On November 25, 2015, Tucson Unified School District Governing Board member Michael Hicks advised Judge David Bury of a witch hunt that is being conducted by attorneys for the district in response to a letter Hicks sent to the court earlier this month. Hicks wrote to the court after he discovered that the district had filed papers informing the court of an investigation pertaining to his November 2, 2015 letter to the court.
According to the November 25 letter, Hicks was first informed of the witch hunt by Bill Brammer, of Rusing, Lopez, and Lizardi, that his firm was planning to recommend that his letter be investigated. Brammer backed down when he was advised by Hicks on November 11, 2015 that his “communication to the Court was expressing a minority opinion about a civil rights/desegregation case and that I believed that any investigation involving my correspondence was unwarranted and that I viewed it as reprisal for expressing a minority opinion through my letter to the US Federal Court.”
“I believe that the announced “investigation” sends a chilling message to the entire TUSD community,” wrote Hicks in his November 25 letter. “I also believe that the decision to conduct the investigation is highly suspect and may be in violation of open meeting law.”
Under the leadership of Superintendent H.T. Sanchez, and Governing Board member Adelita Grijalva, many employees describe intimidation tactics including “witch hunts.” In his November 2, letter Hicks alerted Judge Bury to a scheme by Sanchez and Grijalva to build opposition to the court-appointed Special Master, Willis Hawley, assigned to decades old desegregation case, in order to have him removed by the court. Hicks also advised the judge of the intimidation tactics used against employees by the district’s Superintendent, H.T. Sanchez.
Brammer appeared to have taken exception to the portion of the November 2, letter in which Hicks wrote:
On October 5th and 6th the Special Master met with all of the parties involved. I was in attendance much of the time on both days. Those in attendance from both the Fisher and Mendoza party conveyed extreme concern over the District’s involvement in dispersing inaccurate misinformation and in lodging personal attacks. District officials wanted to know who, when and where- while at the same time denying that anything inappropriate had occurred. The superintendent was absent both days. Evidently TUSD legal counsel attended the school meetings at which the described actions took place; during which the superintendent encouraged members of the Mendoza class to displace the Mendoza Plaintiffs and their Representative- based on information provided only by the Defendant- TUSD. While I question the appropriateness of TUSD legal counsel standing by while the administration provides disparaging and untrue comments to parents (mostly Hispanic class members), I understand that my opinion as one board member becomes a mute voice in attempting to deal with this issue at the Board level. To me it is very clear that the District has not met its obligations at the magnet schools and that the blame is all being swung in the direction of the Court, the Special Master and the plaintiffs.
Hicks responded to Brammer and advised him it was not, in fact, his firm to which Hicks was referring, but to the district’s internal legal counsel Julie Tolleson. The November 25, letter reads in part:
On November 11, 2015 I responded to Mr. Brammer (attached- B) and reminded him that my communication to the Court was expressing a minority opinion about a civil rights/desegregation case and that I believed that any investigation involving my correspondence was unwarranted and that I viewed it as reprisal for expressing a minority opinion through my letter to the US Federal Court. In response, Mr. Brammer informed me that his law firm would not be engaged in the matter any further, based on the fact that I had informed him that the legal counsel to whom I referred in my letter as attending magnet school meetings was not him or anyone from his firm but rather TUSD Chief Legal Counsel, Julie Tolleson.
In response, Hicks heard from Tolleson on November 12, 2015 in an email correspondence. According to Hicks, that email:
“… included notice that Gordon Lewis of Jones, Skelton & Hochuli out of Phoenix would be handling the investigation regarding” and that the investigator “would obviously define his own parameters but that she thought it was safe to say that the investigation would include evaluating what representations were made by district personnel and whether those were improper and whether district personnel have taken any improper steps to interfere with the plaintiff representatives relationship with their counsel, or undermine the special master, “or however we might want to define it”. She further stated that given that she attended some of the referenced meetings, Mr. Lewis would likely coordinate any interview scheduling needs through the Board office or perhaps directly through relevant departments. The scope of the investigation seems pretty far-reaching.”
Hicks advised the court that he submitted his “minority report/opinion to the Court and made it clear that what I reported was my viewpoint. I also stated that based on fear of retaliation, I would not reveal any sources. (I gave my word to individuals to maintain confidentiality and I intend to keep my word.)”
“Mr. Brammer and Ms. Tolleson both chided me in their correspondence for not having “reported” my concerns to the Board or to them. They are ignoring the state of affairs as it is now is within TUSD,” wrote Hicks. “They are also ignoring that I will not reveal any sources, as I have stated. I am more emphatic about this today!”
Hicks asks the judge, “If I have attracted such “heat,” imagine what parents, staff, students and community members might fear from speaking up. Neither Mr. Brammer nor Ms. Tolleson has indicated to me under what authority they have pursued an investigation or under whose direction they have done so.”
Both Hicks, and his fellow board member Dr. Mark Stegeman are treated with disrespect according to observers, and their concerns are either ignored, or in some cases they are prevented from even expressing them during board meetings.
“The decision to move in the direction of investigating my correspondence seems to have been made quickly but it is not clear by whom, when or where, much less how much the investigation will cost,” writes Hicks. He also questions the fact that “there is no stated or implied authority to conduct the investigation.”
Hicks echoes other district staff and plaintiff representatives’ concern, when he writes: “This situation is yet another pointed example of the climate under which the desegregation case is being managed.”
“This letter is to inform the Court of what has transpired since my last communication and to assert the fact that I will not take part in any imposed investigation. By informing the Court of the situation, my actions, I hope, will not be interpreted as lack of cooperation but, instead, as my resolve to freely express a minority opinion, without being subjected to intimidating bullying tactics and more than questionable actions around who, when and where the decision was made to investigate my correspondence to the Court,” concluded Hicks.
Just last week, Judge Bury admonished the district for the misinformation given to parents of children in certain magnet schools.