(Thousand Oaks, Ca) Board member Connolly was the focus of a censure at the CVUSD Board meeting on October 2 where the motion read, “Should the Board of Education adopt a resolution censuring Board member Betsy Connolly for her violation of Board Bylaws and her pattern of derogatory public comments toward parents, members of the community and fellow Board members as demonstrated by her conduct on social media toward public speakers and a school board candidate, as well as the misuse of her school board and district email contact list to send out a political letter defaming the school board.”
What ensued when the agenda item came up can only be described as mob rule combined with errors in standard board processes. In the final vote, the censure failed, with 2 board members abstaining 2 voting against and 1 voting in favor. Connolly did not recuse herself from the discussion or the vote as often seen when an issue or matter directly impacts a board member or trustee of municipalities, not-for-profits, and commercial organizations.
The night began at 6:00pm and soon moved to public comments with many from the community sharing their stories about Connolly’s online activity and the bullying they felt as a result.
Dominic Conti, a former CVUSD student who’s sister, Gianna, was subjected to severe sexual harassment while a student, shared his frustration that Connolly had misstated the facts around him and his sister’s issues at Westlake High School in the previous board meeting and used the term “sticks and stones” when referring to how they should have responded to the challenges.
With a long agenda, item 7 finally arrived at nearly 8:00pm with much of the room emptied, except for key supporters of Connolly.
Andersen asked if board members had a motion on the item and no one responded. When asked what that meant, Andersen conferred with McLaughlin, after which they stated, “The motion dies.”
When the question was asked about how to discuss the item, all available options were not offered, thereby only providing partial information to CVUSD board members. Connolly, at that point stated, “No I want this discussed now.” Anderson and McLaughlin further discuss the issue and stated that someone could make a motion, however it was not made clear who specifically could make a motion.
“When we were given these instructions, I understood it to mean that I could not make the motion as the writer of the item,” stated Sandee Everett, CVUSD Board Trustee and author of the recommendation to censure. “Therefore, I did not make a motion.”
Connolly then directed fellow CVUSD board member, Pat Phelps, to make the motion, erroneously indicating her own inability to put the motion forward. Phelps, made the motion and Connolly seconded.
After this occurred, Everett asked to withdraw the item from the agenda at which time Anderson then conferred with McLaughlin who stated she could no longer do this citing it was out of order with parliamentary procedure. According to published guidelines for Robert’s Rules, an item could be removed from the agenda by a two-thirds vote, another error in instructions.
With Phelps and Connolly putting the motion forth, public comments on the item began with 20 speakers, 19 of them against the censure of Connolly.
In an electric room with mostly dissenters waiting for their turn to speak, harsh criticisms and personal attacks were mostly directed at Dunn and Everett with shouts and taunts along with scattered praises of Connolly. Each speaker was given 3 minutes with most taking their full time or more for 60 minutes creating a mob-rule energy.
One speaker, Maryanne Van Zyle, blamed herself for Connolly’s email to district contacts, “I crafted the email and we used a software to send it and it was going through an upgrade and there was a glitch and it sent it out to all her email addresses rather than the ones she selected. None of this is Betsy’s fault. It was in fact a mistake.”
At one point, audience members stood up and shouted towards the dais at board members to voice their disagreement.
After the completion of comments, Everett put forth that if Connolly would apologize for her online comments, email, and disparaging remarks towards others and fellow board members, she would be satisfied.
Connolly responded, “The issue of the email. I stand by the contents of the email. I believe the board majority over the last few years has been reckless. I don’t regret the words. I regret sending them to people that didn’t want to read them. I said them because I meant it.”
After asking Connolly if she thought she had broken bylaws, Connolly stated no. To that Everett replied, “We are held to a higher standard. As board members, how does that reflect on the CVUSD, the kids, the students? This is not what we want to model for students.”
At the final tally, Connolly voted for herself to create the 2-1 vote.
When asked as to why Connolly was allowed to vote, Mark McLaughlin, Superintendent responded, “Board Member Connolly is an elected Board Member who has a right to vote, unless she is precluded by law from doing so. In this case, there was no statutory prohibition against Board Member Connolly from taking action on this particular matter.”
When asked if he thought it was a conflict for her to vote against her own censure, McLaughlin stated, “Mere impact on a Board member is not the legal definition creating a conflict of interest that precludes a Board member from acting.”
Board President, John Andersen, could not be reached for comment.
Betsy Connolly could not be reached for comment.
When asked her opinion of the October 2 board meeting, CVUSD Board candidate Angie Simpson stated, “After today’s tweet from Betsy Connolly, sadly she is back to business as usual as she further demonstrates her zero interest in reaching across the aisle and fostering a professional culture with the other elected officials in our community.”
Simpson continued, “Betsy operates as if she is above the law and continues to conduct her social media in a way that embarrasses those of us who believe that school board trustees should be considering policy as nonpartisan elected officials. Stunts like this reduce the effectiveness of the school board and create unnecessary discord. I am running for a role in the school board because I believe our community deserves a more professional and inclusive voice.”
UPDATE: (October 12) In discussion with representatives from the District Attorney’s office, the meeting did not violate the Brown Act nor did Connolly’s vote against her own censure appear to be a conflict according to state law. state law defines a conflict of interest to be financially related.
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