Amid residency doubts, a private investigator hired by a local teachers union tailed the president of the San Dieguito school board at least twice to see if she went home after board meetings.
Brown said union money — he wouldn’t say how much — paid for the private eye.
Muir represents Area 1 on the school board, listing an address just south of Encinitas Ranch Golf Course on her school board application.
On Thursday, Brown wrote Lucile Lynch, interim superintendent of the San Dieguito Union High School District, and Leon Schorr of the county District Attorney’s Office, calling for a formal inquiry into Muir’s residence.
“I have received information that indicates that Ms. Muir does not reside at 710 W. Bluff Drive, Encinitas, CA 92024 as is stated on her 2018 candidacy application,” Brown wrote.
The Bluff Drive home — listed as sale “pending” in the gated community of Sandalwood — is being rented through the end of September, he said.
“Information has also come forward that Ms. Muir may be living outside San Diego County, and on multiple occasions, after school board meetings, did not sleep at her said address,” Brown wrote.
In a phone interview Friday, Brown said that his investigator found no other Muir residence in Encinitas but that the family owns a residence or two in South Lake Tahoe.
Muir denies suggestions she’s guilty of criminal fraud (filing a false document).
“I meet the residential requirements of the district,” Muir said Friday via email. “My only home and primary residency is located at 710 West Bluff Dr., Encinitas. My husband and I own and pay taxes on it.”
She said that if she and her husband, Mark (a retired fire chief and former member of the Encinitas City Council), sell the 3,550-square-foot home and relocate outside of the district, “I will resign from the board as required.”
Muir said Friday that buyers placed their deposit in escrow. Realtor.com said the four-bedroom property is going for $2.55 million.
“The close of escrow is scheduled for next month,” she said. “If any untrue or unsubstantiated comments lead us to lose the sale of our home, I will hold those responsible.”
Muir, 60, said her ailing 99-year-old mother-in-law lives in Lake Tahoe, “and my husband and I have spent time (rotating between his brother and sister) taking care of her while she is in this condition.”
Steve Walker, a spokesman for the DA’s Office, said Monday that “we are in receipt of Mr. Brown’s email” but “we’re not able to confirm nor discuss any potential public integrity investigations. Similarly, in situations like this we’re not able to speculate on potential criminal charges.”
Before learning that a private investigator shadowed her, Muir told Times of San Diego that Brown’s comments and other remarks “lead me to believe that Mr. Brown may be stalking me. I may need your assistance in getting a restraining order on Mr. Brown.”
She also said she’s heard that Brown “jumped out from behind a bush late at night and handed Trustee [Michael] Allman recall papers. This is not normal behavior and adds to my concerns as a female.”
Friday via email, she added: “He and his union are now trying to remove three board members who the union didn’t support financially or politically.”
Muir, a 2018 Republican candidate for state Assembly, said the teachers union president is “focused on removing board members when his union disagrees with their policies that focus on reopening the schools and prioritizing our students.”
A successful SDFA petition for a special election led to Ty Humes losing his appointed seat on the school board. Republican Michael Allman, another trustee, also faces a possible recall drive spearheaded by the teachers union.
In his memo to Lynch, also sent to Muir, Brown said he included the DA’s office to oversee the inquiry “due to the possible conflict of interest based on your previous ties to Ms. Muir – your sizable monetary donations to her school board campaigns in both 2014 and 2018 and her monetary donation to your SDUHSD school board campaign in 2016.”
Muir lists a $500 donation from Lynch in her 2018 school board campaign.
“I believe it is my fiduciary duty to inquire about all activities that appear inappropriate and contrary to the stability of our district,” Brown wrote Lynch, also a GOP-endorsed former candidate.
Troy Flint, a spokesman for the California School Boards Association, said Monday that the state Education Code spells out eligibility requirements for being a school board member, including that they must be a resident of the school district. It’s also a continuing requirement for holding that office.
“We are not aware of any specific criminal penalties spelled out in Ed Code or Gov Code, although it’s possible to prosecute for fraud,” Flint said.
He said residency fraud among school board members is extremely rare, but cited the recent case of a former Calexico woman.
Trustee Annette Gonzalez-Buttner, suspended from the Imperial County Board of Education, was sentenced to three years in jail after being found guilty on multiple charges, including false declaration of candidacy.
Prosecutors said Gonzalez-Buttner moved to Santa Clara in 2014, where she set up permanent residence.
“This became a conflict when she was representing Calexico on the Board of Education,” said KYMA.com.
In a Brawley courtroom last week, Superior Court Judge Christopher Plourd denied bail for Gonzalez-Buttner, 56. She’s appealed her conviction to the state’s 4th District Court of Appeal.
In the phone chat, Brown said rumors about Muir’s residency had been heard for a long time.
“It first came to my attention with somebody who had lived in her neighborhood that had indicated she hadn’t been there for quite some time,” he said. “Then I got some indicators from a [union] member who had access to real estate goings that indicated the house had been on the market for quite some time.”
He said an investigator he wouldn’t name found Muir not going home on several occasions.
“She went to a hotel and … the next morning, on at least one occasion, went to Tahoe,” he said. “And I also found …. that there’s a lease on her home from April 5 to the end of September. Obviously she’s not living there during that period of time.”
Brown said the investigator could find no other Muir residence in Encinitas.
He stressed that he’s not “accusing” Muir of anything.
“At this point I’m not making a … statement that she doesn’t live there,” he said. “I’m asking Lucile Lynch to look into the matter.”
He said he included the DA’s office in his email because if Muir represents Area 1 but doesn’t live there, “it’s technically a violation of penal codes.”
Brown said nobody has knocked on the door of Muir’s Bluff Drive home.
But he said: “If Miss Lynch asked Miss Muir where it was that she’s living, and she has another address, it would be easily verified.”
Allison Stratton, a director of the Parent Association — a North County group that backs Muir, Allman and Humes — called Brown’s tactics “disturbing and destabilizing.”
“First he was hiding in the bushes late at night to serve a notice to Trustee Allman, and now he’s following President Muir around to see where she sleeps?” she said via email. “From what I understand, President Muir is in full compliance with regulations.”
Stratton said she didn’t know details of Muir’s personal situation, suggesting personal family issues related to COVID.
“But what I do know is that she has been present at each board meeting and has been 100% accountable to the district,” she said. “Under her leadership, board meetings have finally become efficient and productive. Parents are tiring of the union’s underhanded actions. It’s time to put the focus back on students.”
A little after 3:30 p.m. Monday, schools chief Lynch said that after consulting with the San Diego County Office of Education, “SDUHSD will not be using district resources to investigate matters within the jurisdiction of other agencies.”
She said her school district would provide information to any outside agency with jurisdiction over these matters.
Lynch also reacted to Brown’s accusations that she is protecting Muir due to campaign support over the years.
“Every trustee elected to our board receives support from the constituents they serve, and as a private citizen I have supported candidates who advocated for our most vulnerable students, such as those with special needs, who often live at the poverty level and have one of the highest rates of unemployment and abuse, if not the highest,” she said.
“Trustee Muir was the board candidate who most actively advocated for this population and other students’ needs. I take my role seriously and strongly disagree with any allegation that I have a conflict of interest that would prevent me from serving this district.”
In response to questions from Times of San Diego, Lynch added:
“This district’s focus should be on its students and the provision of the highest level of quality education to them. We are one of the highest performing districts in the State of California and I hope that any questions regarding a trustee are resolved quickly so the board and the district’s focus can remain on those efforts.”
She concluded: “Since day one I have reached out to our constituents and labor leadership, and have encouraged standing meetings with them to keep communications open. As we move forward this summer and prepare for this fall, that is where our focus should be.”
Updated at 4:30 p.m. June 21, 2021