice of Scenario 1 before the meeting the night of Feb. 22," Washington added.
Laurie Sargent, incoming co-president of the Dublin Teachers Association for the upcoming school year, voiced support for Washington on behalf of the union.
"DTA stands with Mary and others who face retribution and retaliation to exercise their first amendment right, to speak the truth when leaders fail to serve the greater good of all," Sargent said in a public comment Tuesday.
A throughline in the criticism of the board at that night's meeting included emphasizing potential Brown Act violations, in particular regarding the law's prohibition of "serial meetings".
"Through a series of texts proctored by a certain community member, trustees Cherrier, Blackman and Kuo did exactly that," parent Kelly Baalman said in a public comment Tuesday. "They discussed school board matters in a serial meeting outside of public view, curtailing the public's ability to monitor and contribute to the decision-making process."
Although a majority of the night's open public comment portion was from critics of the three trustees, others called in to express support for the board majority and for the trustee boundaries they had voted on.
"Thank you President Cherrier, Trustee Blackman, and Trustee Kuo," Stacy Dennig said in a public comment. "Thank you for representing us and doing a great job. You are appreciated. Eleanor Roosevelt said it best: Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people."
"The people responsible for the social media buzz and fake news was initiated by DUSD district employees and teachers, all of which are on the DUSD payroll. Facts don't lie. People lie," Dennig added.
An overview of the records
The documents in question, obtained by Washington under the California Public Records Act, contain more than 300 pages of relevant correspondences between district officials, including Cherrier, and Carey. In her original Facebook post, Washington included screenshots of several highlights from the haul of documents, which included numerous text messages.
One message from Carey, with the only identifying information of other conversants being "K", and "RR", refers to "the big picture outcome of putting Megan and Kristin in the same area."
Although Carey's motivation is unclear, in messages throughout the exchanges with board members, a "Bill C." appears to be giving direction on how updated area map boundaries in draft maps should be drawn, and what outcomes trustees other than Pelham and Rouse should favor.
The conversations go back to January, relatively early in the process, and ahead of the Feb. 22 vote by Kuo, Blackman, and Cherrier for Scenario 1, with Pelham and Rouse voting for Scenario 4 that night.
In a Jan. 10 exchange, ahead of public hearings on the matter, "Bill C." discusses "the goal for tomorrow," and proceeds to refer to "area 3/yours" in an analysis of predicted development and growth in the five trustee areas in the coming years . Although it's unconfirmed who is on the receiving end of any of the released exchanges, William Kuo represents Area 3.
In a message that appears to be on the same thread the next day, Carey follows up with an image of his recommended map boundaries.
"Bill C." also copied and pasted a lengthy public comment that was sent to Cherrier, Kuo, and Blackman from Carey, with an argument in favor of Scenario 1 on Feb. 6, and echoed the sentiment in another email to the three on Feb. 21.
The same thread continues the afternoon prior to the board's Feb. 22 vote to approve Scenario 1. The same batch of documents, sent to Washington on May 28, includes emails from both Kuo and Carey, along with screenshots of several attached excel sheets sent by Kuo.
On Feb. 23, the thread continues with the sender asking "Bill C." if he'd watched the previous night's meeting, and saying they'd expected a "barrage of emails" the following morning.
Although a barrage of emails wasn't included in the documents obtained by Washington, there were several from community members, including Baalman, to Kuo expressing concern with his vote for Scenario 1.
Along with Carey, the documents include other emails from residents voicing support for Scenario 1. However, the authenticity of these gets called into question with additional text messages released to Washington that emphasize the need for community support to back up the three trustees' votes for Scenario 1 as a counter-motion to Rouse and Pelham's vote for Scenario 4 on Feb. 22.
Exchanges between "Bill C.", "K" and "RR" ahead of and during the Feb 22 meeting also include Carey copying and pasting the email he'd sent to Cherrier, Kuo, and Blackman on Feb. 21, as well as a reference to Kuo supporting "your motion" at 6:09 p.m. on Feb. 22.
It's unclear at what exact time the meeting had started, but the open session was scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 22, according to that night's agenda.
Following a presentation from demographers and staff -- and a motion by Rouse to approve Scenario 4 -- Blackman made the ultimately successful motion to approve Scenario 1 just over 40 minutes into the archived recording of that night's meeting.
As the text message conversation continued, apparently during the meeting, "K" expresses reservations about whether Cherrier will come through with support for Scenario 4, as well as frustration with Rouse.
In another conversation, "Bill C" addressed "Dan", and admonished him for going "rogue". While it's unclear what the message was in reference to or when it was dated, the next message is dated Feb. 8.
Washington was among those who were dismayed and concerned after watching the Feb. 22 meeting, which she said prompted her CPRA request with the district, which was received on Feb. 23.
That night's meeting saw some debate between Blackman and Rouse, who made motions to approve Scenario 1 and Scenario 4, respectively. Blackman's motion was seconded by Kuo, with Rouse's seconded by Pelham. In the vote that followed, Cherrier's vote broke the tie.
"My apologies to Trustee Pelham, but I believe it was the right thing to do," Cherrier said on Feb. 22, after his tie-breaking vote.
Despite alleging Brown Act violations, Washington said she did not plan to pursue litigation against the district, and that she did not know of any individuals or groups who planned to.
Correction: Pelham was present at the June 28 board meeting.