Coronavirus: Did Santa Clara Valley Athletic League violate public disclosure law? - 02/08/21

Coronavirus: Did Santa Clara Valley Athletic League violate public disclosure law? Evan Webeck PUBLISHED: February 8, 2021 at 12:10 p.m. | UPDATED: February 9, 2021 at 3:28 p.m. Categories: California News, Education, High School Sports, Latest Headlines, Local News, News, Sports The Santa Clara Valley Athletic League may have violated California public disclosure laws when it finalized its three-season spring sports schedule, according to a new complaint filed by an aggrieved baseball parent. Even as some sports have begun to prepare for their first competitions since last spring, Charles Goldberg, the father of a Palo Alto High School senior baseball player, is seeking to invalidate the season schedule by legal recourse through the Ralph M. Brown Act, which under California law requires public bodies to post meeting notices and agenda items, as well as allow for public comment. On Monday, Goldberg delivered a “Cure and Correct” letter addressed to the league’s Board of Managers that demands action within 30 days or he will be left with “no recourse but to seek a judicial invalidation of the challenged action,” according to the complaint. His son, Hayden, was supposed to play his senior season on the Palo Alto varsity baseball team. Hayden’s older brother, Max, also played at Palo Alto — a two-time Mercury News All-Bay Area selection — is a junior on the University of San Diego baseball team. The SCVAL, which operates within the California Interscholastic Federation’s Central Coast Section, finalized its spring sports schedule during its Board of Managers meeting on Jan. 21, commissioner Brad Metheany told this news organization. The calendar, which deviates from the two-season model set forth by the CIF and disqualifies teams in the league from section or state postseason play, has come under intense scrutiny from parents and coaches, particularly of traditional spring sports, who feel as if they were short-changed and left out of the process. Goldberg, along with Palo Alto swim coach Danny Dye, was one of the most vocal opponents of the plan once it was announced. However, in the complaint, Goldberg claims he was never allowed the input that is required under the law. “The action taken was not in compliance with the Brown Act because there was no adequate notice to the public on the posted agenda for the meeting that the matter acted upon would be discussed, and there was no finding of fact made by the Board of Managers’ that urgent action was necessary on a matter unforeseen at the time the agenda was posted,” the complaint reads, in part. Legal expert David Snyder, the executive director of the First Amendment Coalition in San Rafael, said Brown Act complaints can be thorny, drawn-out legal processes that are sometimes filed more out of grievance with an outcome than the process that led up to it. If Goldberg’s claim has merit, it must answer two questions, Snyder said: Does the SCVAL Board of Managers fall under the jurisdiction of the Brown Act? If so, did it provide adequate public notice and ability to comment? The SCVAL has 30 days to respond to Goldberg’s letter. If a resolution isn’t reached, the complaint can be taken to court, where Snyder said claims sometimes take years to resolve. The SCVAL could also admit wrongdoing and correct the mistake — “it’s rare that happens, but it happens,” Synder said — or it can sufficiently prove that it is either not subject to the Brown Act or that it met its public notice requirements. “There’s a timeline that the Brown Act sets forth and it doesn’t really lend itself to immediate resolution,” Snyder said. “If they sue, what a court can do is require the legislative body to essentially do the meetings that violated the Brown Act over again and do them in a way that complies with the Brown Act. The court can nullify decisions made in violation of the Brown Act and require they do them over again.” However, with the spring sports season already under way, it’s not clear a months- or years-long legal process would satisfy the root of Goldberg’s complaint. The Brown Act, Snyder said, is often used by groups that disagree with a decision but doesn’t always fit the case. “In some instances, and I’m not saying that’s the case here, but there isn’t so much a Brown Act issue so much as there’s basically a disagreement with the decision,” Snyder said. “Groups and individuals try to shoehorn the Brown Act into it, but it really doesn’t fit — they just don’t like the outcome.” Metheany, who is the league commissioner but does not get a vote on the Board of Managers, said last week that the plan was meticulously devised over a series of meetings and with input from various stakeholders, with special consideration paid to spring sports athletes, whose season last year was cut short by the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic. On Tuesday, Metheany reiterated his commitment to getting student-athletes back on the field as quickly as possible and said that “we’re losing track of what we’re trying to do here.” “We’re trying to get as many of our teams as we can back in competition and out of their bedrooms and have some fun,” Metheany said. “That’s what I’m trying to do for the service of my 14 schools, and I think my Board of Managers has been very thoughtful about trying to make that happen for as many kids as they can in a critical time for young people. Seemingly we’re going sideways here.” Metheany said the plan allows for as many student-athletes to return to play as quickly as possible and that the reaction, while mixed publicly, has been enthusiastic from athletes who get to see the field for the first time in nearly a year. The lack of postseason play, he said, had generated a “refreshing … joy of competing and having fun” rather than battling for bragging rights over league titles. The three-season SCVAL model was first discussed privately among the league’s athletic directors, Metheany said, and was later formalized into an ad hoc committee. That committee took the proposal to the league’s full roster of ADs, who gave their approval, and sent the plan to an emergency meeting of the Board of Managers on Jan. 21, where it was finalized. In an interview Tuesday, Metheany said he typically notifies his schools of upcoming meetings via email, and administrators post that bulletin in school office windows. But with campuses closed, it wasn’t clear if proper notice was made prior to the Jan. 21 meeting, at which the Board of Managers approved the three-season schedule. Goldberg is seeking to reverse any commitments made at those meetings, which he claims were not a part of public record. A new process, with opportunity for public comment and on-record reasoning by board members for their vote, should take place within 30 days, the complaint says. If not, Goldberg has threatened to take the league to court. A review of the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League’s website shows an Aug. 20, 2020, Board of Managers meeting as its last with public minutes posted but no agenda items. A copy of the Cure and Correct letter sent to the SCVAL Board of Managers is available to read in full here. This story was updated Tuesday with comments from David Snyder, of the First Amendment Coalition, and SCVAL commissioner Brad Metheany.