After the fanfare was over at the Sweetwater Union High School District meeting on December 10, after San Diego mayor Bob Filner stood by recently reelected Pearl Quiñones's side as she was sworn in (referring to her as “the queen” in a light moment), and after incumbent Bertha López was sworn in by her husband, the board returned to business as usual.
In December 2011, Nancy Stubbs brought before the Sweetwater trustees a campaign-reform resolution. Because of the exorbitant amount of money ($150,000), given to boardmembers Jim Cartmill, Arlie Ricasa, and John McCann from vendors during their 2010 campaign, Stubbs said she felt it was necessary to pass a resolution limiting campaign donations to $500. The resolution died for lack of a motion.
Since then, several more attempts by community members to agendize campaign-donation limitations have been evaded by the district.
In January 2012, community member William Perno submitted a resolution. His request was not agendized. In May 2012, community member Maty Adato submitted paperwork to have a resolution agendized in a timely manner. Adato copied the mayor of Chula Vista, Cheryl Cox, and all the members of the media, including the Reader. Nevertheless, Adato’s resolution was not agendized.
In June 2012, the board adopted a resolution that precluded the ability of the public to agendize or discuss an item that had been before the board during the previous year — thus preventing a return of the campaign-donation-limitation issue. But the issue came back in October 2012 in the form of a conflict-of-interest bylaw revision.
Trustee Bertha López and community members urged the board to include language about campaign contributions in their conflict-of-interest code. The board equivocated and revisited the policy in November and again on December 10.
Once again, members of the audience addressed the need for the limits.
Alex Anguiano, president of the Sweetwater Education Association, pointed to the recent scandal in the San Ysidro School District, where the superintendent admitted to accepting an envelope of campaign cash from contractor Loreto Romero. Anguiano said the Sweetwater conflict-of-interest bylaw needs to be strengthened.
(District attorney affidavits from last year included a statement relevant to campaign contributions from former Sweetwater contractor Hector Romero. “He [Romero] reported being with [former] Superintendent Gandara in Mexico when Superintendent Gandara contacted SGI Program Manager Jaime Ortiz [proposition O] and solicited a $20,000 contribution to Jim Cartmill’s campaign for [the Sweetwater] School Board. Romero also advised [the investigating attorney] that SGI made a $12,500 contribution to John McCann’s campaign for the school board…”)
On December 10, community activist Kathleen Cheers told the board, “We have the right to know these [trustee] seats were not purchased.”
Nick Marinovich, speaking individually and not as Proposition O bond chair, urged the board to think of the image of Sweetwater and how this action would improve the board’s image.
Yet the board refused to include campaign-contribution limitations in the conflict-of-interest language.
Boardmembers Pearl Quiñones and Arlie Ricasa, who will face charges of bribery and perjury in January, recused themselves from the discussion and the vote.
Board chair Jim Cartmill did acknowledge that “at some point we are going to have contribution limits.” However, he said the limit he might want might be “the polar opposite” of what Nick Marinovich wants.
Trustee Lopez responded, “When? When are we going to do something? We’ve been talking about these bylaws for three months now.”
Boardmember John McCann says he agrees the district needs campaign-contribution limitations; however, he believes “we need to look at them comprehensively.”