At the January 30 Sweetwater Union High School board meeting, the Vega report was released. Parents, teachers, and students have been demanding the report for months. It appears their suspicions had substance.
Attorney Greg Vega was commissioned by the board in May of 2011 to look into work done by public relations professional Scott Alevy, who had been hired by the district’s former counsel — Garcia, Calderon and Ruiz — to assist with union relations. However, a Union-Tribune investigation of the invoice submitted to the district by Alevy suggested that some of the meetings billed by him did not take place.
A more serious part of the investigation pertained to the allegation of election tampering. Many of Alevy’s meetings occurred shortly before the November 2010 election, when Jim Cartmill and Arlie Ricasa were reelected and John McCann was first elected to the Sweetwater board.
According to the Vega report, Alevy had a number of meetings with McCann in the months prior to his election. On June 13, 2010, Alevy billed the district for a discussion with a Chula Vista City Council member. Alevy identified the individual as McCann (and his wife).
On July 1, 2010, Alevy met with McCann over lunch. Alevy explained to the investigator that “McCann initiated the meeting and that [McCann] wanted to run some ideas by Alevy. At the time of the meeting, Alevy believed that McCann had announced or decided that he was going to run for the board.”
The report also tells us that “Alevy stated during his interview that he told John McCann, both before he was elected to the Board and after, that he was a consultant being paid by the District to do public relations work. Alevy had many conversations with McCann ‘bringing him up to speed’ on District issues.”
Alevy reported back to Garcia, the district’s counsel. Alevy told the investigator “that McCann absolutely knew that Alevy was a consultant working with [Garcia, Calderon and Ruiz] and he agreed that McCann was one of the people he believed he could trust to keep his engagement confidential.”
“On August 17, 2010, Alevy billed the district for a strategic meeting with John McCann and Garcia.” Alevy told the investigator that McCann set up the meeting so that he “could gather information about district issues necessary to be a better candidate for the board.”
McCann’s memory is different than Alevy’s. In the report, McCann said he didn’t know that Alevy was a consultant and “did not specifically recall discussing political strategy with Alevy but would not be surprised if it was discussed.”
The report goes on to say that “On September 24, 2010, Alevy billed the district for a ‘campaign issues discussion’ with two school board candidates. Alevy believed that he had a discussion that day with Cartmill and McCann. Both candidates knew that he was a consultant working with [Garcia, Calderon and Ruiz].”
Attorney Garcia remembered having a meeting with Alevy and McCann and giving McCann “the lay of the land.”
Did all of the boardmembers know that Alevy was hired by the district?
The document states: “Alevy was asked if he believed he was obligated to tell Board members he was working with the District. Alevy stated he believed that each Board member had a fiduciary obligation to raise the issue with the Board in closed or open session. It was Alevy’s assumption that Cartmill or Ricasa had been told Alevy had been hired….and it was their obligation to tell the board….”
There is a curious inconsistency about Alevy’s actions regarding boardmember Bertha Lopez. In the report, Alevy “stated he asked Lopez about her feelings on the District and its issues. He did not tell her that he was working for the district because he did not want to jeopardize the confidential nature of the engagement.”
A cursory read of the report shows that former attorneys hired, for the district, a public consultant to consolidate and promote favored candidates, among other things. It also appears that only some boardmembers were aware of the nature of Alevy’s work; some may not have known that the district hired him.
The Vega report concludes with five findings. The fourth “find” is that “Alevy billed the district for meetings and discussions with potential and actual board candidates in possible violation of California election laws.”