An attorney is charging that the Santa Rosa school board and its president violated the state's open meetings law by engaging in private discussions to line up support for closing Doyle Park Elementary School.
In an April 6 letter to school board members, attorney David Grabill of Santa Rosa said the board's March 14 decision to close Doyle Park to make way for the French American Charter School was preceded by private discussions.
The discussions included "a series of private deliberative telephone conversations among a majority of board members," Grabill wrote. "We are informed that President (Larry) Haenel was a participant in some or all of these discussions."
Haenel, in an email, said Monday he did not violate the California Brown Act.
"Before the board meeting in question, I was very careful to speak to only two members of the board regarding the closure of Doyle Park and the location of the French American Charter School," he wrote. "To make public a document that accuses me of misconduct is harmful to my reputation as a public servant."
He called the accusation unfair because the person making the accusation was not identified in Grabill's letter and no evidence of a violation was given.
"My accuser needs to identify him/herself and provide the evidence to support the Brown Act violations," he said. "To not do so only sows the seeds of suspicion that I acted illegally in making a decision I felt was in the best interest of our students.
Grabill said Monday he submitted his formal claim of a Brown Act violation on behalf of "parents of Doyle Park students, some teachers and some interested people in the community." He declined to give details of the allegations.
Grabill said the school board agenda item considered on March 14, which included three motions — closing Doyle Park, locating the French charter school at the campus and consideration of a future Spanish/English immersion program — all resulted from previous private discussions, a Brown Act violation.
"All of the deliberative processes by legislative bodies, including discussion, debate and the acquisition of information, must be open and available for public scrutiny," he wrote.
"The fact that none of these individual discussions may have involved a majority of the board, or that some may have been between board members and high district officials does not excuse them from the requirements of the Brown Act."
Grabill said Monday "we hope that the board will rescind its action — closing Doyle Park School."
He said the board has 30 days to respond to the claim of a Brown Act violation.
After that, he said, "there can be a lawsuit. Our hope is that they will cure the violation by rescinding approval of the Doyle Park closure."
Bob Henry, the attorney for the seven-member school board, said he was unaware any such private discussions took place.
"That would be a huge violation of the Brown Act," Henry said. "But I don't have any information that that's what happened."
He said four or more board members discussing district business among themselves or through the use of intermediaries "outside the purview of an appropriately noticed board meeting" would be a Brown Act violation.
Henry said the board will discuss Grabill's letter during closed session at its regularly scheduled meeting Wednesday.