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Zimmer gets the message, interim cannot have binding vote

Vanessa Romo | February 5, 2014

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SteveZimmer-AdHoc-2-4-14Only two LA Unified school board members hold law degrees: Tamar Galatzan and Monica Ratliff. But Steve Zimmer, a college professor, did a pretty good impression of a lawyer last night.

Zimmer presided over an ad hoc “committee of one” — no other board members attended — that was charged with defining the role and scope of a temporary representative for the vacant District 1 seat while the city awaits a special election.

Turnout was sparse — barely a fraction of the crowd that showed up for a board vote last month, when it approved the appointment of a non-voting advocate for the south LA region after the death of Marguerite LaMotte in December.

But Zimmer used his platform to build a case for bestowing voting rights on an appointee.

“The enfranchisement of the vote and opinion of District 1 is both possible and it’s permissible” he said, before launching into a series of questions for LA Unified general counsel David Holmquist.

–“Theoretically, what would it take to enfranchise the vote of an interim representative?”

–“To be able to have that vote be counted…the remedy would be the courts?”

–“Is it your opinion that a binding vote would be prohibited?”

Holmquist answered with a question of his own: “If the board chose to recognize the vote of an interim representative? That would be problematic.”

The city charter bars anyone who is not permanently appointed or elected to the board from casting a binding vote. Neither can they access confidential or privileged documents nor participate in hiring and firing decisions. However, Holmquist said there may be some limited ability for a person to be included in a closed session.

He also said there is existing precedence for a “virtual” board member, whose vote would be recorded but not counted, something Zimmer has been advocating.

But the only way to expand the powers of a temporary fill-in to match those of an elected board member, is to change the city charter, Holmquist said.

The exchange between Zimmer and Holmquist was riddled with so much legalese — lots of “in your opinion…” and “isn’t it true…” — that near the end of the 25-minute exchange Holmquist jokingly said, “I have to tell you, it feels a little like I’m being cross-examined.”

That got a laugh from the 15 people in audience, a surprisingly small turn-out.

Meetings leading up to the board’s decision to hold a special election drew hundreds of concerned parents, teachers, and students. Several played to standing room only crowds, even after an “over-flow” room was opened to avoid violating fire code regulations. Speakers lined up hours early for the chance to weigh-in, three minutes at a time, on how the board should handle the vacancy.

That was less than a month ago.

This time there were four speakers and no controversy. They want a representative who can vote.

“I don’t know what happened,” said Michelle Walker. “We had a packed house.”

She thanked Zimmer for his dedication. But she said, “I’m sad and disheartened that no one joined you.”

Whatever the committee of one concludes will be presented to the other five board members at their next meeting, Feb. 11– if they show up.

Previous Posts: City Clerk to hold workshop for LA Unified board candidatesWant to Run for LAUSD School Board in the Special Election; LAUSD cannot appoint an interim board member.

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