Trustees Accused of Hiring Legal Guns to Plug Ballot Measure

Times Staff Writer

School board members have been accused of a conflict of interest for their decision to hire a law firm to research possible legal problems in the wording of Proposition P.

The charter amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot would change the way that school trustees are elected from the current citywide elections to elections in five regional districts. Four of five incumbent board members have said that they oppose the amendment.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Sep. 28, 1986 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday September 28, 1986 Home Edition Long Beach Part 9 Page 2 Column 6 Zones Desk 2 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
In a Sept. 21 story, the name of a Long Beach charter amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot was incorrectly identified. Proposition T would change the way that school trustees are elected, from the current districtwide elections to elections in five regional zones.

The board last week voted 4 to 1 to ratify the school administration’s hiring in July of a Los Angeles law firm to study Proposition P. In approving the contract, the board split along the same lines as their public stand on the measure, with only Harriet Williams in favor of the charter amendment and opposed to hiring the law firm.

The law firm has been paid $3,900 to date, and has a one-year contract with no cost ceiling, school officials said.


“If (Proposition P) is passed and there are legal problems, we want to be on top of it,” said board President John E. Kashiwabara, explaining the board’s decision.

“This is not expending a tremendous amount of money and it is not taking money away from other needed problems,” he said.

‘Further Political Careers’

Proponents of the charter amendment take a different view.


“Public tax dollars were not raised to hire attorneys to further the political careers of the school board,” said Hal Vick, assistant executive director of the Teachers Assn. of Long Beach.

“To add insult to injury, we’ve got schools where kids don’t have books, where custodial services are lacking, and where supplies are short,” said Vick, who accused school board members of giving the law firm a “blank check” to investigate the charter amendment.

“They are using taxpayers money to influence the election and that’s morally wrong,” said Sid Solomon, secretary of Citizens for a Representative School Board, a coalition of 20 local organizations supporting the charter amendment.

If the amendment is approved, several board members may be forced to move elsewhere if they want to keep their positions. Four of five board members--James P. Zarifes, Arlene Solomon, Williams and Kashiwabara--live in the same district.


In the vote last week, Zarifes, Solomon and Kashiwabara voted to hire the firm, along with board member Elizabeth Wallace.

In interviews, board members denied a conflict of interest. They maintained they had acted in the best interests of the school district by approving the hiring of a firm to research the amendment.

School officials said it was unusual for the administration to hire a law firm before seeking approval from the school board. But the officials said that at the time the firm was hired, they urgently needed a legal review of the proposed amendment. They said they had received a copy of Proposition P only four days before the City Council voted July 22 to put the amendment on the November ballot.

Superintendent Out of Town


The Los Angeles law firm of McLaughlin & Irvin was hired by Deputy Supt. Chuck Carpenter during a week when the superintendent was out of town and the district’s legal counsel, Theodore A. Buckley, was occupied with other work, said district Supt. E. Tom Giugni.

The Los Angeles law firm of McLaughlin & Irvin was hired by Deputy Supt. Chuck Carpenter during a week when the superintendent was out of town and the district’s legal counsel, Theodore A. Buckley, was occupied with other work, said district Supt. E. Tom Giugni.

“I think the public is very well served by conduct that seeks to identify problems in advance rather than ignoring the problems and having to deal with the resulting headaches,” Buckley said.

Board member Solomon said the board acted with a “legitimate concern to protect the school district if (the charter amendment) is passed.” Zarifes dismissed the criticism as “political maneuvering.” Other board members could not be reached for comment.


The four board members who are opposed to the amendment--Zarifes, Solomon, Kashiwabara and Wallace--have said that it would not improve the quality of education in the district. The board members also have said that under the current system of citywide elections, board members are concerned with the needs of the entire district, rather than the narrower interests of a particular section of the city.

Williams has said she favors the amendment because she believes it will result in the election of more minority board members.

The contract with the law firm calls for it to research the amendment for possible legal problems and to point them out to the city attorney. Buckley said the firm has done that, and is also under contract to help deal with legal problems that may result if the amendment is passed in November.

‘Substantial Problems’


In researching the amendment, the Los Angeles law firm found several “substantial problems” in the wording of the amendment, Buckley said. The firm found that those problems, however, were “not the kind of problems that a court would look at and say . . . that will keep it off the ballot,” Buckley said.

Deputy City Atty. Bill Keiser, however, said the problems pointed out by the district’s lawyers amounted to “nit-picking.”

“I don’t see that any of them are very serious that can’t be dealt with after the election,” Keiser said.

The problems identified by the law firm include a provision that would allow the City Council to correct any defects in the proposed boundaries for the regional district, rather than submitting them to a referendum, Buckley said. The amendment uses census tracts to define election districts, rather than voting precincts, so there may be confusion over district boundaries, Buckley said.


Another possible legal problem is the amendment’s failure to correct a section of the City Charter that calls for at-large elections for all city officials, except the City Council, Buckley said. He said that charter section should be amended to include district elections for the school board.

The amendment also would shorten terms of two board members but that part of the amendment may conflict with existing education law, Buckley said.

Don Goddard, president of the teachers union, said that the errors found in the amendment were of a “very minor nature,” and were “something a clerk could have found for $30.”