School Board Will Vote On Whether to Remove Citizens Oversight Committee Chairman

Published : Monday, September 24, 2018 | 5:22 AM

A decision on whether to fire the chairman of the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee will go before the Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education for a vote this week, officials said.

While Pasadena School Board President Larry Torres previously announced Quincy Hocutt had been “removed,” he since clarified that no formal action has yet been taken.

“Mr. Hocutt cannot be removed except by a vote by the full Board,” he said late last week. “That issue will come before us on September 27th. I simply asked for his resignation.”

Hocutt said he refused to sign the resignation letter presented to him during a September 18 meeting with Torres and Board Member Michelle Bailey. The letter stated he was resigning from the unpaid volunteer position for “personal reasons,” he said.

He accuses the Board of wanting him gone over his publicly-stated opposition to an upcoming ballot measure to raise Pasadena’s sales tax. A third of the money collected under the proposal would go to Pasadena Unified.

But Torres and Bailey said their complaint with Hocutt is that he has been overstepping his authority and impeding the school district’s work.

Hocutt said the Board members cited a ballot opinion he authored against the sales tax measure — and the inclusion of his title as Committee chairman with his accompanying signature — as the reason for asking him to leave.

“That was the explanation given when they presented me the letter, which I refused,” he said.

Hocutt added that he wrote the piece as a private citizen and included his signature simply to identify himself and his credentials, not to indicate that he spoke on behalf of the Committee.

“The Board literally does not have the legal authorization to dismiss me because I made a public comment that they don’t particularly care for,” Hocutt said.

The whole point of the Citizens Oversight Committee is independent oversight, Hocutt said. The Committee oversees the spending of $350 million in Measure TT funding.

“If a Board had the authority to terminate a member of a [citizens oversight committee] because they disagreed with him on something. How independent is such an oversight body?” he said.

Hocutt added that the Committee serves an advisory role, and the Board is not bound to adhere to its recommendations.

Bailey disputed Hocutt’s account of the meeting.

“We didn’t say (the ballot opinion) was the reason, although it was mentioned,” she said.

“It’s my understanding he signed it as chair of the COC,” Bailey said. “That statement should have been done by him as a private citizen and not by him as chair of the COC.”

And she said terminating Hocutt is well within the Board’s power.

“If you look at the bylaws, the bylaws are clear that the Board has the authority,” according to Bailey. “…it has to be based on cause, and you look at the code of ethics for that.”

The COC bylaws state the Board, “may remove any Committee member for cause, including failure to comply with the Committee Ethics Policy.”

The COC is not living up to expectations under Hocutt’s leadership, she said. “It’s just dysfunctional right now.”

In an op-ed authored earlier this week, Torres announced, “We have removed Quincy Hocutt as chair of the Citizens Oversight Committee.”

“This was done for two reasons: to allow for the Committee’s essential oversight work to refocus on its role and help us move the district forward, and because Mr. Hocutt too often strayed from oversight into advocacy in violation of the COC’s own ethics policies,” Torres wrote.

PUSD Board Member Scott Phelps said friction between the Board and the COC began about a year and a half ago.

Hocutt and his predecessor “sort of began agitating for more information and more of a stronger role for the, for the Committee,” he said. We thought that their information requests were somewhat logical, but we cautioned them on stepping out of their role and trying to manage the staff and trying to make decisions about spending, neither of which are their role.”

When Hocutt took over as chairman, “It just continued with the micromanaging and questioning, like, ‘What is this $300 cost?’ That’s just not a productive use of time and the Committee was very contentious,” Phelps said. “It’s just not working. “

Attorneys Dale Gronemeier, a frequent PUSD critic who has clashed the district in court in the past, as well as First Amendment Coalition Executive Director David Snyder agreed that the issue will likely come down to the specific wording of the COC bylaws.

With respect to California’s public transparency law, “If they deliberated about doing it, that’s the threshold,” Gronemeier said. “If they went back and forth about whether to do it or decided that they should do it, that would be Brown Act violation.”

But the issue can be remedied by holding a properly agendized meeting to revisit the decision, Snyder said.

“When the legislative body, like the Board makes decisions of significance, like dismissing or firing a member, especially the chair of a Committee, that’s an issue of significant public interest and the Brown Act is there to make sure that the public is made aware,” he said.

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