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On the evening of May 17, 40 minutes before a Sweetwater Union High School board meeting was scheduled to begin, John Brickley and Fran Brinkman attempted to enter the board room. According to Brinkman, a number of parents and teachers had come to ask the South Bay school-board members to dismiss the superintendent.

Superintendent Jesus Gandara has made a number of Union-Tribune headlines of late. An article on Gandara’s daughter’s wedding highlighted his financial ties to Proposition O contractors; another article questioned his use of a district credit card (the account was subsequently canceled).

Brinkman said that as she and Brickley approached the board room, they could see people sitting inside; however, they were prevented from entering by a district representative who told them the empty seats were saved for administrators and presenters. They put in a call to the district attorney’s office and were advised that they were within their rights to go into the meeting. Brickley and Brinkman then went around the district employee who had tried to block their entrance, and they took a seat.

Shortly thereafter, a 911 call brought a Chula Vista police officer to the scene. “It was a little scary, but we knew we hadn’t done anything wrong,” Brinkman said. She told the officer, “We’re not causing a disturbance,” and they were allowed to stay.

Another attendee interviewed for this story, Maty Adano, corroborated Brinkman’s account of the events and said she didn’t understand why there often were either Harbor Police or Chula Vista police at the Sweetwater meetings.

Superintendent Gandara and board member Bertha Lopez were not available for comment. However, Lillian Leopold, the director of the district’s grants and communications, returned the call I’d made to Gandara.

Leopold said that for at least six months it has been the district’s policy to have someone standing outside board meetings and taking names because of overflow crowds. On the night in question, Leopold said there was a substitute employee taking names “who didn’t know the protocol...missteps may have been taken.”

(Regarding some teachers’ and parents’ intent to express their desire to have Gandara dismissed at the meeting, the board does not respond to public communications items; they are only allowed to respond to agendized items.)

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Radical Uterus May 20, 2011 @ 2:39 p.m.

When will we learn, if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then most probably it is a dick.

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LillianLeopold May 20, 2011 @ 3 p.m.

Ms. Luzzaro neglected to include my entire statement. Our protocol (not policy) is to take reasonable steps so there is orderly participation of the public, in compliance with the Fire Marshall. After the room has reached its legal capacity, a list is created so that as people leave the room, the next person on the list may be called in to take a seat. We do not ask for IDs. And a person could sign in as John Lennon if they wanted to. After the meeting, the list is destroyed.

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Jmbrickley May 20, 2011 @ 8:59 p.m.

As one of the people faced with arrest for creating a disturbance, I have issues with your description of events, Lillian. You are both blatantly, and factually wrong. Fran Brinkman and I were not denied admittance because the room was full. We were being denied entrance because we were not administrators as told to us by the man guarding the door. He said if we were teachers or the public, he had been given a directive by Mercedes Lopez to not let us in. When given an opportunity to enter the room without incident, in spite of the guards protests, we entered and took seats. The fact we took seats is proof enough the room was not full. He then called Mercedes Lopez for direction. It was Mercedes Lopez who called 911 and falsely reported that two parents were entering a private meeting. Fran and I spoke to Bertha Lopez during a break in the meeting about this incident at the front door and Ms. Bertha Lopez went to Mercedes Lopez for clarity. Mercedes Lopez told Ms. Bertha Lopez that Dr Gandara told her to call 911. So don't blame this on the poor guy at the door. Dr. Gandara and Mercedes Lopez took full control of the situation and thereby take full responsibility for what happened.

During public communication I called the guard a "gutless coward" because he said he didn't care about "I don't know anything about this Brown Act," violating our rights. I also called Dr. gandara "gutless" for not being a man and facing the public for his bad choices. My only regret is not calling Mercedes Lopez a "gutless coward" too for implementing a plan to deny citizens of their protected rights by putting some average Joe at the door to carry out her illegal activity. Next time Mercedes, you guard the door, so we will know who to tell the D.A. violated our rights.

John Brickley

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Cheridan May 21, 2011 @ 9:57 a.m.

11.Lillian, I recall a town hall meeting where YOU WERE, VERY, VERY, DISRESPECTFUL TO A TEACHER who made a justified comment regarding the superintendent's (your boss) staggering salary. Even you get paid so much for what you do which does NOT DIRECTLY impact student achievement. Obviously you don't know the conditions of current teachers and still they are underpaid. Many stay after school without pay to assist students and still, take their work home (grading papers, calling parents). Do you take home your work as some sort of public relations person (anyway, what is your exact title in this district?) You defininitely have no impact on the achievement on the students of this district. Who would believe you since you are trying to justify the outright discrimination of community members to enter the board meeting? What has the district got to hide? By the way, "bubble in" tests are NOT ACCURATE indicators of student achievement. Many students admit just randomly guess and were surprised that they did better, than those who actually worked the problems on the CAHSEE tests. Dr. Gandara needs to get a clue as to what accurately assess students since he is wants concrete DATA -it is when students "show" their work (i.e. essays, math calculations) to show their knowledge!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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sissyjacks May 21, 2011 @ 2:50 p.m.

As a community member i want to state very, very clearly here - you are not telling the truth.

There were many, many, many seats when the doors were closed and the public was prohibited from entering. Those of us inside the board room witnessed the entire attempt at manipulating the Police Dept.

The two retired teachers in the middle of this mess are persons who Mr. Gandara and Mr Garcia despise.

This was a blatant attempt to have them barred from future board meetings. Simple thug tactics.

You Ms Leopold speak with forked tongue, I know, trying to hold onto your job as PR. But I thought that was what Mr. Garcia hired Mr. Alvey to do - PR and all. All of your days are coming - I hope you all have a back up plan for future employment. Did you happen to take the 'retirement' package that was offered - probably not, you are one of the dummies who believes that this is going to all blow over. It will not, of that you can be assured.

The public is always orderly, which the same can not be said for Mr. McCann, I remember a few meetings ago when he turned off the microphone of Ms. Lopez; and when she continued to speak he stomped back into the room and turned off everyones microphone.

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David Dodd May 22, 2011 @ 4:10 a.m.

You are not permitted to take any names, it is a violation of the Brown Act to do so - not even fake names. The only list you may take with names on it is one where everyone on the list has been previously notified of their rights to privacy under the Brown Act. You might wish to come up with an alternative method of taking "reasonable steps so there is orderly participation of the public, in compliance with the Fire Marshall". Handing out numbered tickets on a first-come/first serve basis would certainly satisfy all parties involved.

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VigilantinCV May 20, 2011 @ 3:43 p.m.

This paralells eerily what was going on at Southwestern College when the thugs were in charge - banning teachers from campus, using police to intimidate, denying free speech and spewing dishonest PR spin. John McCann and his board must do whatever is necessary to stop this or be held accountable. Community awareness is growing by the day and they don't like scandal!

As to Lillian Leopold I would respectfully suggest she and her fellow administrators should immediately find a larger venue because this problem isn't going away.

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joepublic May 20, 2011 @ 4:29 p.m.

According to Ms. Leopold, the district's fact spinner (director of communications), they've had capacity crowds for six months. Shouldn't they have already moved their meetings to a larger venue as VigilantinCV suggests? Why haven't they? From everything we've been reading, it seems obvious. The smaller venue is to discourage public participation at a time when district activities, more and more, appear to be criminally indictable. That's why so many people are showing up in protest. What the Sweetwater district has been doing with taxpayer money is nothing short of stealing. If the average citizen steals, they are prosecuted. Shouldn't that be the case here? There must be an auditorium or gymnasium available for these meetings, and one should never need a reservation to be seated at a public meeting.

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GandaraMustGo May 20, 2011 @ 7 p.m.

A few problems here. First, LL is incorrect. The security was the same security that is always there and they were being very closely directed by Maria Castilleja who was yelling at teachers for allowing people to enter the room - including students who were standing outside not knowing what they were supposed to do. The room was blocked BEFORE it reached capacity (it wasn't even filled to 50% when the doors were locked). The problem is that the teachers and public decided to play the game the district had been playing and showed up immediately after school released to guarantee that they would have seats. The last several meetings when calls have been made for a change in location and the calls have been denied, teachers have been left outside while administrators (not there for any actual business other than to follow the orders to appear), have filled at least half of the room. This is simply unacceptable. This article also fails to mention that after the list began to be written there were still seats available and the only ones being denied admission were the teachers and public. While the security guy was taking names principals were being waved by and allowed to enter! On a side note, it's Adato not Adano

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Cheridan May 21, 2011 @ 12:49 p.m.

In fact, Gandara and Company should allow the teachers front-row seats for the event and thank them for their work for the students' academic success.

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Woodchuck May 20, 2011 @ 7:11 p.m.

Often it feels like the royalty and their enablers think the south bay is theirs for the taking. I have news for them; we are aware; we pay attention; we do take action and with the help of conscientious writers like Susan Luzzaro we are forcing our leaders to understand that they are no longer operating in the shadows. I believe it was only recently that Mr. Gandara and Mr. McCann left a board meeting that was not to their liking. Follow the lead of Southwestern College and kick the trash to the curb.

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Susan Luzzaro May 20, 2011 @ 8:01 p.m.

Just to say that board member Bertha Lopez did call back today. She said she has asked for a report regarding Tuesday's incident.

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Visduh May 20, 2011 @ 8:17 p.m.

It just keeps getting worse in that district. Something has to give soon and it will. They'll offer Gandara a fat, mega-bucks buyout and he'll take his embarrassing ways elsewhere. But when he's replaced, will that board find anyone better? We have a number of these public embarrassment superintendents in the county now, and in general little or nothing is being done about them. Gandara may be the worst of the worst, but he's in many ways typical of the carpetbagger administrators being hired in many districts. Based on the comments posted above, it would appear that one or more board members are complicit in allowing this to continue.

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Visduh May 20, 2011 @ 8:22 p.m.

P.S. This is the sort of local corruption that seems to be permanently "under the radar" of our DA. It's her job to go after this pattern of abuse and misappropriation of funds. So where is Dumanis? AWOL

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Cheridan May 21, 2011 @ 9:52 a.m.

Lillian, I recall a town hall meeting where YOU WERE VERY, VERY,... DISRESPECTFUL TO A TEACHER who made a justified comment regarding the superintendent's (your boss) staggering salary. Even you get paid so much for what you do which does NOT DIRECTLY impact student achievement. Obviously you don't know the conditions of current teachers and still they are underpaid. Many stay after school without pay to assist students and still, take their work home (grading papers, calling parents). Do you take home your work as some type of administrator? Who would believe you?

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MURPHYJUNK May 21, 2011 @ 9:53 a.m.

publish the pictures of the gutless wonders and see if they want to discuss things when they are out in public, and not hiding behind their "titles"

would one be considered racist if they called the incidents a mexican standoff?

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cvres May 21, 2011 @ 10:30 a.m.

The newspapers lately give us a lot of reasons to lack confidence in the district. Gandara as the head of the district and Leopold as mouthpiece obviously need to be ousted. There have been articles in the paper that raise questions about the spending of proposition money as well. It's time to look at the whole picture--the board members as well--even the new board member, John McCann.

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JohnEQuest May 21, 2011 @ 10:33 a.m.

Note Well a somewhat peripheral significant issue here: Many of these purported leaders use the rhetorical cover of working for our children, to pursue their own perceived self-interest. This board and its administration, including of course their superintendent, is another manifestation of this stench that permeates very broadly so many youth and High School sports programs. It is heartening to see so much of the deceitful selfish money and power pursuit coming to light and the push-back that is gaining momentum. That pursuit is being done on the backs of our children, with parents being clubbed into submission and silence by the intimidation of fear of retaliation against their kids.

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Cheridan May 21, 2011 @ 12:33 p.m.

Oh, I wish I had attended the board meeting, but then I probably will be yelled at by Maria Castilleja. This seems nothing new. I recall that she "yelled" at meetings as a teacher years ago and now "yelling" as to how teachers should teach when she is not versed in all curricular areas. I guess to ascend the Sweetwater Union High School District career ladder, you have to "yell" your way to the top, especially to teachers that are more competent than her. Clearly, she is not a positive role model as an educator and seems to be mean-spirited with other educators. If you are reading this Maria Castilleja, show at least some class...

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sissyjacks May 21, 2011 @ 2:56 p.m.

Ms. Leopold and Maria C. follow so closely behind Mr. Gandara it is a fact that if he tripped they would follow over each other.

I wonder what they are going to do when he is gone? Who is going to write his press releases then? Who is going to write speeches then? Oh, but that is right he is not going to need any speeches where he is going.

He will be joining the rest of the Gandara clan down in Socorro Texas - have any of you Googled Jesus Gandara, Socorro, Texas? Have any of you Googled Bonifacio aka Bonny Garcia, - there it is folks. That is not who but WHAT is running our District.

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Cheridan May 21, 2011 @ 3:37 p.m.

It seems that under Gandara's rule, stellar teachers and administrators (those with integrity, character, and competence) were forced to find work elsewhere. I just discovered that several people whom I admired and worked with (especially those who made key contributions to the development of the standards in certain curricular areas and those whose students receive top notch honors for their academic achievement) are no longer working for this district. These high caliber educators and administrators were replaced with less competent, vicious, and domineering beings who probably would not be able to teach our students as well as a first-year teacher when given a lesson plan.

I feel sorry for the teachers currently working in this district. They seemed to ruled by fear and that is not mentally healthy for them.

It seems that if a teacher does not follow what Gandara, Castilleja (director of curriculum), and company urge, not ask, even though he or she knows a better or effective way of doing something, then beware. Teachers are professionals and should be treated as such. By the way, Ms Castilleja, why are other countries more successful in for instance, math and science? It is because, teachers are given more CONTROL as to what should be taught and HOW it should be taught. Also the suggestions and input of teachers to improve the district tests have been ignored. What disrespect... Teachers are NOT TRUSTED to make decisions. No wonder teachers are upset with the status quo. They are asked to teach their students in ways that do not apply to all curricular areas! Then they get still get blamed for low student achievement, despite lack of administrative support.

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Visduh May 21, 2011 @ 4:54 p.m.

A couple more things come to mind. First, what would a citizen or a parent or a teacher have to do to get something on that meeting agenda? For example, what would it take to have the topic "Dismissal of the superintendent for cause" on an agenda? Who decides?

I'd think that if a cop arrested either of those two folks there would be ample grounds for a false arrest lawsuit that could cost the hapless district hundreds of thousands of dollars. People just sitting in a public meeting of a public agency and not making any sort of fuss or disruption are not committing a crime. No way, Jose! Being threatened with arrest and actually being in danger of being arrested in a situation like that are pretty far apart. If they try something like that again--and they may--they need to have their attorney, or some attorney, sitting right there alongside them. That would REALLY make a cop think long and hard before pulling out the cuffs.

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Twister May 21, 2011 @ 7:58 p.m.

Making a false 911 call is a crime. Failure to cite is failure to perform. The first means a fine; the second means an entry into the personell records of the officer who failed to cite. It is the officer's duty to protect the public and FAITHFULLY protect and defend, including peaceful protest (not disruption of public meetings or otherwise interfering with the lawful activities of public officials in the conduct of their duties). It is not the responsibility of any sworn officer of the law, on or off duty, to be directed to intimidate citizens in the lawful exercise of their rights by any public official.

That's just for starters. There's something called The Constitution; local laws and their administration are bound by oath to that, and must be consistent with it. Lawyers may be handy to have, but the protection of citizens' constitutional rights is the responsibility of officers sworn to uphold the law. If you're gonna get a lawyer, make sure he or she is familiar with all the pertinent laws as well as Parlimentary Law applicable to the conduct of public meetings (many do not know parlimentary law as well as they think they do). Few (almost zero) public officials are familiar with parlimentary procedures and commonly violate them in the conduct of public meetings.

Formal, written complaints have more force that yelling or grumbling. The state Attorney General is one place to start. Keep complete records of the date and time of the call, identify yourself and get the identity of the person on the phone, or better yet, call the AG's office for an appointment. Use facts, not opinions. Get hard evidence and impartial witnesses. Notify the media in writing, in advance, of all such events. Stand outside of the meeting, keep cool, and have fact sheets for reporters.

Never give up. Never give up. Never, never, never give up. They will try to wear you down. Keep keeping records and be patient. Not quiet, but not loud. Let them do the yelling. If any public official deprives any citizen of his or her rights, swear out complaints. Keep strategy simple, but have a strategy. Foreknowledge is power.

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barryjantz May 21, 2011 @ 11:06 p.m.

This may be of interest at SD Rostra:

10 REASONS WHY JOHN MCCANN SHOULD FIRE SUPERINTENDENT GANDARA... sdrostra.com/?p=16143

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FedupinCV May 21, 2011 @ 11:22 p.m.

This district has become an embarrassment for all of us who work there. As a taxpayer who lives in the area and who has SUHSD's payments on my property taxes, I am outraged. As an employee, I am disgusted and ashamed. We have begged, pleaded, coaxed, reasoned, and used every persuasive tool we have to convince the public about what kinds of dirty tricks are going on right under their noses. You found us to be "whiners" and "greedy". We gave the board the benefit of the doubt, thinking when the two assistant superintendents were ousted, surely the board would realize what a horrible mistake they had made, but they have proven over and over that they are in Gandara's pocket (and now we know they are even in his multiple expense accounts). People with amazing integrity and talent are fired, forced to resign, demoted, and harrassed into retiring or relocating while the criminals who run this district strengthen their power base by promoting booty-kissing incompetents. The wolves have been allowed to guard the henhouse, and any roosters left are swiftly being replaced with more wolves! If they crow, they are eaten alive, plain and simple. We had an opportunity to place some people with integrity on the board, and we squandered it by choosing the same old familiar names on the ballot instead of really educating ourselves as voters about who was running and what his or her record really was. I could go on and on, I could even give more examples of incredibly dirty tricks that have been played at the expense of students and that haven't come out in the press, but guess what? I need a job like everyone else, and I know what happens if I write anything that identifies me. I have seen what Gandara and his cronies are capable of. There is one thing I can say for Gandara -- he is very clever and very effective at what he does (and I am NOT talking about so-called student achievement gains). Anyone who underestimates him is a fool. Wake up, South Bay! If he walks out of here with lifetime benefits that we have to continue paying for long after he is just a bad memory, then we deserve whatever we get. Make some noise! It's time YOU started calling the cops instead of THEM!!!

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GandaraMustGo May 22, 2011 @ 9:02 a.m.

Reporters should contact the teachers who were in attendance that night and the parents (since of course teachers can't be trusted). Find out how many of the teachers who were there that night, both before and during the meeting, faced negative consequences upon returning to school. How many randomly had schedule changes that had "nothing to do with the board meeting" but are only "what's best for students"? Those in the public will see that teachers are willing to stand up, and sadly the same 50-100 do it again and again while others hide out of fear, because those teachers do face consequences. We do not work in a democracy or in an environment where free speech is allowed. We are not allowed to have a different view on "what's best for students". If we try to express such a view, clearly we for some reason just "don't want to help kids." After 15+ years in this district I am so deeply saddened to see what it has become. But, I love the kids and the families that we work with and for that reason I will stay and fight. Bring it on admin. Call 911, send MC out to get the teachers and parents who DARED to open the door to students, and parents, and librarians, and community members who were standing outside. We will be there at 3 for the next meeting and then 2 and then 1. Whatever it takes until you clean up your act and quit promoting incompetence.

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Cheridan May 22, 2011 @ 9:58 a.m.

Already school sites have been tainted by the "Gandara Effect" or reinforces "the monkey see, monkey do" or the "if the big bad wolf can get away with it, then why can't we?" type of mentality. "Favorites" of the administration and other staff or "smooth talkers" are given what they ask for at the snap of their fingers, while those who are more deserving (in terms of credentialing and other relevant matters such as competence) are IRONICALLY treated unfairly...

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Susan Luzzaro May 22, 2011 @ 10:37 a.m.

When are members of the school board up for re-election?

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VigilantinCV May 22, 2011 @ 11:20 a.m.

John (back from Iraq) McCann is seen as the top Republican in the South Bay. SDRostra is trying to show him how to get out of the SUHSD mess without imploding. When McCann ran for the Assembly against Marty Block the Republicans pulled out the stops but HE LOST. THEY know his star is being tarnished. John's wife, Myssie, and Derrick Roach, their private investigator, both, sit on the Republican Central Committee. It will be interesting to see how this plays out - will John throw Gandara under the bus to curry the support of the Republicans?

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sdsportsfan May 22, 2011 @ 11:27 a.m.

There are many disconcerting comments being shared here by many different individuals. The San Diego Union Tribune has outlined many issues of recent concern in an ongoing expose' of this Districts' activities. While they express some recent concerns and problems that have arisen they do not reflect the true extent of the issues this district, and it's personnel have faced over the past 5-6 years. I'm sure as time goes on more and more will come to light. There are many out there that have been afraid to share their thoughts in the past. Those days are over!

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joepublic May 22, 2011 @ 12:21 p.m.

Obviously the firing of Gandara is overdue, but isn't it time to oust some school board members as well? If their terms aren't coming up soon, then a recall should be considered. It looks like John McCann, who was recently elected to the school board after he was termed out of office from city council will be jumping this sinking ship to run again for city council or mayor of Chula Vista. Keeping your name in the public's eye by getting on this or that board while keeping your own eye on your next political move is what politicians do all the time. For McCann this will be a lose-lose decision. He will expose himself for really not caring about the Sweetwater mess ( by the way, an audit lists him as one of the lunch-on-the-taxpayers' bunch), and hopefully Chula Vistans wouldn't elect him based on all that has transpired on his watch as their trustee of the school district.

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sissyjacks May 22, 2011 @ 2:43 p.m.

i SOOOOOOOO applaud The Reader for taking this on as a legitimate news story. It is comforting to know that legitimate new sources other than the Major news paper are committed to truth.

I would like to ask that all of you reading this go to the Union Tribune Watchdog articles and read 'new' comments posted by some one called anniej -.

I agree with this person and would ask that any and all of you demand the same thing of John McCann that this person is asking for.

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spokennotheard May 24, 2011 @ 8:29 p.m.

Gandara is a bully and a tyrant. He has employees living in fear for their jobs. But isn't that why he fires people at the top--to set a precedent/example? If you question me, I will demote/fire you!
Ya basta! Go back to Texas.

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