The Board of Trustees and former president Mark Rocha deny violating open-meeting laws and are asking a judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a nonprofit group seeking a reversal of Rocha’s $400,000 severance package.
Californians Aware, the group that filed suit against the school in September, claims that the Board hid the discussion of the severance package under the title of “anticipated litigation” on its closed session agenda items.
However, Rocha and the Board both claim that they were able to use the term “anticipated litigation” because there was a threat of litigation.
“The subject matter of the Board’s meeting relative to Rocha was not compensation, but rather, negotiated terms for a settlement which would include his retirement and a general release of claims,” the Board states in its answer to the suit. “At all times during these precedent negotiations, with the threat of litigation, Rocha was represented by counsel as was the Board.”
In both the Board and Rocha’s response to the suit, they are requesting that the suit be dismissed, claiming that they didn’t violate any laws.
“The petition in its entirety and each and every claim fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted…” Rocha’s answer to the suit stated.
Californians Aware claims that no reference in any agenda for any Board meeting indicated that the Board was discussing or took action to provide a severance package to Rocha last August.
According to Californians Aware, they received a letter from Mary Dowell, attorney for the Board, saying that the Board had not violated the Brown Act and, therefore, the Board was “not obligated to ‘cure or correct’ any of its actions leading up to the final Agreement and Mutual General Release with Rocha.”
In its suit against the school, Californians Aware requested that the Board “cure and correct” its mistakes and rescind Rocha’s severance package. It also calls on the court to force Rocha to return the money.
Furthermore, it asks the board to “disclose each date and under which agenda item the Board discussed Rocha’s severance and/or resignation.”
The college had announced Rocha’s retirement in late August, saying in a statement that he would receive $403,826, plus up to $16,000 in “reasonable” legal expenses from the District.
“The terms of the severance package are in the best interests of all parties,” Trustee Anthony Fellow said in that prepared statement last September. “Despite challenges and concerns that Dr. Rocha faced from various College constituents groups, with the support of the Board, he continued in his mission to improve the College.”