Sweetwater Union High School District Superintendent Dr. Ed Brand made an executive decision to have the district pay for a board member’s legal fees in a civil matter involving a frequently outspoken critic and a restraining order.
In April, trustee John McCann filed a temporary restraining order against Stewart Payne, alleging Payne threatened him after a district board meeting. While the court granted a temporary 100-yard restraining order against Payne, last week a superior court judge refused to make the restraining order permanent and lifted the stay-away order.
Brand said the school board has the discretion to approve or deny requests for attorney fees that cost the district more than $2,500. However board policy allowed him to decide that McCann’s approximately $2,400 in attorney’s fees could be paid for without a board vote.
“I OK’d it Wednesday after the Monday (April 16) incident when I had suspicion that there was probable cause to move forward with that,” he said. “I believed there was sufficient evidence to move forward. There’s an obligation by the organization to defend the employee.”
Brand said it’s the same protocol he would have followed had the person been a secretary or any other employee of the district.
“This is a civil case. If it was a criminal case, I wouldn’t have done it,” Brand said, adding that a criminal matter has to go before the board.
The payment came to light during the board’s May meeting when board member Bertha Lopez asked that staff provide a report detailing why McCann’s legal fees were being paid.
“It’s a waste of taxpayers money,” she said Tuesday. “Especially when he (McCann) went ahead and was so adamant about not paying our legal fees.”
Lopez was referring to a January meeting when the district was asked to pay for the legal fees surrounding a district attorney corruption probe that resulted in the indictment of former superintendent Jesus Gandara, former board member Greg Sandoval and current trustees Pearl Quinones and Arlie Ricasa.
Lopez, who made the request to include her fees after her home had been raided by investigators, later withdrew the motion.
Following the January meeting, a list of frequently asked questions was placed on the district’s website specifically addressing questions surrounding paid legal fees for board members.
The district’s website states that in order to approve a request, the board must make certain findings, such as whether or not the individual in question was acting within the course and scope of their duties when the actions took place.
Brand said the circumstances in McCann’s case made his decision appropriate.
“I have no doubt that we did the right thing,” he said.
Brand, whose performance evaluation was to be discussed at a recent board meeting, was recruited by McCann last year to take over for Jesus Gandara after Gandara was fired by the board.