Conducting the public’s business in public can be a real pain. In fact, it can be downright uncomfortable for elected officials to have the public — their constituents and taxpayers — looking over their shoulders. It would be much easier to meet behind closed doors, where the public can’t see them advancing their personal agendas and sometimes self-dealing.
But over the decades, California legislators and voters have shed a light on backdoor dealing with the passage of the Ralph M. Brown Act (open meeting law) and Public Records Act (access to public records.)
God love ’em, that hasn’t stopped some elected politicians from suggesting these laws should not exist, or trying to evade them.
A case in point was a newly elected Kern High School District board member’s attempt to advance his own political agenda by opposing approval of a few routine contracts and contending the matter would be better handled behind closed doors — away from the public’s prying eyes.
“The problem with the Brown Act — we cannot all get together as a board and sit down and talk about this stuff,” trustee Derek Tisinger said during the board’s August meeting, adding that he would prefer to meet with other board members privately as individuals, or altogether.
No doubt Tisinger, who retired from the Bakersfield Fire Department and California Air National Guard, would be more comfortable privately lobbying fellow board members. But that is not how elected public service works.
It’s understandable that Tisinger, a newcomer to politics, might feel that way. It’s an explanation of his viewpoint. But it’s not an excuse for his inclination to suggest shunning the transparency that comes with the office he now holds.
The contracts Tisinger opposed included those with the California School Boards Association, which provides trustee training and legislative and legal information to the Kern High School District and most other districts throughout California.
Tisinger’s rationale was that he felt the organization favors Democrats and “clearly spoke out against conservatives and Christian values.”
As an alternative, he suggested affiliating the district with the Pacific Research Institute, a California-based right-leaning free-market think tank, which promotes limited government.
Tisinger’s other target was a rather benign contract with BoardDocs, which provides the platform that the KHSD and many other districts use to post online documents, meeting agendas and other information. Without the service, the legally mandated postings would require labor-intensive, time-consuming and expensive staff effort.
Tisinger’s beef with BoardDocs is that the company espouses ESG, which he contends has contributed to economic problems and bank failures.
ESG stands for environmental, social and governance — a framework investors can use to assess an organization’s business practices and performance on various sustainability and ethical issues.
Critics, who include Republicans and aligned groups, oppose ESG because they contend it is a subversive way to enact political and ideological goals through investing. They contend ESG is part of a bigger culture war, where climate activism and “woke-ism” are being pushed to a naive general public.
Some of the most recognizable U.S. brands that embrace ESG include Walmart, Apple, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, McDonald’s, Texas Instruments, Cisco, Merck, Eli Lilly, PayPal and major oil companies — just to name a few of the many hundreds.
Concluding that the services provided to the district by the California School Boards Association and BoardDocs are critical and few alternatives are available, the KHSD board approved the contracts over Tisinger’s objections.
Tisinger remained adamant, insisting the district should avoid contracting with companies and associating with organizations that espouse political views.
Ironically, in opposing the contracts, Tisinger was doing just that — pushing his own political agenda by proposing to replace the district’s long-existing affiliation with the California School Boards Association with a recognized right-leaning political think tank.