The rift between Board of Education member Oscar de la Torre and Mayor Kevin McKeown is over. Or is it?
De la Torre this month voted to approve a Santa Monica-Malibu school district consent calendar that included a payment to McKeown, but not before asking district officials about protocol for communicating with consultants, urging city officials to review best practices and criticizing the current leadership climate in the city.
“I was thinking of recusing myself, but … I want to make sure we move towards closure,” de la Torre said. “It doesn’t really help us to have conflict between governing agencies.”
The public spat stems from City Council’s decision earlier this year to strip funding from the Pico Youth and Family Center, of which de la Torre is executive director. City officials have long alleged poor bookkeeping at the nonprofit organization, which de la Torre denies.
McKeown, who works as a technology consultant for SMMUSD, recused himself from that vote after hearing that de la Torre had tried reaching him through district channels.
A day later, de la Torre recused himself from a vote on a school district consent calendar that included a payment to McKeown.
Fast forward to the school board’s Oct. 15 meeting, when another payment to McKeown was up for approval.
De la Torre accused the mayor of asking the PYFC board chair to force de la Torre to resign from his directorship in exchange for public funding. (De la Torre offered to step down from his role with the nonprofit during city budget talks in 2013, but he remains the head of the group.)
McKeown declined to comment, saying he couldn’t respond without having seen exactly what was said at the school board meeting.
De la Torre noted that the city is planning to review best practices following the controversial firing of Elizabeth Riel.
“I do plan to make a request for that investigation to expand to include what happened between myself and Mayor McKeown,” he said before the vote.
School board president Laurie Lieberman interjected, saying de la Torre’s comments were better suited for a later portion of the meeting. He agreed to speak later on and voted in favor of the consent calendar.
When De la Torre reclaimed the floor, he asked Superintendent Sandra Lyon to follow up with recommendations for how board members should contact district consultants.
When Lyon asked de la Torre to be more specific, he responded that he wanted a more detailed rundown on protocol.
“When we are called for information from anyone who seeks somebody else’s phone number, we do not, by practice, give that number to the person who’s calling unless we’ve been directed by the [employee],” Lyon said. “We call that person and say, ‘So-and-so is trying to reach you.’ That has been our practice. It’s standard practice in every district. I would want staff to continue to follow that.”
Lyon noted that she was not in the office when de la Torre tried reaching McKeown through her office. She said de la Torre’s call should not have been pushed through.
“It should’ve stopped with me,” she said.
De la Torre also asked for guidelines relating to conversations between board members, district officials and consultants. Lieberman reminded him that the school board doesn’t have authority over what the mayor says at public city meetings.
De la Torre then asked about district staffers telling consultants about conversations between board members and district staffers.
“I don’t know that we need to vent this here,” Lyon said. “If you wanted to call [a consultant] and you talked to me, I would call them and relay that information. If you wanted their private cellphone number, I would not give it to you. I would talk to that consultant and say that this person has called.”
Lyon said she would discuss de la Torre’s concerns with him at another time.