Even children know and understand the importance of fairness. Our entire system of democracy is built upon the foundations of equality before the law and the right to a fair process with transparent and accountable rules.
Therefore, it should be a no-brainer that Barry Snell and Ralph Mechur, member and member-elect of the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization, should recuse themselves from the Committee’s consideration of the City of Malibu’s petition to form its own school district independent of Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SM-MUSD).
The County Committee’s policies state that, “A conflict of interest exists when a member, individually or as a representative of a public agency or special interest group, has a competing financial, personal, policy, or other interest on any issue.”
Snell and Mechur have multiple, documented conflicts of interest. Snell has a leadership role with the Black Agenda and Santa Monica Black Lives Association (SMBLA), advocacy organizations that have actively and publicly opposed Malibu’s petition. Snell also invited SM-MUSD Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati to speak against Malibu’s petition at an SMBLA meeting one month before the County Committee’s first preliminary public hearing on April 17, 2021. He offered to personally assist Dr. Drati if he had any trouble with or questions about attending the meeting.
Mechur is conflicted because he has served on the SM-MUSD Board of Education for more than 13 years, only leaving the Board last year. That means he was an active member of the Board while the City’s Petition was before the County Committee. Furthermore, he has made several public comments before the County Committee against the City’s petition in the most recent preliminary public hearings.
Furthermore, both Snell and Mechur are ex-officio members of the Community for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS), a community group that describes itself as being “dedicated to the preservation and betterment of public schools in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.” CEPS has opposed the City’s Petition and continues to do so on the home page of its website in bold, red letters.
Snell and Mechur need to recuse themselves from the Committee’s decision on Malibu’s petition. The County Committee’s rules prohibiting real or perceived conflicts of interest are in place for a reason: to establish and preserve the public’s trust that the Committee will apply the rules fairly to all parties, not based on the financial or political interests of its individual members. Snell and Mechur’s failure to recuse themselves would be an alarming, unacceptable and unfair violation of Malibu’s right to a fair process under the rules laid out by the County Committee.
By violating these rules, the Committee and its conflicted members rob Malibu and its children and families of their due process as they strive to establish a school district within existing rules and policies of government agencies that are beholden to the public. This conflict of interest also erodes the public’s faith in the Committee to fulfill its mission ethically in all future cases.
This is the same reason why judges in our legal system are supposed to be separated from politics and that nation’s legal system has the motto “Justice is Blind.” Judges make decisions based on applying the law, not based on the interests of other political advocacy groups that they belong to. This ensures that individual people with no power have their rights protected and are not steamrolled by larger entities with more power and resources.
We urge Snell and Mechur to do the right thing and recuse themselves. The decision to recuse is entirely up to the discretion of those with the conflict, but we trust that anyone with a sense of fairness will agree and encourage Snell and Mechur to honorably step aside when it is time to decide the fate of the City’s petition. As our nation faces an unprecedented attack on democracy itself, how can we expect our children to understand and embrace the principles of transparency, accountability, and the right to a fair process when we stand by as two members of the County Committee trample on these principles of fairness?
Mikke Pierson and Karen Farrer are members of the Malibu City Council.