Attorney claims firing from school board association retaliation

Devin Del Palacio

Attorney claims firing from school board association retaliation

The Arizona School Board Association fired their general counsel after the former president claimed members failed to vet new executive director Devin Del Palacio during the hiring process and refused to look at an external investigation finding misrepresentations on his resume. 

Former ASBA president James Bryce received a “whistleblower” tip that Del Palacio lied about having a bachelor’s degree on his resume. And on direction from Nick Buzan, ASBA’s legal counsel, Bryce hired outside counsel for an independent investigation. 

According to Bryce, the investigative report found Del Palacio falsely claimed to have a bachelor’s degree on his resume, but the board voted against seeing the investigative report and voted to go forward with Del Palacio’s hiring.  

ASBA announced his appointment to the director position in June. 

Buzan, former director of Legal and Policy Services for ASBA, said he was terminated on August 15 and given no reason aside from there being “no way forward” for him at the organization.  

Buzan said he believed his firing “was likely in retaliation.”  

He could not discuss advice he gave to the board during his time as their legal counsel.  

But Bryce said he was advised by Buzan that the board’s failure to vet Del Palacio opened it up to liability as failing to do so violated the fiduciary duties of a nonprofit board under Arizona law.  

Bryce said he sought an independent investigation into Del Palacio’s credentials from outside counsel.  

Del Palacio served on the board of directors as chair of the Black Caucus of ASBA and currently serves as a school board member in Tolleson Union High School District. 

He also had a brief stint in the Legislature after being appointed to fill a vacancy in Legislative District 19 last year.  

Del Palacio claimed to have obtained a bachelor’s degree from the now-defunct Western International University in 2010. But in a podcast interview now deleted from YouTube, Del Palacio said he had dropped out. His LinkedIn also shows he attended WIU from 2006-2006.  

Del Palacio refused two interview requests from outside counsel and refused to provide his transcript, Bryce said.  

After the investigation was complete, Bryce claimed that the board refused to look at the prepared report on a single vote margin and voted to go forward with Del Palacio’s employment on the same vote split.  

Buzan was fired on Aug 15. ASBA President Desiree Fowler then sent an email on Aug 18 to board members imploring them to support Del Palacio’s appointment or “resign immediately.”  

Fowler wrote, “Our shared journey demands that we move forward together, and those who feel divergent from this path are respectfully invited to resign from their positions immediately.” 

Bryce, as well as two other board members, resigned.  

Bryce said his “hands were truly tied.” 

“Three lawyers told me you need to do this to make it okay. How could I not?” he said. 

Heidi Vega, director of communications for ASBA, did not respond to a request for comment, nor did Fowler or Del Palacio.  

Robert Rojas, Santa Cruz County board member, said the board was advised not to comment on the issue given confidentiality concerns.