Approximately 500 parents, students, and teachers attended the Sweetwater Union High School District board meeting on the evening of January 30. A cacophony of angry voices filled the Hilltop High School gymnasium.
Lauren McLennan, a representative of Occupy Sweetwater, attempted to serve board members Jim Cartmill, John McCann, and Arlie Ricasa with recall papers. According to McLennan, her organization has gone through the required process to begin the recall. (McLennan didn’t include trustees Bertha Lopez or Pearl Quiñones because they are up for reelection.)
For months, community activists have been demanding to know details about ex-superintendent Jesus Gandara's generous severance package. Activists have repeatedly asked the board if there was a second legal opinion obtained by the former board president, John McCann, that might have indicated Gandara could be fired for cause. If this second opinion existed, the district could have avoided paying Gandara's $500,000 buyout and retirement.
At the board meeting, Maty Adato, one of the community members who initially took Sweetwater concerns to the DA, told the crowded room that she had proof that a second legal opinion existed. Adato said she gained her proof through a public records request.
In a followup interview, Adato shared a letter from interim superintendent Brand. Brand's letter explains to Adato that the district cannot share the second opinion; at the same time, the letter confirms that there was an additional opinion received by boardmember McCann: “In addition, the second opinion received by Mr. McCann regarding the separation agreement entered into with Dr. Jesus Gandara also falls under the exemptions of attorney-client privilege and attorney work product.”
The biggest issue for all who attended the meeting was whether or not the legal fees, estimated to be over a million dollars, should be paid to the two boardmembers who have been indicted: Arlie Ricasa, Pearl Quiñones, and former boardmember Greg Sandoval. (Attorney fees for trustee Bertha Lopez had also been agendized; though not indicted, the district attorney did search Lopez’s house.)
Boardmember McCann voted early in the morning by robocall. Through the call, paid for by the Republican party, McCann told South Bay residents that he would not be voting to pay for attorney fees.
Although the boardmembers discussed the possibility of reimbursing attorney fees if a defendant was found innocent, reimbursement to Sandoval, Ricasa, and Quiñones died for lack of a motion. (Lopez withdrew her name from the list of those seeking attorney fees.)
The meeting did not end until after midnight. Near the end, Juan Carlos Hernandez from Otay Ranch High School spoke to everyone seated on the dais and said, “I shook Arlie Ricasa’s hand at my eighth-grade graduation. I don’t want to shake any of your hands at my senior graduation.”