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The Sonoma Valley Unified School District voted to censure trustee John Kelly on Tuesday night after an independent investigation found that he "abused his position of authority" as board president by violating the board's policies, regulations, bylaws, and ethical duties.

The investigation was prompted by former interim superintendent Charles Young, who told the board that there were irregularities in how a contract with a labor union came before the district.

Independent investigator Scott N. Kivel found that Kelly had communicated with and pushed for a project labor agreement (PLA) with an organization that had made campaign contributions to him.

The investigation also found that Kelly directed representatives of the labor group to use his non-district email to "shield his communications" and that he tried to slip the project labor agreement onto the consent calendar of a board meeting in a "clear effort to hide the significance of his actions."

Consent calendar items at board meetings are more routine items that are often not discussed and are passed as a group with one motion.

In all, the board listed at least six bylaws that they believe Kelly violated. The five-page censure resolution outlines multiple instances the board cites as reasons for their disapproval.

His colleagues assert that Kelly negotiated a 10-year contract with the labor group, "obligating the district to hire workers represented by unions affiliated with the group for all projects in excess of $50,000, which posed significant financial risk to the district."

Other allegations include that Kelly violated the state's Brown Act by holding "serial" meetings in order the hide the "important and consequential implications" of the PLA from the public. Serial meetings are prohibited by the Brown Act, which states that members of a body cannot meet outside of regular public meetings that may lead to a majority developing a concurrence on an action to be taken.
 
According to the independent investigation, Kelly admitted to the district counsel that he had "the votes" prior to the PLA being discussed at a public meeting.

The board also went as far as to refer to Kelly as a liar.

"Trustee Kelly, as the then president of the board, lied to the other trustees about circumstances surrounding the salary overpayment of approximately $20,000" to former Superintendent Socorro Shiels over a period of 18 months.
 
The board asserts that Kelly knew that it was all due to a clerical error but hid that fact and accused Shiels of a deliberate criminal act, thus engineering her "abrupt dismissal" that "advanced his goal to obtain board approval of the PLA."

Kelly addressed the board and community about his censure at Tuesday's meeting, saying, "Guys, this is not the kind of thing that should be in front of this board at all. The language itself is over the top. We all know what's going on here, and I've seen it said multiple places now. This is a board that's lost its way."

He added that the move was a "sign of just how bad things are in the district."

Kelly is elected and therefore cannot be removed by his colleagues on the board, but the censure now bars him "indefinitely" from assuming any committee or leadership position or representing the board in any way at functions. The board will also no longer "defend and indemnify" Kelly for any claims or actions resulting from the said conduct.

The majority of community members that called into the public comment portion of the item support Kelly's censuring, though a few who appreciate Kelly's advocacy for disabled children opposed the move.

Celeste Winters said that the board may "silence" him but they can't silence his advocacy for students. Mindy Luby said it looked like "retaliation for speaking up when one sees something that isn't right," and that the censure looks like "silencing parents of children with disabilities."

In the end, all four trustees voted for the censure, with Kelly abstaining.

 

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