The Fresno Unified school board is refusing to pay an attorney to represent Chief Financial Officer Ruth Quinto amid a federal investigation of the district’s construction contracts.
Quinto requested in closed session Wednesday that the district provide her with legal defense related to an ongoing grand jury subpoena regarding no-bid school building projects.
But trustees Brooke Ashjian, Carol Mills, Luis Chavez and Christopher De La Cerda denied that request in a closed-session vote.
Board President Cal Johnson and trustee Valerie Davis voted in favor of Quinto’s request, and trustee Janet Ryan abstained.
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The closed-session vote was reported publicly during the board meeting and is a rare vote against top leaders. Historically, De La Cerda, Ryan, Johnson and Davis have voted in favor of a majority of Superintendent Michael Hanson’s requests.
This is not the first talk of the district hiring a criminal defense attorney for top leaders amid scrutiny. Last month, the school board held an abrupt closed-session meeting to consider hiring counsel to represent Quinto, Hanson and Chief Operations Officer Karin Temple in the face of the investigation.
There was no mention of a vote related to representation for Hanson and Temple at Wednesday’s meeting.
When the Bee asked Quinto for comment, she handed a reporter a typed response on paper and said she could not comment any further.
“First and foremost, I continue to discharge my duties honorably, competently and in accordance with the law,” the statement read. “I have not been personally contacted (by the FBI) and I will continue to work diligently in responding to every aspect of the district’s investigation.”
Fresno Teachers Association President Tish Rice had previously urged the board to not use district funds to hire attorneys for the three, and again made her plea prior to Wednesday’s meeting.
“This district is under a federal grand jury investigation ... and while all of this is happening, the superintendent is asking you to grant him the use of the very tax dollars that should be used for our 73,000 students to be spent paying for his criminal defense,” Rice said. “That is simply outrageous.”
Also in closed session Wednesday, Hanson presented his performance self-evaluation to the board. The evaluation documents are not public because they are considered a personnel issue, district spokesman Miguel Arias said.
The board could, however, report out information regarding its evaluation of Hanson later this month. The evaluation is a regular part of Hanson’s contract.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office served the district with a grand jury subpoena in August, requesting a wide range of documents pertaining to Fresno Unified’s involvement in no-bid construction contracts – including district officials’ personal phone records.
The subpoena doesn’t name individuals. But Hanson, Quinto and Temple have been scrutinized since they’re the people who oversee all contracts.
The board has hired Carl Faller, formerly of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Fresno, to help the district comply with the subpoena’s wide range of demands – which requires Fresno Unified to turn over personal emails and phone records.