Things are heating up in Capo

The Capistrano Unified School District, that is.  Last month I reported on charges that Capo district officials had been keeping tabs on parents (and their children) who had supported a recent recall effort.  At the time the Superintendent, James Fleming, denied any knowledge of the matter and blamed the report on a disgruntled former employee.  Today the Orange County register reported that among the items seized by Orange County District Attorney’s office investigators during a raid on district offices earlier this week were “files labeled with the names of recall proponents” (8/17). If you’re the generous, naive type your first thought might be that the files in question were filled with friendly notes to fellow citizens concerned about the future of the Capistrano Unified School District. Sure they are. If you’re more the “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” type, read on.

Following the publication of the original charges, the board moved quickly to politely distance itself from Superintendent Fleming by asking for an investigation into the charges (7/29).  Not that hey were intending  to fire the superintendent — he had already announced his intention to retire (7/20).   Maybe he knew there was more to come.  Maybe the board was hoping that by taking firm action they could defuse criticism should anything else arise.  Like the announcement a few days later that one of Capo’s major contractors — their plumber with an exclusive annual $1-million contract — had “employed relatives of at least five district employees”(8/2).  Including Fleming’s son.  And the wife of the district’s director of construction.  And then we learned that Culbertson, Adams & Associates, and environmental consulting firm contracting with the district, employed the school board president’s daughter. Somehow the school board president, Marlene M. Draper, never thought to abstain from voting to approve the firm’s contracts (8/5). Of course everyone at the district claims, again, there was no problem.

About the same time we learned that the district was being sued for violating the Brown Act (a California law that requires that elected bodies’ “deliberations be conducted openly” except under certain circumstances) (7/27).  Playing a variation of the disgruntled employee card, Superintendent Fleming claimed that it was all the work of a local troublemaker looking to launch his own school board campaign (8/1).  Never mind the fact that one observer familiar with the Brown Act called the matter “the worst example of a Brown Act violation in closed session I have ever seen in 25 years”.  Indeed, Superintendent Fleming made the following comment regarding the person filing the law suit: “I find it ironic that a man who comes to just about every board meeting to complain about how much we have to spend on attorneys is filing a lawsuit against us so we’ll have to spend more on attorneys.”

Following the District Attorney’s raid of the district’s offices, the Orange County Register reported that the district has hired a criminal defense attorney, Allan H. Stokke, to “to handle all matters between the school district and the Office of the District Attorney in the ongoing investigation” (8/16). While none of these issues may be directly related to one another, it does paint a bleak picture for the kids. I suspect that we’ve just started to see the real attorney’s bills begin to rack up — it isn’t likely that Mr. Stokke isn’t working pro bono.

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