Lewis Griswold

Griswold: Visalia school trustee accused of Brown Act violation

Charles Ulmschneider is once again at odds with his fellow members on the Visalia Unified School District Board of Trustees.

The school board is slated Tuesday to vote on a resolution to publicly censure Ulmschneider for allegedly violating the Brown Act, the state’s open meeting law.

Ulmschneider called the proposed censure “a political stunt” by board president Jim Qualls, who earlier this year challenged Ulmschneider’s residency status.

He said he’s being targeted as punishment for challenging the status quo at the school district.

If the censure motion passes, Ulmschneider would still retain his Area 1 seat. But the action would create a public record of harsh criticism.

The district is in the process of possibly adding a third foreign language to the high school curriculum. The topic is scheduled for board discussion Tuesday.

Ulmschneider said he strongly favors restoring German, which was dropped four or five years ago. Today, only Spanish and French are taught.

In mid-November, he met individually with three board members — Bill Fulmer, Donna Martin and John Crabtree — and gave each a packet of information about the merits of German as a second language.

Qualls said he also got a phone call from Ulmschneider about the packet.

The Brown Act prohibits “serial” meetings in which a majority of members discuss public business among themselves.

Qualls said Ulmschneider caused a serial meeting to occur and that the board must police itself.

“I think Mr. Ulmschneider’s actions violate the public trust, as well as the law,” Qualls said at the Nov. 18 board meeting.

“We must conduct our business in public and not let an individual board member tarnish the hard work we have done to provide transparency,” he said.

Ulmschneider responded that his “freedom of speech [is] being censured.”

He said he simply shared with board members innocuous public information that he had downloaded from the Internet.

“My name was pilloried quite a bit here,” Ulmschneider said. “I did look at the Brown Act. I do not see where there’s any violation.”

The open meeting law is being twisted against him, he said.

“I did not persuade anyone,” he said. “I simply gave information ... The intent was not to circumvent anything, but to make things transparent, which is what the Brown Act is all about.”

Superintendent Craig Wheaton said the “proper and legal” way for board members to share packets of information is to give them to the board secretary to distribute, and a copy would be kept for the public record.

Ulmschneider said he expects the vote Tuesday to be 6-1 in favor of censure.

Wheaton said he does not expect to report the alleged violation to the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office, because no one is alleging a conflict of interest involving financial gain.

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