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He characterized the branch as unable to do more than "rubber stamp," citing the example of the just-completed Jefferson Middle School, which sits adjacent to a toxic-waste site. "A staffer wrote in 1989 that we should do a thorough study" of the site prior to purchase. "Two managers turned that [recommendation] down," he said.
Arabzadeh added that the entire dilemma - a costly school on a suspect site - might have been avoided had proper evaluations been performed in the first place.
District officials continue to insist that the school, which opened recently, is entirely safe, "cleaner than your back yard," in the words of district spokesman Brad Sales. But on this issue, Arabzadeh had an ally in school-board member Barbara Boudreaux.
"They told me as a board member that everything was okay" at the Jefferson Middle School construction site, said Boudreaux. "I was lied to. We have been kept in the dark." Boudreaux called Arabzadeh "a breath of fresh air," adding, "This is a test case. I want Hamid's expertise and candor to stay."
Boudreaux was joined in supporting Arabzadeh by a group of parents and public-health activists at the sparsely attended hearing. "As a parent I am outraged," said community activist Melodie Dove. "Mr. Arabzadeh has worked diligently to protect children's health and safety."
Parent and anti-pesticide crusader Robina Suwol called Arabzadeh "a hero" to parents and children, while environmentalist Christina Graves lauded Arabzadeh's understanding of pediatric toxicology, calling it unique among school officials. "I implore the board not to confuse politics with public health," she said.
But the board majority was skeptical. Board member Valerie Fields went so far as to categorize Arabzadeh's undocumented allegations as "McCarthy tactics," while her colleague Jeff Horton commented, "The employee has attempted to bring in a lot of other issues that I don't think are relevant." He also referred to Arabzadeh's "fundamental lack of credibility."
The board essentially sided with staff members who had urged his firing, including just-appointed "business czar" Dave Koch, who sat behind board members with a stony, worried expression during the entire proceedings.
To have sided with Arabzadeh would have been an immediate slap at Koch, who's in his first month as head of all district business operations, a job that has been designated as key to school-district reform efforts. Indeed, Arabzadeh's supporters have focused on Koch as one of the villains in the piece.
These backers included parents and environmental activists who have waged a campaign to reform and reduce pesticide use in the school district. In June, Arabzadeh had acted as a sympathetic liaison between the group and other district officials, apparently aggravating then-district business manager Koch.
In an interview, Koch told the Weekly that Arabzadeh was never appointed as liaison to the anti-pesticide group, saying that the appointment went instead to Dianne Doi, Arabzadeh's subordinate. Koch characterized any claim to the contrary as "self-promotion" on Arabzadeh's part.
"That's baloney," responded attorney Ashley Posner, one of the parents opposed to pesticides.
The dispute over meeting with the parents happened at a critical time in Arabzadeh's tenure with the school district. Less than a week after that meeting, Arabzadeh testified briefly before the Joint Legislative Audit Committee in Sacramento regarding Jefferson Middle School and other issues. Before returning to Los Angeles, he visited the San Francisco school district to study its alternative pest-control program. His next full day at work, said Arabzadeh in an earlier interview, he was asked to leave. But he won't say by whom.
District officials have countered that Arabzadeh had agreed, months previously, to resign because of problems related to his job performance. Arabzadeh, they said, reneged on that verbal agreement, leading to Tuesday's hearing.
School-board member Julie Korenstein acknowledged having asked Arabzadeh to work with the anti-pesticide parents, but at the hearing, did not side with Arabzadeh against the highly regarded Koch, and ultimately abstained in the vote for Arabzadeh's dismissal. She was joined by David Tokofsky. Barbara Boudreaux alone voted against the dismissal, and the remaining four board members carried the day.
Arabzadeh's attorney vowed to immediately sue the district for defamation, wrongful termination, and violating state and federal whistle blower-protection statutes. Arabzadeh is probably just the second branch manager in 15 years to lose his job at the end of the one-year probationary period, said classified personnel director John Campbell.
In a post-vote press conference during which Arabzadeh thanked supporters, he began looking around uneasily. The crush had hemmed him and his lawyer in the hallway just outside the constantly swinging doors of the school-board chambers. "This isn't a good situation," he said. "Let's move. This isn't safe."
Correction: Last week's article on Arabzadeh's pending dismissal incorrectly stated that he'd been a student activist against the shah of Iran. The Weekly regrets the error.