Released e-mails show school board president's support for Hubbard

In the period after criminal charges were filed against Newport-Mesa Unified School District Supt. Jeffrey Hubbard, the president of the school board steadfastly supported him, e-mails obtained by the Daily Pilot show.

"We remain positive and confident of a positive outcome for you," school board President Walt Davenport wrote in a Dec. 16 e-mail to Hubbard. "We just hope it happens quickly. You would have been heartened by the applause when [a district official] relayed your greeting to the folks at the district lunch yesterday. I think the troops are solidly behind you."

The e-mail came a week after Hubbard was charged in Los Angeles County on two felony counts for alleged criminal wrongdoing during his previous job as head of Beverly Hills Unified School District. Prosecutors allege that Hubbard misappropriated Beverly Hills funds to benefit a subordinate when Hubbard served as the schools chief there. Hubbard and Karen Ann Christiansen have pleaded not-guilty.

The e-mails show contrition on Hubbard's part for bringing negative attention to the district, as well support by Davenport, who resisted a request by a colleague, Trustee Katrina Foley, to discuss some of the superintendant's e-mails.

Foley had wanted to convene a meeting as parents and others in the community demanded that Hubbard be placed on leave for the duration of his trial, but the e-mails show that Davenport wanted to wait a little longer because no one else on the school board felt the same way.

A Jan. 15 e-mail to Foley shows Davenport rejecting her request for a closed session to discuss sexually suggestive and flirtatious e-mails that Hubbard had sent to Christiansen. The e-mails, sent from Hubbard's Newport-Mesa account, used double-entendres to refer to oral sex and other acts.

"Katrina: This has already been placed on the closed session agenda for the 24th," Davenport wrote in an e-mail. "To date you are the only member who has asked for a special closed session. If additional board members indicate an interest in a special session I will be open to reconsider [sic] my decision."

At his request the board put Hubbard on paid administrative leave at a Jan. 24 closed session meeting.

"As much as I don't want to acknowledge it — it's obvious that these issues have become a clear distraction for the District," Hubbard wrote to Davenport on Jan. 23. "I have always believed that the needs of the district far outweigh my own personal needs. After many hours of reflection in trying to determine the best course of action for our students and staff, I have come to the conclusion that I should ask to be placed on voluntary paid administrative leave."

According to the e-mails, Davenport chose not to tell the rest of the school board about Hubbard's request until the meeting the next day because he did not want Foley to learn of it ahead of time and feared that the information would become public.

"It saddens me that we have to consider this but I will be supporting approval of your request," Davenport wrote back to Hubbard. "I am not forwarding it to other board members because I would have to include Katrina or face a charge of [education] code violation. I'm holding back so it doesn't end up on Facebook or at the Pilot before we even get to take action on it. I have printed copies which I will distribute at the start of the closed session."

In an interview Thursday, Foley denied that she would have gone public with Hubbard's request before the meeting.

"I would have never put something like that on Facebook," said Foley, who is an attorney. "That's a private, personnel matter. I know the difference. I process employment law for a living."

Davenport told the Pilot on Thursday that he was being cautious because district officials had seen Foley post district business on her Facebook page and supply information to the Pilot.

Davenport, though, wasn't alone in expressing reservations about the newest school board member, who was elected to the board in November.

"She's technologically advanced. To see everything we do or say posted on her Facebook page causes some of us a little angst," said Trustee Martha Fluor. "In terms of, what's the motive? We haven't really had an opportunity as a team to sit down and really get to know each other."

Foley, a former Costa Mesa councilwoman, called for greater transparency from the school board when she campaigned. Like many elected officials, she has long used Facebook to communicate with constituents.

"Unfortunately, I'm not surprised, given what I've experienced since I've been elected to this body," Foley said. "One of the consistent messages I heard during the election, from parents and whatnot, was a lack of transparency and lack of involvement of the community in decisions by the board. I can tell you, I don't feel any better."

School board member Dana Black said Foley came onto the board "guns blazing" and "bullying" her peers about district practices.

"I did not vote her as my new legal counsel for the school district," Black said. "The truth of the matter is, Dr. Hubbard is probably the most transparent superintendent I have ever worked with."

"I'm just trying to involve the community and inform the community about important decisions made in the district," Foley said. "These are heavy, important issues involving e-mails and paid leave for three months now."

Both Black and Fluor suggested the board just needed more time to get to know Foley and her approach to governance.

They said the district had become increasingly transparent over the last 20 years, and point to the parents' budget advisory committee and audit committees as progress.

"We're always trying to learn and improve," Fluor said. "I'm proud of what we continue to do and continue to look for in terms of parent involvement. I know where Katrina's going with that. I know she wants to push us further. I don't disagree … It's like turning a big ship. It takes awhile. We're working on it."

Hubbard and his co-defendant are due back in Los Angeles court Feb. 28 for a pre-trial trial setting conference. They both maintain their innocence.

Hubbard also apologizes for any embarrassment his e-mails with Christiansen caused the district.

"Lastly, I want to sincerely apologize for the grave error of writing e-mails that were inappropriate from my work e-mail address," Hubbard wrote Jan. 23. "It is an embarrassing mistake and I look forward to personally addressing that mistake, at my first opportunity, with our NMUSD family."

In one of the e-mails, Hubbard also indicates that he is planning a lawsuit following the outcome of his criminal case. It's unclear whom he plans to sue.

"Thanks so much for your patience and support," he wrote Davenport on Dec. 27. "I have every confidence that my picture will be all over newsprint in the next 24 hours — which I will keep for the civil case that I will be pursuing when this stuff is over."

Hubbard's attorney did not return calls seeking comment.

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