Over the last week, Ventura Unified School District teachers and parents have raised their concerns over the recent firing of 20-month Superintendent Michael Babb, Ed.D., a surprise to many who thought Babb was on a similar path of a years-long tenure as his 14-year predecessor Trudy Arriaga. Without much ado as well as “without cause,” according to board district president Velma Lomax, Babb was let go, though he had been told to work on his communication and leadership skills prior to his firing. This decision comes on the heels of two controversial incidents in the district, one where two water polo students Snapchatted altered images of themselves individually lynching two black people and another where a guest speaker, a graphologist, allegedly compared President Donald Trump’s handwriting to Hitler’s; the reports of the Trump/Hitler comparison proved to be erroneous.
As details of the firing remain limited and board members remain mum, concerned citizens impacted by the decision are calling for disclosure and for the local press to do an investigation; anything less being nothing short of a conspiracy to hide the truth. Well, not so fast.
First and foremost, while the Brown Act sets the guidelines for transparency in government, it also provides exceptions for privacy regarding personnel matters.
In the “Open & Public IV: A Guide to the Ralph M. Brown Act” by the California League of Cities, there is discussion of legalities behind the law and of individual privacy:
“The law … requires — with certain specific exceptions to protect the community and preserve individual rights — that the decision-making process be public.
“… The most common purpose of a closed session is to avoid revealing confidential information that may, in specified circumstances, prejudice the legal or negotiating position of the agency or compromise the privacy interests of employees. Closed sessions should be conducted keeping those narrow purposes in mind.”
While frustrated parents and teachers may want answers, Babb and others have a right to privacy, and unless someone is personally compelled to reveal personnel issues, at the risk of legal problems, there is little recourse for any person or journalist seeking to legally procure protected information. Further, if there is a leak, for whatever reason, the reporting agency also takes on the risk of libel lawsuits so there is much to consider. A similar situation arose in 2015, with the surprising vacancy left by Jamillah Moore, chancellor of the Ventura County Community College District, who was hired in 2012 and left in 2015. Certainly, the departure seemed odd at the time, but the district Board of Trustees is obligated to keep personnel issues private, lest it face costly legal battles.
Secondly, there is some light at the end of this tunnel. If private people want to share their stories and they are not bound by confidentiality agreements, they have a platform to do so by making the details public on a variety of news and social media outlets. Also, if there are criminal issues, these would be handled by law enforcement, and arrests are not bound by legal limitations. People who want answers would be able to access them. There is no indication of any such issues in this case.
With the tedious election season and tumultuous several weeks under the new president, the general public has become accustomed to seriously salacious news. In small-town America, however, respect for privacy and legal limitations still have merit.