The Sweetwater Union High School District board is beleaguered. Two trustees, Arlie Ricasa and Pearl Quiñones, and former superintendent Jesus Gandara are under indictment. Two additional boardmembers, John McCann and Jim Cartmill, are the subjects of a recall. And the district is financially floundering.
Yet, it appears the district board is attempting to limit or curtail public input.
For most of the past year, public comment has been held at the beginning of the board meetings; this allows parents, students, and district employees to go home after they have addressed the board with their concerns. As the district came under increasing criticism, the board moved public comment to the end of the meeting.
On June 11, the board took it one step further. When the time arrived for public comment, board president Pearl Quiñones ended the meeting. “This meeting is recessed,” she announced, offering no further information. Members of the public who still wished to speak were confused. Alex Anguiano, president of the Sweetwater Education Association, took the microphone and asked, “Is the break for ten minutes?” The board did not return.
In a June 12 interview, Peter Scheer, an attorney and executive director for the California First Amendment Coalition, commented, “The Brown Act requires public comment at all board meetings.” Scheer said it’s possible you might have to adjourn suddenly if a member were ill, but he expressed surprise that the board chose to "recess." “In order to resume the meeting,” Sheer said, “the district has to give notice and post the agenda all over again.”
At the June 11 meeting, Maty Adato sought to place a $750 campaign contribution limitation for trustees on the agenda. In accordance with district bylaws, Adato said she mailed her proposal to interim superintendent Ed Brand in advance. She also copied the trustees, the media, and Chula Vista mayor Cheryl Cox. Brand, who is charged with creating the agenda, said he did not “recall” receiving the notice, though Cox and many others did. Nevertheless, Adato’s resolution was not placed on the agenda.
The board did accomplish something: they passed a revised bylaw that disallows the public from agendizing an issue that has been considered during the preceding 12 months (only boardmember Bertha Lopez voted against it). So, because the board refused to limit campaign contributions in December 2011, the issue cannot be revisited until after the November election.
The day after the meeting, on June 12, Adato wrote superintendent Brand, asking for an explanation. She shared his reply with the Reader:
“I did not recall this email which I thank you for resending.... I believe organizations must make difficult decisions but when they are made they should be carried out. Your request [to reagendize the $750 campaign donation limit] falls under the latest policy the board approved last night. If all we do is rehash the past and 2nd guess decisions nothing gets done. I am disappointed that you feel the way you do but do not apologize for bringing the items forward for action.… I have yet to hear from you about one thing the district is doing right which demonstrates a more fundamental issue…. Lee Iacoca said it best, Lead follow or get out of the way…. All the best, Ed”