Eugene 4J school board holds closed meeting about open meetings law violation records

5/7/2015 update: Edward Russo has the latest on HLGR’s accidental transparency here, complete with this classic quote:

“We deeply regret that appearance of a lack of transparency,” board member Beth Gerot said.

It’s a little difficult for me to wrap my head around the idea that 4J is still paying HLGR after the events described below – shouldn’t they be suing them for malpractice and a refund of the $21K in billable hours?

4/29/2015: Harrang, Long, Gary and Rudnick way too transparent with potentially incriminating public records

Bill Gary, Sharon Rudnick, and Randy Geller of UO’s HLGR law firm must be shitting their pants. I’m no lawyer, but sending a dump of emails that potentially incriminate your clients to the local newspaper, by mistake, seems unlikely to bring in the billable hours.

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Josephine Woolington has the story in the RG, here:

Eugene School Board members allowed Superintendent Sheldon Berman to come up with his own exit plan to avoid the release of a negative performance review, which one board member said could result in his firing, newly obtained records show.

Board members also said in emails last year that if they couldn’t successfully negotiate a departure agreement with Berman, they planned to make his evaluation public and hire an investigator to look into unspecified actions by Berman.

Further, emails between board members show that some members went to great lengths to avoid meeting publicly or even in a closed-door session, in potential violation of state public meetings law. Other emails show that one board member — Beth Gerot — said she would destroy some public records related to Berman’s evaluation. It is a violation of state law for a public official to destroy public records.

The new information is contained in records that the law firm representing the Eugene School District inadvertently sent to The Register-Guard. The district contends the records should be kept secret, but the newspaper’s general counsel, Wendy Baker, said the district has “no legitimate basis” for keeping the records secret, and that the newspaper is publishing them because “elected officials should be held accountable to their constituents and their community.”

The school district sued The Register-­Guard in Lane County Circuit Court earlier this year to avoid disclosing 12 pages of records that the Lane County District Attorney’s Office ruled it must release. The district hired the Eugene law firm of Harrang Long Gary Rudnick P.C. to represent it in its lawsuit.

In the course of legal proceedings, the law firm last week sent the newspaper hundreds of unredacted emails regarding Berman’s job performance that The Register-Guard requested last year…

Wendy Baker makes me feel like a wimp for giving the UO president’s digital archives back to Bill Gary. With any luck, HLGR’s next mistake will be to mail that “zip drive” to Rich Read at the Oregonian, 1500 SW First Avenue, Portland, OR 97201.

But wait, there’s more, as a commenter points out. The documents potential implicate HLGR lawyer and former UO General Counsel Randy Geller’s wife (and school board member) Jennifer Geller in a conspiracy to break Oregon’s open meetings law:

Walston sent Geller a text message on March 7, 2014, that read: “Jennifer, I know (there) was talk of an (executive, closed-door) session to discuss Shelley’s performance as a last item on Monday. I talked with (then-district chief of staff) Barb (Bellamy) and Craig (Smith) yesterday and we cannot see how we could have — at this point in time — the discussion we seem to want — under (Oregon Revised Statutes) exemption. Craig talked to Shelley — at Shelley’s request after last week’s review. Craig suggested Shelley call individual board members for feedback. The hope is that Shelley will listen and be able to count to 4,” referring to a board majority that could effectively end his employment.

According to the emails, Walston said she would sequentially telephone each individual board member to update them on the process of evaluating Berman. It is a violation of Oregon public meetings law for public officials to hold sequential private one-on-one discussions with a board majority in order to deliberate toward a decision, an Oregon Circuit Court judge ruled in 2011.

Gerot wrote to all board members on March 9, 2014, that the district’s consultant, Lewis, would meet with her, in addition to board members Alicia Hays and Geller, to “communicate verbally and without attribution” what the consultant learned through her interviews with district employees.

The comments on the RG website are getting pretty interesting too.

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19 Responses to Eugene 4J school board holds closed meeting about open meetings law violation records

  1. Wendy Baker Fan Club says:

    Hmm .. the archives release. And the Hershner Hunter report that hasn’t been seen. Gary’s hyperventilation that Rudnick didn’t write a summary. And then there’s this bit today from the article on the Eugene School Board and members action:

    “Gerot wrote to all board members on March 9, 2014, that the district’s consultant, Lewis, would meet with her, in addition to board members Alicia Hays and Geller, to “communicate verbally and without attribution” what the consultant learned through her interviews with district employees.

    “She will then write a written summary, again without attribution, that will go to the entire board.”

    Interesting similarity.

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  2. Not licensed in Oregon says:

    HLGR has already dropped from 32 to 24 attorneys, in 4 years. Expect more to now take their book to a firm with less stigma.

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    • Anonymous says:

      All the more room for ex-UO legal counsel if the Administration ever wakes up and cleans house.

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  3. Anon says:

    So Randy Geller’s law firm was trying to hide documents that potentially implicate his wife (and school board member) Jennifer Geller in a conspiracy to break the open meetings law?

    Then someone at the firm “mistakenly” sent those documents to a reporter? Must be an interesting morning in the office.

    “Walston sent Geller a text message on March 7, 2014, that read: “Jennifer, I know (there) was talk of an (executive, closed-door) session to discuss Shelley’s performance as a last item on Monday. I talked with (then-district chief of staff) Barb (Bellamy) and Craig (Smith) yesterday and we cannot see how we could have — at this point in time — the discussion we seem to want — under (Oregon Revised Statutes) exemption. Craig talked to Shelley — at Shelley’s request after last week’s review. Craig suggested Shelley call individual board members for feedback. The hope is that Shelley will listen and be able to count to 4,” referring to a board majority that could effectively end his employment.

    According to the emails, Walston said she would sequentially telephone each individual board member to update them on the process of evaluating Berman. It is a violation of Oregon public meetings law for public officials to hold sequential private one-on-one discussions with a board majority in order to deliberate toward a decision, an Oregon Circuit Court judge ruled in 2011.

    Gerot wrote to all board members on March 9, 2014, that the district’s consultant, Lewis, would meet with her, in addition to board members Alicia Hays and Geller, to “communicate verbally and without attribution” what the consultant learned through her interviews with district employees.”

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  4. The Truth says:

    Educational administrators as a collective have to be the most corrupt and least ethical group in Oregon public service. I wonder if this will be yet another situation where blatant violations of state law have occurred but none of the offenders end up punished because the DA chooses to ignore said violations.

    What’s funny is that HLGR has created a cottage industry for themselves as the go-to firm to represent these disreputable people, and this could send all that crashing down.

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    • charlie says:

      “What’s funny is that HLGR has created a cottage industry for themselves as the go-to firm to represent these disreputable people, and this could send all that crashing down.”

      You gotta admit they take great photos….

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      • bleeagh says:

        “Educational administrators….have to be the most corrupt and least ethical in Oregon Public service.” “these disreputable people” and my favorite, “Blatant violations”. Wowza, “The truth”, please change your screen name to shadenfrude.

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    • just different says:

      Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of ethically challenged corporate law firms (such as Schwabe in the PERS case) who love big education clients. UO already has a “diverse portfolio” in that regard, so HLGR is no great loss.

      But you might be right about the prevalence of corruption in the education sector, if only because a total absence of built-in accountability has a way of encouraging underhanded behavior. If the RG hadn’t gone to the mat over those emails–and if HLGR hadn’t royally screwed up–the school board would surely have gotten away with this appalling crap.

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      • The Truth says:

        “big education”

        I like that, it fits perfectly. And like most of the other “big —s” (tobacco, oil, pharma, agra, etc), those at the top are thoroughly unethical and corrupt.

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  5. The Truth says:

    From the RG comments:

    “Could Wendy Baker please tell us what public interest this serves? If the RG is trying to pretend it is super duper big time journalism, this doesn’t do it. This is just opportunistic and prurient . . . maybe a sign of the times . . .”

    Guaranteed this commenter either works for one of HLGR or the school board, or is related to someone who does.

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  6. SaveUofO says:

    This is priceless. The real question is whether someone in the AG’s office is going to step up. Keep up with those records requests and you might hit the jackpot with a treasure trove of documents that were never meant to see the light of day.

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  7. anonymous2015 says:
  8. anonymous2015 says:

    The first candidate for general counsel is on campus, and their application is posted on the president’s website.

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  9. In addition to the Jennifer Geller-HLGR connection, I have to ask:

    Is the district’s consultant the same Alison Lewis that’s married to Hershner Hunter’s Andrew Lewis, the legal partner of Amanda Walkup? And, then you have Craig Smith, one of the school board members who is also with Hershner Hunter.

    It’s almost like they must have dinner parties where they all get together and decide how to create legal problems for their institutions. And, then, who gets paid to solve all those legal problems?

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    • Johnsson Hall says:

      To be clear, there is no conflict of interest because we knew they were like that when we hired them. Just like the XXXXXXXXX, er…I mean XXXXXXX…or whatever all their names are…Besides the new VP for BS and sillywalks will gloss it over and scapegoat someone on the black list soon.

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      • uomatters says:

        Don’t make fun of people’s names on my blog.

        Bill “Hardballs” Harbaugh

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  10. A long harangue says:

    They do an amazing job of salesmanship. It doesn’t matter if they’ve never done a single labor contract , arbitration, or FERPA case before in their life, they’ll still bill at $300 an hour for their “expertise”.

    Dumping Geller and HLGR was a step forward, but UO is still throwing money at them to finish the work they had already started. Since getting fired by the City and the University they are running out of big fish in the Eugene area to go after, they may need to redouble their efforts in Pdx or Salem.

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    • Anonymous UO Alum says:

      “We deeply regret that appearance of a lack of transparency,” board member Beth Gerot said.

      Translation: She deeply regrets getting caught!

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      • mad as hell says:

        Yeah, exactly right. Walston’s comments are no better. Sure hope voters are paying attention while marking their ballots and will bring in new members.

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