The Union loses FOI suit against high-school district (surprise, surprise)

Editor’s note: As we’ve written here repeatedly, The Union’s FOI lawsuit against the Nevada Joint Union High School District in terminating the contract of Superintendent Marianne Cartan was misguided.

It showed a real lack of judgment and experience about FOI issues by our local newspaper’s editorial staff – and “at will” employment, for that matter. And The Union’s lawyer was an FOI dunce. The publisher should have been watching this more closely.

The board’s decision to terminate Ms. Cartan’s contract was based on a professional disagreement about performance, as we’ve reported all along. It happens all the time. If The Union had better sourcing and had “dug deeper,” it would have discovered there was “no smoking gun” here.

Ms. Cartan was needlessly exposed to unwarranted “rumor mongering.” I feel sorry for her. Kudos to Judge Dowling for helping to set the record straight.

Having said that, The Union should redirect its energy and investigate all the accrued vacation and/or sick time at the County School District by its management staff. (By contrast, most companies now have “use it or lose it” requirements for sick time each year). They might find a big liability that should be made more transparent to residents and taxpayers. It could lead to a needed policy change at the district.

Last, The Union should be more transparent about its own employment practices, including any embarrassing decisions against it by the state EDD. “People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.” Here’s the article about the Cartan case:

“A Nevada County judge has ruled against The Union newspaper in its efforts to force Nevada Joint Union High School District to disclose documents pertaining to the termination of former Superintendent Marianne Cartan,” The Union is reporting.

“The paper filed a complaint last month against the school district board of trustees, seeking the release of the information pursuant to the California Public Records Act.

“But after conducting his own review of the documents, Nevada County Superior Court Judge Sean Dowling denied The Union’s petition for a writ of mandate, ruling that no records were found that would trump Cartan’s privacy interests.

“’Obviously, we are disappointed with the ruling,” said The Union Editor Brian Hamilton. ‘To this point, the district’s elected officials have declined to share their rationale with the community on the decision to terminate Marianne Cartan’s contract. We took this action to gain access to public records in order to shed some light — in order to inform the public — as to why the board decided to change the leadership of the district.’

“Following Cartan’s termination ‘without cause’ March 13, the district’s board of trustees declined to provide information to the public on the rationale for its 3-2 decision.

“In the ruling issued Wednesday, Dowling noted that disclosure of personnel records of the type requested by The Union have only been ordered in very limited circumstances that include allegations of misconduct.

“Out of an abundance of caution, the Court in fact reviewed the documents to determine if issues of sufficient public interest were buried within … The in-camera review showed no evidence of any conduct supporting disclosure as a matter of public policy.

“Dowling wrote that public curiosity is not a substitute for public interest, which must be substantial. And because there are no allegation of misconduct or complaints sufficient to heighten the public’s interest — or any evidence of those — Cartan’s privacy interests ‘clearly outweigh’ the public interest in disclosure.

“’With all due respect, we feel the judge missed the point on why the public has a very legitimate interest in knowing why Cartan was terminated,” said The Union’s attorney, Tom Kelley, noting that she was let go ‘without cause’ after the teacher survey, despite receiving good reports and contract extensions.’

“Kelley added that no decision has been made as to whether The Union will appeal Dowling’s ruling.

“’It’s very much under consideration,’ he said.”

Sure Tom. LOL.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

3 thoughts on “The Union loses FOI suit against high-school district (surprise, surprise)”

  1. I, for one, am “interested” about why a superintendent would be removed suddenly without cause (supposedly), and how that relates to the decision making processes of the elected board of directors who are responsible for the educational future of thousands of our youth.

  2. Seems the union still has a culture of poor and biased reporting because it, like many sources today, don’t spend the money on research and good reporting. Still glad I refuse to subscribe again. After that nasty supervisors election involving Drew Bedwell and the crusifiction of Bruce Conklin I was absolutely done with The Union.

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