The board at the time created the general counsel position in an effort to improve legal compliance and reduce costs. Vishakan reported to the board, but had a dotted line to the superintendent.
At their Aug. 23 meeting, board members supported retaining a lead attorney but signaled a willingness to contract with an outside firm to provide the lawyer, rather than hiring one internally, with some board members also asking for greater clarity on the position's reporting structure.
Discussion around the general counsel position was put on the agenda for discussion, not action, so no formal votes were taken.
Board member Jesse Ladomirak said that she believes the general counsel's reporting structure and how that person interacts with the board is particularly important.
"I think that's something we learned through this process," Ladomirak said. "I know (that) I at least need more clarity on, if this is someone we're supposed to manage, how do we do that within the confines of the Brown Act?"
The Brown Act governs public meetings in California, including what is allowed to be discussed in closed session.
Board member Jennifer DiBrienza similarly said that she wants to review the board's relationship with the general counsel, noting that because the board members aren't working on-site and day-to-day management is handed over to the superintendent, it has sometimes left the board wondering when they are supposed to get face time with the general counsel.
Todd Collins pointed out that board bylaws call for only the board president to directly consult the attorney.
"That's my concern," DiBrienza said. "It feels very disconnected and it feels like if there was something that the general counsel thought we should know, is that just (done) through the board president? Is there ever a time, besides an annual evaluation, that the board and the general counsel are just talking in a room, the six of them?"
Ladomirak suggested the possibility of scheduling a monthly meeting with the general counsel, where the rest of the board sends questions to the president.
Whether to keep it in house or contract with an external law firm
Ladomirak also said that she believes it's important for someone to have overarching legal responsibility in the district and to be in charge of managing other outside attorneys, but that she was open to different ways of structuring it.
"I think that we need a general counsel," Ladomirak said. "I'm less attached to whether the general counsel is an employee or an outside lawyer."
DiBrienza and Shounak Dharap both similarly expressed openness to either approach.
Dharap said he favors moving forward on a dual path, where the district reviews candidates for an in-house position, while also seeking proposals from firms who could provide an on-site attorney. Ladomirak supported that idea, asking staff to bring back a proposal for how to move forward, which the board would review.
Superintendent Don Austin told the board that after speaking with President Ken Dauber, who was absent from Tuesday's meeting, he had contacted two outside firms that the district has worked with to see if they could provide a part-time, on-site attorney and that both were open to discussing arrangements. Austin added that this wasn't a recommendation from him, but was meant as background research.
If the board decides to retain the general counsel position as an employee, Austin said that one question is whether to continue having other employees report to them. Austin told the board that he has already shifted to have the district's new interim Title IX Coordinator, Robert Andrade, report to Deputy Superintendent Trent Bahadursingh, rather than to the general counsel.
Separate from district employees, Dharap said that once a general counsel is selected, the district should work with that person to decide how they will manage outside law firms hired by the district to work on specific cases.
Ladomirak and DiBrienza also supported reviewing whether to raise the salary, which currently ranges from $170,989 to $188,634.
This story contains 739 words.
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