School board took just 4 minutes to let go of top lawyer, meeting records reveal | September 9, 2022 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 9, 2022

School board took just 4 minutes to let go of top lawyer, meeting records reveal

General counsel Komey Vishakan's employment was terminated in an Aug. 4 closed session

by Zoe Morgan

While Palo Alto school board members have refused to publicly discuss their reasoning for terminating the district's in-house lawyer's employment in a closed door meeting last month, one thing is now clear: It took just four minutes for the board to collectively reach its decision.

The minutes of the Aug. 4 special board meeting, which the board approved last week, show that President Ken Dauber called the meeting to order at 4:30 p.m. and subsequently adjourned into closed session. When the board reconvened at 4:34 p.m., Dauber announced that the board had voted 4-0, with Jesse Ladomirak absent, to terminate general counsel Komey Vishakan's employment without cause. The meeting was adjourned at 4:35 p.m.

Vishakan had held the position ever since it was created in 2018. The board at the time decided to create an in-house general counsel role in an attempt to improve legal compliance and reduce costs. She reported directly to the board, with a dotted line relationship to the superintendent.

Neither Dauber nor Vishakan responded to a request to comment for this article.

The minutes from the special meeting note that Superintendent Don Austin was present, as well as an attorney from DWK, an outside law firm with which the district contracts. Vishakan was not in attendance.

Roughly a day's notice was given ahead of the Aug. 4 special meeting, and no members of the public asked to address the board about the closed session, according to the minutes.

Under the terms of the law governing public meetings in California, known as the Brown Act, publicly elected bodies like school boards are restricted from discussing or making decisions outside of official meetings. A majority of board members generally can't "discuss, deliberate, or take action" on anything within its jurisdiction outside of a public meeting, including through intermediaries.

Prior to the four-minute closed session on Aug. 4, the last time the board formally met was at a regularly scheduled meeting on June 21.

At the meeting before that, held on June 7, the board met in closed session to discuss the performance of the general counsel and superintendent, but no action was reported about either employee when the board reconvened into open session. It is unknown how much time was spent discussing Vishakan because there were other items on the agenda for the closed session, which lasted roughly an hour.

That came after a May 24 board meeting, when the board met in closed session to discuss the performance of seven top administrators. Six were given "satisfactory performance evaluations," while no result was reported for Vishakan.

Vishakan told the Weekly last month that the board failed to give her any evaluation this year, despite it being called for in her contract.

In a statement at the time, Vishakan said she had "been a patient but persistent advocate for reform."

"Sometimes advocating for change does not make everyone equally happy," Vishakan said.

While board members haven't said why they let Vishakan go, they held a discussion at last week's meeting about the future of the general counsel position. Board members supported retaining a head lawyer but expressed openness to the possibility of contracting with an outside firm to provide the attorney. Some board members also wanted to get greater clarity on the position's reporting structure.

Email Staff Writer Zoe Morgan at [email protected]om.

Comments

Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Meadow Park
on Sep 1, 2022 at 3:06 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

What are they trying to hide now? If Vishakan broke a law or policy, it'd be termination with cause, correct? So, what could possibly have happened to warrant such an abrupt firing?

PAUSD doesn't just fire people for no reason. The kept people like Phil Winston, Kim Diorio, Pete Columbo, David Rappaport, Kathy Laurence, a multitude of principals who have been moved to the district office BECAUSE they were incompetent or worse, and many others who were either obviously not fit for their job or just basically taking up space.

So why Vishakan. I'm guessing there's a lot more to the story. The board will hide behind lawyers [portion removed]. Don Austin will [portion removed] pretend to care and that'll be the end of it.


Posted by S. Underwood
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 1, 2022 at 3:59 pm

S. Underwood is a registered user.

Most folks following this Board and Austin (including me) will share our experience-informed opinion that the fix is always in, and that all process in PAUSD has been reduced to theatre.

I'm sure that the Board and Austin know that public records requests also extend personal texts, facebook, instagram, and LinkedIn messages (etc) that pertain to District issues. Strange that we have emails of Dauber and Austin saying they will text about sensitive things, but never any texts or DMs in the respondent records for communications about the District's affairs. In my opinion we are eroding trust drip by drip.


Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Sep 1, 2022 at 5:16 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

The Brown Act states, Government Code sections 54950-54963, is intended to provide public access to meetings of California local government agencies. Its purpose is described in the Act:
“The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.” Gov’t Code § 54950.
"In order to achieve this objective, governmental bodies subject to the requirements of the Brown Act must provide public notice of their meetings, post agendas of the subjects to be discussed at those meetings, and provide public access to those meetings. Public notice of every meeting subject to the Brown Act is required, and access is mandatory unless the meeting is held in closed session under a specific exception contained in the Act."
Such Meetings to discuss “pending litigation.” This exception has been carefully crafted due to frequent past disputes.
• Litigation is any adjudicatory proceeding.
• Pending litigation is:
(a) litigation formally initiated to which the body is a party;
(b) a situation where based on the advice of counsel taking into account “existing facts and circumstances” there exists a “significant exposure” to litigation; or
(c) when the agency itself has decided or is deciding whether to initiate litigation.
• For existing litigation, the closed session notice should state the name of the case or parties (unless it would jeopardize service of process or existing settlement negotiations), and for anticipated litigation or litigation the agency is considering initiating, it should state the number of potential cases. Prior to holding a closed session pursuant to this section, the legislative body of the local agency must state on the agenda".. etc.

You do the math.


Posted by Retired PAUSD Teacher
a resident of another community
on Sep 4, 2022 at 7:14 am

Retired PAUSD Teacher is a registered user.

Aren’t school board’s and superintendents supposed to serve the public? Other than scheduled board meetings, these folks do their best to hide from the public.

It is telling that Ms. Vishakan did not receive her contractual evaluation in lieu of her firing. That is a pattern that bleeds down to the schools as well. I can state for a fact that in my final six years of teaching in PAUSD, I did not receive a single evaluation, which was a violation of the collective bargaining agreement. In a last minute effort to do something this year, my principal requested that I start the evaluation process on MAY 13th!

When he was informed that legally it was too late, and that any evaluation submitted after May 3rd was invalid, he falsely stated that he “was giving me the opportunity to complete the evaluation process”. Curious, since he never started the process. Apparently that was the case with several other teachers on campus.

Was there any repercussions for this dereliction of duty? Of course not. He was hand picked by Austin, thus he got a free pass as a reward for his loyalty to “the Don”. Forget hard work, honesty, or performance. It’s all about towing the 25 Churchill line whether or not the public interest is served.


Posted by AnonyMouse
a resident of Monroe Park
on Sep 5, 2022 at 10:08 am

AnonyMouse is a registered user.

It is time for a change. There are plenty of data points in the last few years for us to know that this institution is hurting. Plummeting morale. Suppressed dissent. Bureaucratic aggression. What parents need to know is that all of this eventually rolls downhill to your child’s educational experience. When top management is dismissive and arrogant, middle managers start parroting those same behaviors to teachers. Teachers, try as they might, eventually become beaten down by the behavior at the top, and your child’s education suffers. We’ll never know the reason for this peremptory dismissal. Even their new #builders campaign to supposedly improve morale has a diabolical dialectic built in. If you’re a builder, you quietly do what you’re told. You are a #wrecker if you speak out, disagree or ask questions. It’s authoritarian and antithetical to a publicly funded institution. We can do better. All this leads to the upcoming election. I’m hoping Shana Segal and Nicole Chou-Wong can be the #ambassadors of hope we so desperately need.


Posted by Retired PAUSD Teacher
a resident of another community
on Sep 6, 2022 at 8:51 am

Retired PAUSD Teacher is a registered user.

"What parents need to know is that all of this eventually rolls downhill to your child’s educational experience".

Exactly Anonymous! Good teachers are being put under duress for spurious reasons and hostile work environments abound. Students feed off teachers moods, and if a teacher does not feel comfortable on the job, then the students sense it as well. It is not healthy, and all of the "#builders" campaigns do nothing other than mask the problem. It's gone on too long and at the end of the day, it's the kids and parents who pay the price.


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