A current Scottsdale school board member has asked the state’s top law enforcement agency to investigate whether the former board violated Arizona’s Open Meeting Law.
The Arizona Attorney General’s Office is investigating.
Board member Jann-Michael Greenburg filed a complaint with the AG’s Office last month, claiming the school board discussed topics the public was unaware of in closed door meetings in 2017 and 2018. Greenburg, who was elected in 2018, was not on the board at the time.
The complaint has been assigned to the AG’s Open Meeting Law Enforcement Team for investigation, according to an AG’s Office letter sent to the district earlier this month.
The district was mired in controversy in 2017 and 2018, ultimately resulting in the ouster of its superintendent and the indictment of its former chief financial officer on conflicts of interest and fraud charges.
Three of Greenburg’s current colleagues were board members at the time: Barbara Perleberg, Sandy Kravetz and Allyson Beckham. The terms of two former board members, Pam Kirby and Kim Hartmann, expired at the end of 2018.
The AG’s Office requested copies of the executive session agendas and minutes, as well as any audio or video recording of the meetings.
Susan Segal, the district’s outside counsel, said she is compiling a response to the AG’s request.
The complaint comes as Greenburg’s father, Mark Greenburg, is locked in a lawsuit with a board member and has filed his own complaint against the former board with the AG’s Office.
School board member’s complaint
Jann-Michael Greenburg’s complaint alleges that at a Dec. 14, 2017, executive session, the board discussed matters that were not disclosed on the agenda provided to the public.
State law allows governing bodies to meet behind closed doors for limited reasons such as discussions related to employment or to receive legal advice.
The agenda shows the board sought legal advice on a number of topics such as procurement code, retention of architects and evaluation of the superintendent.
The complaint also alleges that at a Feb. 21, 2018, executive session, two discussions took place that were not properly noticed.
The agenda shows the board met for legal advice on a slate of topics, including former CFO Laura Smith’s conflict of interest and construction contracts.
Executive session discussions happen away from the public eye, so no recordings are available to the public.
The exact violations alleged at the two meetings are unclear as the complaint, provided to The Arizona Republic by the AG’s Office, was redacted.
Greenburg told The Republic he had requested to listen to three executive session recordings because he wanted to learn more about the board’s relationship with the administration during that time.
The district’s attorney, Michelle Marshall, and board member Allyson Beckham excused themselves from the Dec. 17 discussion because of scheduling conflicts, according to Greenburg’s complaint.
The only parties present on Dec. 17 were former Superintendent Denise Birdwell, Perleberg, Kirby, Hartmann and Kravetz. No legal counsel was present during the discussion, the complaint says.
All board members were present at the Feb. 21 meeting, along with Marshall, outside counsel Denise Lowell-Britt and Segal.
“Governing Board members and legal counsel in attendance seemed to have been well prepared to discuss the matters that were not described in the notices and agendas,” Greenburg’s complaint says.
The AG’s Office requested copies of the agendas and minutes of the executive sessions, as well as any audio or video recording of the meetings.
Mark Greenburg’s complaint
Jann-Michael Greenburg’s relationship with other board members has been strained since he took office.
Greenburg’s father created a parody website in 2018 mocking Perleberg and other board members. Mark Greenburg filed a lawsuit against Perleberg in November, saying she abused the legal process by unearthing him as the author of the parody website.
Mark Greenburg told The Republic he obtained metadata showing text messages and phone calls between board members as part of his civil lawsuit with Perleberg. The records prompted concerns for him about potential Open Meeting Law violations, he said.
He filed a complaint with the AG’s Office on July 11, alleging the board conducted several meetings through group text messaging, with no notice to the public.
Text messaging among board members went on during scheduled public board meetings, and shortly before board meetings, he says in the complaint.
A 2005 AG’s opinion clarified that board members exchanging communication on a topic that could come before them for a vote can violate Open Meeting Law.
“People had no way of knowing that the Board members had already discussed SUSD business, or what the Board Members said in those discussions,” Greenburg said in his complaint. “I believe the Board members were also using these one-on-one phone calls and one-to-one text messages to avoid public scrutiny of their discussions, deliberations and views on policy issues.”
The metadata Greenburg provided to The Republic contained no information about what was discussed in the messages and calls.
The Republic filed a request July 11 under Arizona Public Records Law for a copy of board member text messages pertaining to district business. The district has not yet filled the request.
The AG’s Office sent a follow-up letter to Mark Greenburg’s attorney on July 15 requesting additional information about which agenda items he believes were discussed.
Board member Allyson Beckham told The Republic that she doesn’t make it a habit to have her phone out during board meetings, but she would be unable to comment about the correspondence without seeing the text logs.
Kirby would not comment. Perleberg and Kravetz did not respond to requests for comment.
Hartmann would also not comment on the allegation, but said she was disappointed that politics had become such a distraction in the business of education.
“This is not in the spirit of supporting children,” she said.
Spokeswoman Amy Bolton said the district has not heard anything from the AG’s Office about Mark Greenburg’s complaint. The AG’s Office has not launched a formal investigation into Mark Greenburg’s complaint.
The penalty if violations are found
If the AG’s Office finds that board members violated Arizona’s Open Meeting Law, there could be consequences.
Most often when such violations occur, the Attorney General’s Office might require additional training for board members about the law, according to Chris Thomas, general counsel for the Arizona School Boards Association.
Other times, the AG’s Office may simply state on the record that the law was broken.
“It depends on how egregious the offenses are found to be during the investigation,” Thomas said. “If they’re serious, where the individuals involved knew what the law was and got advice as to what the law was, that would be a knowing violation.”
In the case of a knowing violation, attorneys may move to file suit in Maricopa County Superior Court to impose penalties ranging from $500 to $2,500.
Moving the district forward
Karen Treon, a Scottsdale parent, said she filed her own complaints with the AG’s Office over open meeting concerns in the district last year.
Treon said her complaints mostly centered around procurement decisions that were made in executive session. She said she never got a response from the AG’s Office.
Treon said she is relieved that Jann-Michael Greenburg’s complaint is regarding past board practices and not reflective of the new board.
“The fact that these are allegations about a meeting that happened 18 months ago is somewhat reassuring in that these are not new violations being alleged,” Treon told The Republic. “The new board is on the right track toward restoring confidence and doing its best to getting us back to where we need.”
Jann-Michael Greenburg said his intention is to shine a light on past transgressions and to right them.
“It’s really important for government, city councils, school boards, to be as open as is legally permissible and to err on the side of openness when discussing matters,” he said. “It has nothing to do with whether you’re doing things correctly behind the scenes. The second you bring up secrecy, the public starts to think, maybe something is not right.”
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