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Did School Board Candidate Accept An Illegal Campaign Contribution?

Complaint filed with Ethics Commission alleges reducing Marilyn Koziatek’s job responsibilities without a salary reduction violates the law.

Running for and holding public office requires personal sacrifices. As LAUSD Board Member Scott Schmerelson has found out, your investment broker’s financial decisions become the subject of public scrutiny. City Council candidate Joe Bray-Ali learned that past postings on the internet can sink a campaign. Mónica Ratliff had to give up her job as a district teacher and took a cut in pay to become an LAUSD Board Member. Halfway through her term, she took a teaching job at another school district because the $45,000 a year salary as a member of the board was not enough to cover her expenses.

When Marilyn Koziatek decided to become a candidate for the LAUSD Board Seat 3, she and her employer felt that there might be a possible conflict with her responsibilities as Granada Hills Charter School’s Director of Communication and Development. Specifically, they felt that “because Koziatek seeks to replace the incumbent LAUSD Board of Education member who represents the geographic area in which the School is located, her work for the School in outreach, engagement and communication may be compromised and questioned, and therefore needs to be changed.” However, instead of having Koziatek step aside or take a leave of absence, the publicly financed private school moved her into a different position. To emphasize the temporary nature of this change, the section entitled Termination of Addendum specifies that it “may be modified by GHC if Koziatek does not seek elective office or otherwise withdraws from the race during the 2019–2020 school year.

It is important to note that as a result of this Fixed Term Employment Agreement Addendum, Koziatek was demoted from a Director position to a Special Projects and Events Manager. According to Salary.com, the median pay for a Communications Director in Los Angeles is $168,491 while a Special Projects Manager’s median pay is $69,042.00. However, according to their agreement “compensation for this position and all benefits of employment shall remain unchanged from Koziatek’s 2019–2020 Fixed-Term Employment Agreement.

According to the law, “a contribution is a monetary or non-monetary payment made to a candidate…for which you do not receive goods, services, or other consideration of equal value in return.” A complaint filed last week with the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission alleges that allowing Koziatek to keep her same salary while reducing her responsibility as an accommodation so that she could run for office meets this definition of a campaign contribution. However, its receipt was not disclosed by the candidate. Furthermore, it is likely to have exceeded the limits on contributions set by the City of Los Angeles.

As a matter of policy, the Ethics Commission will not publicly comment on investigations, will “not confirm or deny the existence of any complaint or investigation, and [does] not provide updates on the status of complaints” unless there is a finding of violation. In the case of Ref Rodriguez, the public did not officially find out about the investigation into his illegal campaign activities until he was criminally charged two years after the election. The voters in LAUSD Board District 3 deserve better. Koziatek must file the appropriate disclosures, return funds in excess of the legal limits and explain to the voters why she was not more timely in her reporting.

Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, and a member of the LAUSD’s CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, he was endorsed by the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a “strong supporter of public schools.” His past blogs can be found at www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.