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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on May 8th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 9 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 9

Ready for another round?

The Santa Maria-Bonita School District rings the bell after the latest bout of litigation surrounding Will Smith

BY CAMILLIA LANHAM

It appears that nothing can hold Santa Maria Bonita School District Board Trustee Will Smith back. He’s determined to speak his piece, even after a cease-and-desist order was handed down by the California Public Employment Relations Board.

Administrative Law Judge Eric Cu, with the employment relations board, issued the order on April 18, telling Smith—and, by default, the Santa Maria Bonita School District—to stop making threatening statements to employees, photographing or conducting other surveillance of protected activities, and falsely accusing employees of misconduct.

The school board approved to uphold the decision and enact the order, 4-1, with Smith dissenting, at a special meeting on May 1. Smith defended himself against the order and the board during the meeting, saying that he didn’t do anything wrong and the information brought forth by other board members and district employees was “all lies.”

“[The order] was filed against the district, not against me, even though I was a major subject,” Smith said during the meeting. “Litigation is going to go forth, and it’s going to be against the district; there’s some civil rights at stake.”

The judge’s order was the result of a complaint filed by the Santa Maria Elementary Education Association with the state employment board in June 2012, accusing the Santa Maria Bonita School District of unfair employment practices. The April 18-issued decision found that the district, “through the actions of Board Trustee William Craig Smith,” violated the Education Employment Relations Act.

Smith told the Sun he believes the decision was incorrect and maintains he did nothing wrong. He also said the trial was unfair because he didn’t have adequate representation. He refused representation by the district’s attorney, Paul Hamill, whom he’s litigating against on other district matters.

“I’m not going to let someone I’m in court fighting represent me,” Smith said. “Would you want your enemy to represent you?”

Hamill told the Sun that even though Smith refused representation, the district did its best to help him, and even tried to settle the case with the teacher’s association.

“[They] didn’t want to settle,” Hamill said. “They wanted to get an order, and now I understand why.”

If the cease-and-desist order is violated, the teacher’s association has Judge Cu’s decision to fall back on and can use it as ammunition if they have to go back to court.

The order states that Smith violated the employment act by making threatening comments in a May 3, 2012, e-mail message to president of the teacher’s association, Nancy Iarossi; photographing and otherwise interfering with association political activity; and making false accusations against Iarossi.

“Of course I will follow the order, but I never bothered SMEEA [Santa Maria Elementary Educators Association] in the first place,” Smith said at the school board meeting. “It won’t be hard.”

The decision issued by Judge Cu is a detailed 24-page summary of a series of actions taken by Smith the employment board deems as violations of the Education Employment Relations Act.

Most of the listed actions took place in May 2012, when members of the community organized a recall effort to remove Smith from the school board. An e-mail Smith sent to Iarossi on May 3 said that members of the teachers’ union were circulating information about him that they could “be held civilly liable for,” and that the teachers’ association “needs to clean up its act.”

In court transcripts from the two-day March hearing on the complaint, Smith admits to sending the e-mail, but said it wasn’t threatening. He told the Sun he only sent the e-mail because he felt Iarossi and the teachers’ association were engaged in illegal activity by passing out fliers containing what he felt was classified information about his dealings with the district.

Neither the Public Employee Relations Board nor the school district agrees that the teachers’ association was illegally passing out information.

In June 2012, the school board publicly censured Smith for his conduct, finding that Smith harmed relationships between management, employees, and union groups through misconduct. The board directed him to stop violating board bylaws and the personnel rights of school district staff.

“Out of disgust with it, I didn’t really even pay it much attention,” Smith said of the censure during a cross-examination, recorded in the court transcript. “Some of it was irrelevant and some it had—put it this way: It wasn’t all that it should be. So I’ll just say that.”

When teachers’ association members set up tables to gather signatures for the recall petition outside of local grocery stores in October 2012, Smith showed up at one of the stores and photographed the four people staffing the tables. He later took video of people at a rally for the recall held before a school board meeting outside of the Souza Center.

Smith admitted to doing both to the Sun, but said the photographs and video were taken in public places, with no malicious intent behind the acts.

The final charge of the complaint revolves around an unfair practice charge Smith filed with the Public Employment Relations Board in November 2012 against the teachers’ association because of conduct by Iarossi. Smith accused Iarossi of using a school computer inappropriately during work hours.

In court transcripts of Smith’s testimony, he said he was referring to an e-mail Iarossi sent in October 2012 about the election and rally. Iarossi has permission from the school district to distribute e-mails to teachers’ association members for association business, which includes political rallies and the like.

During the May 1 school board meeting, Iarossi said she thought long and hard before filing the complaint against the district, but she didn’t see any other way to resolve the issues.

“This is not a happy day for our union,” Iarossi said during the meeting. “I hope the decision made by the board will greatly reduce Mr. Smith’s destructive behavior. … I’m not sure where we go from here. I hope we can move forward from here, but Mr. Smith continues to get in the way.”

School board president Linda Cordero apologized to Iarossi and the teachers’ association for the actions that led to the complaint and said she hoped the district’s relationship with the association could move forward amicably. She said Smith’s actions weren’t condoned by the school board nor were they a reflection of how the other four school board members felt.

“He basically acts as if he is an individual representative of the district,” Cordero said at the meeting. “He has done everything possible to discredit this district.”

 Cordero went on to say that if Smith didn’t comply with the order, the school board would do everything legally possible to hold him responsible.

Judge Cu’s decision requires the school district to post the cease-and-desist order at district sites for 30 days. Superintendent Phil Alvarado said the district should comply with the order as soon as possible and send proof to the Public Employment Relations Board.

He recommended to the board that the district get the order posted at sites as soon as May 3 to secure “our allegiance to this order and our follow through.”

“We do not want to be in a situation, quite frankly, like this again,” Alvarado said.

 

Contact Staff Writer Camillia Lanham at clanham@santamariasun.com.