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Criminal Complaint Highlights Conflict-Fractured SCUSD

If you’re given to hyperbole like “I’d like to kill him” or “don’t shoot the messenger” you’d better steer clear – oops, make that ‘avoid’ – Santa Clara Union School District Board of Trustee meetings. Unless you want a visit from the police, that is.

“Imagine how devastated I was when I opened my door on Monday, August 13 to find a police officer telling me that Ina Bendis, Christine Koltermann, and Michele Ryan had filed a complaint against me,” began a statement by former school board trustee Patricia Flot at the August 23 board meeting.

The drama at Flot’s front door came two weeks after a contentious July 30 meeting, during a discussion about appointing Flot and Mohammad Nadeem to the Measure J bond oversight committee.

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A majority of the school board approved the appointments, with trustees Bendis and Koltermann, and trustee candidates Ryan and Christopher Stampolis opposing.

“In terms of the competence of the outreach for these appointments, I think the board would want to take a look at these details,” said Stampolis. “I don’t know what kind of professional marketing outreach was conducted.”

It was then that Ryan made a public statement about the seven-month old remarks.

“When I attended my first and only previous school board meeting in January,” Ryan said, “I was shocked that someone behind me was repeatedly saying that Dr. Bendis and Dr. Koltermann, quote, ‘should be shot’…. At the break of the meeting I informed Dr. Plough of these comments and I later found out that this person was Pat Flot.”

The accusation derailed the discussion into the legal definition of hearsay

“Given that there have been separate issues that have been raised by the public [Ryan, Stampolis],” said Bendis, “and especially by Ms. Ryan on a possible criminal act by one of these appointees, would the maker of this motion [Trustee Andy Ratermann] be amenable to separating these appointments…”

“No,” replied Ratermann. “I believe that the characterization of a criminal act is a bit much.”

“When a comment is made that such-and-so made such-and-such a comment, in a court of law, that’s hearsay,” said Trustee Jim Canova. “For Dr. Bendis to suggest that a criminal act has been committed is completely inappropriate. That’s hearsay. It’s complete hearsay. In a court of law it’s hearsay.”

“We have a non-lawyer giving an inaccurate definition of hearsay,” retorted Bendis. “It is not hearsay if Ms. Ryan heard with her own ears Ms. Flot say something.”

“At that meeting Ms. Ryan told Dr. Bendis, and she told Dr. Plough and she told me,” Koltermann weighed in. “I don’t believe that fits the definition of hearsay.”

“I’m hoping that Ms. Ryan will stay a little bit after the meeting so I can go down to the police station and file a complaint,” Bendis said at one point.

“I’m not sure that there’s anything left to say,” Bendis said finally. “We have someone who has been repeatedly accused of saying that Dr. Koltermann and I should be shot in this board room, who we are now planning, I’m sure by a vote of 4 to 2 to appoint to a second oversight committee.”

Bendis and Koltermann filed their complaint about two weeks later. “I was in Oregon and couldn’t make a police report [sooner],” Bendis told the Sept. 27 school board meeting. “It was my decision to go to the police…I did it out of a concern for my safety.”

Flot reads more into the delay, and in her public statement, suggested that was intended to intimidate her from running against Stampolis for one of the District 2 seats – Flot had told some people she was considering another run for school board if sitting trustee Don Bordenave didn’t run again. As of Friday, August 10, Bordenave hadn’t filed; triggering a filing deadline extension to the next Wednesday.

Bendis’ and Koltermann’s complaint demanded a weapons search of Flot’s home and that she be barred from attending school board meetings. The Santa Clara Police Department investigation concluded that Flot posed no threat and the Superintendent had adequately addressed the situation – admonishing Flot to ‘watch her language’ at meetings – when it was brought to Plough’s attention in January.

Any Stick to Beat a Dog?

The July 30 dispute follows similar dispute earlier this year: Bendis’ and Koltermann’s opposition to Superintendent Bobbie Plough’s appointment as the County Board of Education’s (CBOE) representative to the Santa Clara RDA Successor agency oversight board, and former city manager Jennifer Sparacino’s recommendation of Plough for the position. CBOE Member Anna Song – Stampolis’ wife – cast the sole opposing vote to Plough’s appointment.

In a March 1 email distributed to the SCUSD, CBOE and RDA successor agency boards (www.sccoe.org), Bendis alleged that Plough had improperly obtained the appointment. Bendis said Plough “falsely asserted that the SCUSD board had decided to recommended her,” and accused the Superintendent of “bringing Ms. DeYoung in as a co-conspirator,” and being in a “cooperative relationship with a party [the City of Santa Clara] adverse to SCUSD’s interests.”

At the July 30 meeting, Bendis directed her ire at Plough’s management of the bond committee appointments.

“Dr. Plough said in her comments that ‘we advertised in the newspaper and we did what we did in the past,'” Bendis commenced. “These two assertions of fact are mutually inconsistent. She said in her email to me, quote ‘additionally, the opportunity has been posted on our website and remains there.’

“However when I pointed out to her that, in fact, the opportunity was not posted on our website and that there wasn’t an application, you had to click on many different things to find it – in other words, you had to know where to find it – she now says, we can put it on the website,” continued Bendis.

“These are also inconsistent statements of fact…Dr. Plough said, ‘My job was to solicit applications and we solicited widely.’ Yet when I spoke to Professor Nadeem, he said [he] didn’t know anything about this job until [he] got a phone call from Bobbie asking him if he’d be willing to serve.”

Bendis then went on to castigate Flot’s appointment.

“And I’d be thrilled to know,” Bendis continued, “of the many groups that were solicited widely, [which] was the group in which Pat Flot was the only person who decided she wanted to serve! These are also inconsistent facts! I only mistrust when I see that facts are inconsistent and cannot possibly be true!

“And yet,” she continued, “they’re asserted to me and here they’re asserted in public, in front of this board…The only members of the public who have come to speak are members who have brought up these concerns. We don’t even have Ms. Flot here, so that we can ask her if she plans to file for the coming election, which would then make her ineligible because of Ed Code section 1285.b. says that it [the oversight committee] cannot include any employee or official of the district.”

Returning to Nadeem, Bendis continued. “We have a potential conflict of interest situation, as a member of the public [Ryan, Stampolis] pointed out, with respect to Mr. Nadeem.

“The City Council was against us with respect to $30 million dollars, which is a lotta money. And to have him sit on a bond oversight committee for $30 million dollars…basically every member who favors this is voting to say, ‘yes I’d like to rubber stamp’ to appoint people in a non-transparent process!”

After Bendis ran out the clock, the board went on to approve Flot and Nadeem to the oversight committee, but Flot subsequently resigned.

Tempest in a teapot? Perhaps. But it’s one that’s fracturing the teapot to raise uncomfortable questions.

One of them is why vituperative and out-of-bounds behavior on the part of SCUSD board members is tolerated. In 2010, “a strong disapproval of Dr. Ina Bendis’ regular behavior in the treatment of staff, administration and fellow Board members and the impact it has in the creation of a negative educational environment.”

Yet the board has taken no subsequent action to establish rules for board member conduct – such as Santa Clara’s prohibition against “Councilmanic interference” (Section 807 City Charter). Nor has the SCUSD board taken any actions to make its proceedings more accessible – for example, live video streaming of board meetings.

Another question is whether local governing agencies are parochial “clubs;” making it hard for any but the most determined – and sometimes insensitive and abrasive – to break into their ranks.

Board meeting recordings can be found at www.santaclarausd.org/files/732939/board%20meeting%207.30.12.mp4.

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