Imperial Valley College President and Superintendent Martha Garcia (right) said she has no intention of resigning despite recently being urged to do so by Imperial Community College District board Trustee Annette Gonzalez-Buttner (left) during a district board meeting on Feb. 17. | FILE IMAGE GRAPHIC
IMPERIAL — Imperial Valley College President and Superintendent Martha Garcia said she has no intention of resigning despite recently being urged to do so by Imperial Community College District board Trustee Annette Gonzalez-Buttner.
Gonzalez-Buttner had demanded Garcia’s immediate resignation during the Feb. 17, district board meeting, where the former accused the latter of allegedly providing advice that, if followed, would have violated California’s open meeting laws.
Gonzalez-Buttner’s request came during the meeting’s public comment period and was made in her capacity as a community member, not as a trustee, she said. Regardless, her request has since been dismissed by Garcia, who had refrained from providing any response during the Feb. 17 meeting.
“I do not plan to resign,” Garcia said in an email on Monday, Feb. 22.
The written statement that Gonzalez-Buttner read aloud during the Feb. 17 meeting alleged that Garcia had advised her to speak privately with IVC board President Mark Edney regarding Gonzalez-Buttner’s concerns with Edney’s alleged restriction of public comments during a previous board meeting.
Her statement alleged that speaking privately with Edney about her concerns would have constituted a violation of the Brown Act, the state law that governs open meetings for publicly elected bodies.
“(Garcia) should be held criminally liable for asking me to violate the law and negotiate this item in private with Edney,” according to Gonzalez-Buttner’s statement.
The latest flare up between Gonzalez-Buttner and IVC officials comes while she awaits the start of her criminal trial in the county Superior Court, where she is facing four felony charges alleging election fraud related to her 2017 candidacy for Imperial County Board of Education trustee.
Her concerns with certain IVC officials appear to have first arisen in January when the district board agenda included the first reading of a revised board policy that had amended how agenda items are developed and added to a board meeting’s agenda.
During that meeting, she accused Edney of violating the public’s right to provide public comment in advance of the board’s discussion of an agenda item. Edney replied that it was the board’s longstanding policy to allow the public an opportunity to comment on all agenda items during the sole public comment period that is scheduled at the start of each meeting, instead of in advance of each respective agenda item.
Gonzalez-Buttner continued to contest the practice and Edney’s explanation, even after the college district’s legal counsel, Joseph Sanchez, clarified that the practice was legal and not uncommon with other publicly elected bodies.
“There is nothing in the Brown Act … that requires that the public be able to comment when the item is being heard,” Sanchez said during the board’s Jan. 20 regular meeting. “It only requires that an opportunity be given before any of the items are heard.”
In response to the allegations Gonzalez-Buttner made during the Feb. 17 meeting, Garcia disputed Gonzalez-Buttner’s claim that the state’s laws regulating public bodies’ open meetings prohibited two board members from having a private discussion about a matter before the board.
Such conversations can take legally place so long as they do not involve a majority of the publicly elected body, which in the case of IVC’s seven-member board would be four trustees, Garcia said in an email on Friday, Feb. 19.
“When Ms. Gonzalez-Buttner indicated she had concerns about the board policies that would be acted on, I recommended that she discuss that with the Board President,” Garcia stated. “I never suggested, directed or implied, in any way that Trustee Gonzalez-Buttner was to attempt to try and discuss or reach a consensus on any topic with a majority of the Board.”
The written statement that Gonzalez-Buttner read aloud during the Feb. 17 meeting further accused Garcia of spending the district’s funds unnecessarily on the legal consideration of board policy that should’ve been discussed during the board’s closed session instead.
That legal evaluation had concerned the board’s practice of scheduling just one unified public comment period during regular board meetings instead of allowing public comment prior to each agenda item.
“Garcia did not agendize this item for Closed Session consideration where her supposed attorney replies could be reviewed by all Board members under the protection of anticipated litigation,” Gonzalez-Buttner’s Feb. 17 statement said.
In her written response, Garcia stated that board members’ concerns related to board policies are supposed to be made public during the meeting’s open session, when that item is called.
“There are only very specific types of items that are allowed the confidentiality of closed session,” Garcia said. “Approving new protocols or policies of the Board are not one of those items.”
Gonzalez-Buttner is scheduled to return to court on March 29 for a readiness conference that will precede the likely start of jury selection the following day.
She was initially charged in February 2019, and is alleged to have established her permanent residence, or “domicile,” in Santa Clara County in mid-2014 and of not living at the Calexico address she provided in her 2017 candidacy filings for the Board of Education trustee seat. She has denied all charges to date.
Those charges include two counts of perjury, a count of grand theft, and a count of filing a falsified candidacy declaration.
The Imperial County Office of Education is currently seeking legal guidance from the state Attorney General’s Office to determine if the county Board of Education and IVC trustee seats are incompatible, as defined by state Education Code.
The ICOE is also seeking an opinion from the state AG’s Office to determine whether the Imperial County Office of Education can move forward with a potential civil lawsuit in Superior Court that would seek to have Gonzalez-Buttner removed from the county education board seat by an order of the court.