In Partnership with 74

Board can’t appoint ‘voting’ interim, says LAUSD lawyer

Michael Janofsky | January 9, 2014

Your donation will help us produce journalism like this. Please give today.

David Holmquist

David Holmquist, LAUSD General Counsel

David Holmquist essentially agrees with board member Steve Zimmer.

It’s just not right, Holmquist said, that existing laws keep the LA Unified District 1 board seat vacant until after a special election in June, denying families equal representation for months.

But if Zimmer is expecting Holmquist, LAUSD’s General Counsel, to navigate around the LA City Charter, he is likely to be disappointed.

“The law is relatively clear on this,” Holmquist said in an interview with LA School Report. “The consequences of ignoring it are potentially extreme.”

And as for Zimmer’s suggestion that something not explicitly prohibited by the City Charter might be possible, as Zimmer said at the board meeting, “is one of the weakest arguments in law,” Holmquist said, adding: “The City Charter also doesn’t say that the six board members could vote one of them off the island.”

Zimmer is hearing none of that. In an interview with LA School Report, he said, “I am rarely as adamant about something as I am about this. And I believe I am on solid ground.”

As part of the vote Tuesday night when the board approved holding a June 3 primary to replace the late Marguerite LaMotte, the members asked Holmquist to develop options for getting District 1 a representative on the board until the election. His analysis will be reviewed at the board’s meeting on January 14.

By terms of the City Charter, the board can either fill the seat with a voting member by election or appointment, not election and appointment. Board member Bennett Kayser, who strongly supported an appointment, was on a City Council commission that helped write those rules more than 20 years ago.

“For what it’s worth, it is inadequate for the district, and it’s unfortunate we have language that only allows for one way or the other,” Holmquist said, siding with Zimmer at least in spirit. “If the City Council had intended otherwise, they would have put it in the law.”

As a result, Holmquist said, he can only offer the members options for a non-voting “caretaker,” settling such matters as: Could such a person sit in the chair? Attend closed sessions? Hire and fire staff?

But voting rights, he said, “are not contemplated.”

The reason is legal exposure. Awarding an interim equal stature with the other six members not only violates the City Charter, he said. It also exposes the district to lawsuits. Someone, for example, could challenge any board vote in which the interim member participated. A candidate in the June primary could sue the board for giving the interim a veneer, if not the advantage, of incumbency.

“Anybody on a losing side of anything could challenge us,” Holmquist said.

Zimmer remains undeterred, doubling down on his position, saying that deciding for an election “makes the interim representation issue all the more urgent and dire. It must be addressed.”

He added: “I favor interim voting representation. I favor pushing the envelope on the existing words of the city charter because the situation is so unique. if I am defeated, or I should say, the community is defeated on getting that interim voting representation, the only alternative is the most extensive and impactful advisory representation that is possible and if I don’t accept right now, that anything but voting representation could be valid. And so that is my position.”

Vanessa Romo contributed to this report.

Previous Posts: Two LA Unified board members sat out the debate over a vacant seatThe LA Unified board sets June 3 election to fill vacant LaMotte seat.


Read Next