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Does cell phone use by trustees at board meeting violate state law?
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It’s turning out to be a case between 21st technology and policies put in place before instant communication exploded into the global picture.

What rules, if any, should apply on the use of today’s very ubiquitous smart phones during board meetings, both in closed and public sessions, that are now just coming to the attention of school officials?

Should members of the board be allowed to use their smart phones during closed and open session meetings?

Should they even be allowed to bring these communication devices to the meetings? If it’s allowed, to what extent would they be permitted to use it during a meeting? Or, if it’s an emergency, would they need to step out of the room to use their phones, or could they simply send or receive text messages since that would be the method of least disruption?

These could be some of the issues that will be open for discussion and review when the Board of Trustees meets on Wednesday, Nov. 12, beginning at 7 p.m. at the school district, 2271 West Louise Avenue, corner of Airport Way.

The meeting is being held on Wednesday instead of the usual Tuesday because of the Veterans Day observance on Nov. 11, a holiday for all the schools.

The board members are expected to review and discuss, and then take action on the “use of electronic devices during open and closed sessions during board meetings as it relates to the Brown Act, the Board Policy 9012, and governance procedures,” the staff report stated on this agenda item.

The Ralph M. Brown Act, named after the Asssemblyman who authored it, was passed by the California Legislature in 1953 and guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies.

The board’s Policy No. 9012 governing electronic communications serves as a reminder that all communications made during a public meeting such as the meeting of the trustees, in closed as well as in open sessions, are subject to the California Public Records Act. Therefore, board members should not be using “electronic communication devices… to communicate either internally or externally” during meetings.

How the Brown Act comes into play vis a vis electronic devices and communication, and vice versa, is another issue that the board is expected to explore during the discussion of this agenda item.

The issue of electronic-device usage during trustee meetings was precipitated by a reported incident that took place during a closed session meeting, and came into the light of public domain when Trustee Nancy Teicheira made a reference to it during the board comments at the close of the meeting. In her board comment, she stated that she was investigating possible Brown Act violations involving Trustee Sam Fant. She also commented that “tonight, I was accused of attacking fellow board members for actions that have been done…. It is not that I am picking on fellow board members; it’s that the community has a concern.”

Later, it was learned from various sources that her comments were fueled by an ugly verbal altercation that took place during the closed session which happened when Teicheira asked board president Don Scholl if cell phones are allowed during the meeting. She was reportedly talking about Trustee Fant who had taken out his cell phone in view of everybody during the meeting.

“The rule is, we’re not supposed to have our phone out because we could come under Brown Act violations. Who knows who he’s on the phone with? If you have a rule, you follow the rule,” said Teicheira who also pointed out that other concerned individuals have observed the same thing about Fant during other board meetings.

Fant admitted that he had his cell phone out during open board meetings but that he always puts the device on vibrate each time and that he has never used it “to make a phone call or anything.” He also admitted to going online using his smart phone during a recent meeting but only to clarify an item that was being discussed, the amount of the minimum wage increase in California and when it was going to take effect.