UPDATED: By the book
FPPC says nothing improper about proposed Miramontes contract with PUSD
By André Coleman 02/20/2014
* Corrects date of board action
According to the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPCC), there was nothing improper about a proposed contract between former Pasadena Board of Education member Ramon Miramontes and school Superintendent Jon Gundry shortly after Miramontes left office.
But the deal might not have met standards set in the Los Angeles Unified School District, which has a code of ethics prohibiting contracts with former district officials who participated in deciding matters related to any proposed contracts in the previous 12 months. The LAUSD also has a two-year ban on district officials who formally participated in the development of any contract’s request for proposal (RFP) process, and former district officials are prohibited from lobbying the district for one year.
The Pasadena Unified School District currently has no such policy, but the Board of Education is considering implementing one that would define when a former board member could enter into a contract with the district after leaving office. The district might adopt policy similar to the state’s one-year cooling off policy. That policy prohibits state legislators from entering into contracts or attempting to influence legislative action for a year after leaving office.
Miramontes has maintained that he did nothing improper, saying he is the victim of “a political witch-hunt.”
In that case, the district agreed to a one-time payment to Miramontes for $8,500 on Jan. 30. The money was paid for work done on an unsigned contract for $54,000 that was never approved by Gundry or reviewed by the Board of Education. According to an invoice presented by Miramontes’ company, Zocalo Strategic Group, a working group was established to form an English learner academy and data had been obtained regarding a Chinese student exchange program.
Some board members were unaware of the proposed contract in July, when it was submitted to Gundry, three months after Miramontes had left the school board. The FPCC told the Pasadena Weekly there was nothing wrong with Mirarmontes and Gundry entering into such a deal.
“Generally, a former official can represent his or her own personal interest in seeking a consulting contract with his or her former agency under the [Political Reform] Act,” wrote FPCC Communications Director Jay Wierenga in an email. “In general, representing your personal interest is not generally treated as representing another person unless there is past participation.” Board members addressed the contract in closed session on Feb. 6, just hours after a column in the Pasadena Weekly by Occidental College Professor Peter Dreier revealed details of the proposed contract.
Miramontes is not the first board member to have a contract with the district. Several other former board members also held contracts for goods and services, including Bob Harrison, who owns Green Street Restaurant and once catered district functions, and current Board member Mikala Rahn, who owns Learning Works, a nonprofit organization dedicated to getting dropouts back into school.
Although Rahn is still the director at Learning Works, she has resigned from its board and does not vote on matters involving the school or its affiliated organization. Rahn recently ended a $15,000 contract with the district.
The board is also considering policy that could limit Gundry’s ability to sign contracts without board approval. Currently, Gundy can sign contracts for $65,000 or less without board approval.
“There was never any doubt that my contract was legal,” said Miramontes, who has threatened Dreier and Board of Education President Renatta Cooper with lawsuits. “This was a political ploy by Cooper and Dreier to manufacture a political witch-hunt. I will continue to seek a legal resolution to address their willful act of defamation.”