A Nevada County judge has ruled that he will conduct his own review of documents pertaining to the termination of former Nevada Joint Union High School District Superintendent Marianne Cartan.
The decision Friday by Superior Court Judge Sean Dowling came in response to a complaint filed last month by The Union newspaper against the school district board of trustees, seeking to force the district to release information pursuant to the California Public Records Act.
Following Cartan’s termination “without cause” on March 13, the district’s board of trustees declined to provide information to the public on the rationale for its 3-2 decision.
The Union’s education reporter, Jennifer Terman, filed a public records request, specifically requesting Cartan’s last three evaluations. The school district’s attorney, A. Christopher Duran, provided the agenda and minutes from the March 13 board meeting, as well as a copy of her contract. But Duran said all other records were privileged and contained confidential personnel information that was exempt from disclosure.
Cartan, who made $135,000 a year, had received a positive annual review in December 2012. Following her release in March, board President Katy Schwarz acknowledged the teachers association had declared a no-confidence vote in Cartan in a survey that had been provided to the board.
The school district had conducted its own survey of school administrators, and that was also reviewed by the board prior to its decision to terminate Cartan.
Those two surveys, as well as the performance evaluations, are among the records that were requested by The Union.
The Union’s attorney, Thomas Kelley, argued in court Friday that Cartan’s evaluations reportedly were satisfactory, and that the union-conducted survey coincided with her sudden termination.
“There are no allegations of wrongdoing,” he said, arguing that lowered the privacy rights concerns.
“What the petitioners seek is really unprecedented,” Duran said, arguing that without serious allegations of misconduct, the newspaper is not entitled to Cartan’s evaluations or the other documents.
Cartan’s buyout was for no cause, and since there was no reason for her termination, there is no basis for a public records request, Duran said.
Dowling said the bottom line, in his opinion, was the balancing of the right to individual privacy versus the Public Records Act.
He told the attorneys for both sides that he would conduct an in-chambers review of the documents requested by The Union — the evaluations and the two surveys.
“I am essentially going to be doing the same kind of fishing The Union is doing, looking for something of substance,” Dowling said. “If I don’t find it, I’m not going to release it ... The only issue for me is whether something is buried in there.”
Dowling overruled a number of objections filed by the school district relating to the surveys; he also told the newspaper’s attorney he would not take notice of a voter guide from 2004 regarding the Public Records Act.
That pamphlet offered an example of the types of public records the proposed constitutional amendment was intended to make publicly available, including records whose contents answer the question: “Why was the superintendent of the school district fired?”
According to Dowling, the “bold statement” on the voter guide was taken out of context and did not serve to tell him how to apply the provision.
Dowling directed the district’s attorney to provide him the records requested by July 8.
To contact City Editor Liz Kellar, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4229.