The Washoe County School District’s Board of Trustees Monday voted to delay the censure of Trustee Jeff Church for alleged infractions of board policies. The meeting, which started at 4 p.m., ended after midnight.
Numerous commenters spoke in support of Church.
The meeting began with an agenda item many criticized and said violated Nevada’s open meeting laws. The agenda item was an attempt by the board to self-correct a potential open meeting law violation at the board’s Sept. 28 meeting.
Church questioned the board’s meeting agenda, which contained only two items. He called the agenda confusing and unclear.
“I find it vague the way it’s presented,” Church said. He also complained about the lack of capacity to accommodate the large crowd — about 90 people — who attended the meeting. “People are lined up outside. It appears we don’t have adequate room.”
The district’s legal counsel, Chris Reich, disagreed. He said there was plenty of room.
“The district is meeting its standard for open meeting law [requirements],” he said.
Public commenters waited outside the WCSD administrative building for hours to speak.
Investigation: Calvert moved in 2019
The first agenda item referenced a Gunderson Law Firm investigation that examined when school officials knew former Trustee Jacqueline Calvert moved out of her district prior to her September resignation.
Bruce Parks, who regularly speaks at WCSD meetings, initiated the complaint, according to the investigator’s report.
The report shows Calvert in March of 2019 notified two WCSD employees, a human resources manager and technician, she changed her address.
“The Human Resources Manager would not have and did not report the change of address to his supervisor,” the report noted. “At the time, there were no policies or procedures in place that required the Human Resources Manager to do anything that required the … Manager to do anything with the information he received from Trustee Calvert other than update WCSD’s HR Records.”
Parks, commenting during the meeting, accused trustees and WCSD staff of not doing their jobs. He said Calvert changed her address to a post office box on the Secretary of State’s website in 2019.
“I’m appalled that Calvert was not interviewed.”
WCSD did not include the Gunderson report as part of its meeting materials until after the meeting started.
WCSD spokesperson Megan Downs said last week, “Gunderson’s findings will be discussed at the meeting.”
Staff handed out copies of the report at the beginning of the meeting. They then called a 45-minute break just after the meeting’s start so trustees and attendees could read it. The report (read it below) reveals school officials wanted Calvert’s residency addressed by the Secretary of State.
“It is clear following my independent investigation that Trustee Church was the first person to learn of the potential that former Trustee Calvert did not reside in her district,” Gunderson’s John Funk wrote. “He received this information on August 9, yet decided to not disclose any information to WCSD’s leadership until August 19, 2021.”
Calvert resigned Sept. 14 after the matter was brought to Trustee Angela Taylor’s attention.
“Between the time [board] President Taylor reviewed [Park’s] email and former Trustee Calvert resigned, it does not appear that Trustee Calvert performed any functions or made any votes in her capacity as a WCSD Trustee,” Funk added.
Church questioned Funk at length. He asked if he interviewed Calvert as part of the investigation.
“I did not,” Funk added.
“I find that troubling, extremely troubling,” Church said. “I’m appalled that Calvert was not interviewed.”
“I did not think it appropriate to put her in a position to ask her to invoke her Fifth Amendment rights,” Funk said, saying she may be facing an investigation by the Secretary of State or the Attorney General. “My retention was more narrow than that.”
He said he was hired to investigate when Calvert moved and who knew about it.
Trustee Beth Smith said there was “a lot of confusion” surrounding the report and the meeting.
The board voted to accept the Gunderson firm’s report, in a five-to-one vote. Church voted against the measure.
Board reports proposed to be removed
Another part of the first agenda item was to remove board reports — the part of the meeting where individual trustees give updates on their activities related to the district.
The agenda item alleged the Nevada Attorney General’s office suggested the board of trustees remove board reports from public meetings.
Church motioned to not approve the removal of the reports. Trustee Joe Rodriguez seconded his motion.
The motion passed.
Church avoids censure for now
Trustees after midnight voted to delay censure of Church. Church’s refusal to abide by board policies is what prompted the censure attempt.
Church’s fellow trustees alleged he failed to follow his commitment to board rules. This Is Reno reported in April that Church voted against a resolution to follow board rules.
The documents in support of the censure included complaints by constituents as well as concerns raised by other board members and district staff. There are a number of board policies Church was accused of having violated.
Trustee Taylor also said he was responsible for misinformation about the school district.
Church called the situation “a policy violation” and said charges against him were vague or unsubstantiated. WCSD policies, he said, are so broad, “you can censure a ham sandwich. I literally have no idea what I did [wrong].”
Church’s attorney said the attempt to censure him was a fundamental free speech violation.
“It’s a behavior issue, not a First Amendment issue,” Taylor countered.
“I don’t know what behavior you’re talking about,” Church responded. “I’m going to continue speaking my mind. What’s the plan B? To sue me?”
Numerous public commenters said they were outraged by the proposal, advanced by Taylor, to censure Church.
Trustee Diane Nicolet said she wanted to delay the vote in order for the board to reflect on what was happening and to compromise. The board voted to continue the agenda item at a later date.
Trustees Ellen Minetto and Taylor voted against delaying censure. The motion passed 4 to 2.