The Los Altos City Council Aug. 28 unanimously approved a draft letter seeking a formal opinion from the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) to clarify potential conflicts of interest from discussions with the Los Altos School District Board of Trustees.
As previously reported by the Town Crier, councilmen David Casas and Ron Packard seek clarity on engaging the district board without “violating or participating in the violation of any of the conflict-of-interest laws.”
According to the FPPC, a public official has a conflict of interest if he or she could benefit financially from a deliberation, except in situations where the public could similarly benefit or if the official is legally required to participate.
The letter references the district’s search for short- and long-term facilities for Bullis Charter School, noting that Packard and Los Altos School District Board President Mark Goines live within 500 feet of district schools listed as sites that could be handed over to Bullis for the 2013-2014 school year. According to the letter, Packard lives within 500 feet of Almond School and Goines within 500 feet of Santa Rita School.
Goines and Board Vice President Doug Smith served as a negotiating team in mediation sessions with charter school representatives to solve the school site issue.
The letter states that the city council “has expressed concern that they do not want to participate in any ethical violations if LASD Board President Goines has been violating his conflict of interest obligations by participating in the selection of Santa Rita School as a potential school site” for closure.
“I’m happy they’re getting clarification for themselves,” Goines said of the city council’s vote to approve the letter. “We’ve been getting legal counsel on this issue for many years and we take this very seriously.”
A city staff report also referenced a previous FPPC action against Goines in which he was fined for attempting “to use his official position to influence a governmental decision.”
According to the FPPC, Goines was penalized for testifying before the city council on behalf of the school district regarding the Pilgrim Haven project July 9, 2009. The project is located within 500 feet of Goines’ residence.
The letter specifically outlines five questions for clarification by the FPPC, including whether Packard has a conflict of interest should he participate in the discussion of closing a district school campus for use by Bullis Charter School.
In addition, the city seeks clarity on whether councilmembers – or the council as a whole – would be permitted to discuss school closures with Goines or other LASD trustees living within 500 feet of a school listed for potential closure.
The letter also seeks to discover whether Goines’ participation “in the selection of possible schools for closure was a violation of the law” and what, if any, legal exposure the city has.