CARLSBAD — The Carlsbad Unified School District (CUSD) Board of Trustees will be re-voting on, and potentially curtailing, the district’s contract with a law firm after it had hired one of the board members shortly after the original vote.
CUSD Trustee Kelli Moors voted on July 24 to extend the district’s $100,000 contract with the San Marcos education law firm Fagen, Friedman & Fulfrost into the 2013-14 school year.
In addition to its contracts with other law firms, CUSD has contracted with Fagen, Friedman & Fulfrost since 2006 to primarily work on special education as well as labor and employment matters.
Meeting minute records show that board members, including Moors, voted unanimously to approve the firm’s contract with the district as a consent item each year from 2010 to 2012.
Moors announced on Aug. 5, less than two weeks after her vote, that she would be retiring from the board mid-term after accepting a position with the firm to avoid a conflict of interest. She had served on the board for more than 12 years.
She attended her last board meeting on Aug. 14 and her retirement is scheduled to take effect Sept. 2.
Neither Moors nor the law firm have disclosed when they began negotiations over the position, so it remains unknown whether Moors was in pursuit of the job at the time of her July vote.
CUSD Board President Elisa Williamson announced via a district press release on Aug. 23 that the board would be re-voting on Fagen, Friedman & Fulfrost’s contract to “obviate any questions about the validity of the Board’s ultimate vote under the law,” due to Moors’ hiring.
The re-vote will occur at the board’s next meeting Sept. 11.
She also said in the statement that she would be recommending to the rest of the board that the district “limit its use of the services of Fagen, Friedman & Fulfrost” at the meeting as well.
Williamson explained that she initially decided to recommend cutting back on the firm’s contract once she learned of Moors’ new position and retirement from the board in early August.
She said that her recommendation stemmed from a desire to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest between the district and the firm moving forward.
She said that she would not be recommending a complete elimination of the district’s contract with the firm because she does not want to jeopardize the cases that the firm is currently working on, nor burden the district with the cost of starting over on these cases by transferring them to another law firm.
She said that she decided not to present her recommendation at the Aug. 14 board meeting because Moors was present.
“It didn’t seem appropriate to me to be talking about (cutting back on the firm’s contract) with her next to me,” she said. “It would be more difficult to have a candid conversation.”
However, the district was unmindful of Moors’ vote on the firm’s contract on July 24 until the issue was publicized in an Aug. 22 newspaper article in the U-T San Diego, according to Williamson and CUSD Superintendent Suzette Lovely.
Both Williamson and Lovely said that they do not know when Moors started pursuing the position at Fagen, Friedman & Fulfrost, and were unaware of any dealings between Moors and the firm at the time of the July 24 vote.
“Was she in contract negotiations at the time of the July vote? And that, I have no idea,” said Lovely.
Williamson said that even without Moors’ vote, the contract still would have passed unanimously.
But in spite of the uncertainty of the timeframe of Moors’ negotiations with the firm, Williamson said about the July vote, “In hindsight, I think it would have been better if (Moors) had abstained.”
She and Lovely agreed for the board to revote on the firm’s contract in light of concerns raised by the article.
“Understandably, the proximity in time between approval of the contract and Ms. Moors’ resignation and announcement that she would be joining our firm in September caused concern,” said Fagen, Friedman & Fulfrost partner Chris Keeler.
“Ironically, Ms. Moors clearly resigned from the board to avoid the potential for conflict with her duty to the district. The firm contacted the superintendent to encourage the Board of Education to re-vote on the contract to remove any concerns.”
Keeler said that Moors’ new position is in the firm’s client services department where she will not undertake any work involving CUSD matters.
“Further, (Moors) understands her responsibility to never disclose confidential information obtained while serving as a board member,” he added.
The CUSD Board of Trustees agreed to fill Moors’ seat with a provisional selection rather than a special election at its Aug. 14 meeting.
The board is accepting applications through Sept. 5 and will publicly interview all eligible applicants and make a decision Sept. 16.
Williamson emphasized that the concerns over Moors’ vote on Fagen, Friedman & Fulfrost’s contract shortly before announcing her new position with the firm did not erase Moors’ work on the board for the past 12 years.
“That doesn’t in any way diminish the value that she has given to the district and to our students,” she said.