Fresh out of the chute as new superintendent of the Sweetwater Union High School District, Ed Brand recently sought to remove all of the members of the Proposition O Bond Oversight Committee, save one — Jim Morris, who has had a relationship with Brand and the district in the past.
The committee is charged with overseeing the district’s expenditure of $644 million in bond money. In September, the bond-oversight committee made public a “no confidence” vote in Brand.
Brand writes in a October 4 letter to the board of trustees that the motivation for his recommendation is that he has asked the committee members to fill out conflict-of-interest forms and they have not. Brand says filling out the form is part of oversight-committee best practices “as well as to comply with the transparency that we have repeatedly heard from members of the community.”
Brand’s letter continues: “The reason for me informing you of this request is that, as of today, only one member, Jim Morris, has submitted his form, and I believe that there will be members who decide not to complete the 700 form and turn it in. Therefore, I will be recommending that they be removed from the [committee] and be replaced with other members of the community that will agree with the stipulation.”
Some of the committee members attribute the creation of this requirement as punitive. Aside from the “no confidence” vote, the committee has been aggressively requesting construction documents, legal counsel, and a more complete audit of Proposition O expenditures.
According to committee member Kevin O’Neill, the first time Brand mentioned the 700 form was at an August 29 meeting. O’Neill commemorated the occasion with an email: “Dr. Brand, attached is the Government Code section 82700 regarding who is required to file 700 forms.… Your statement that something was going on with the [committee] and you were going to make us fill out 700 forms was out of line….”
Joe Casillas, a member of the Southwestern College Proposition R Bond Oversight Committee and a former member of Sweetwater’s Proposition BB Oversight Committee, said in an October 12 interview that he has never been asked to fill out a 700 form for an oversight committee.
“I raised the question when I joined the Southwestern committee,” says Casillas. “I was told that since we were just an advisory group, with no connection that would affect the spending of public dollars, a 700 form was not necessary.”
Casillas said when he was on the San Diego County Tax Assessment Appeals Board he was required to fill out a conflict-of-interest form, and that the requirement was logical for that position.
On October 11, the Sweetwater Bond Oversight Committee met and voted to adopt the standards of the California League of Bond Oversight Committees, standards that include filing a 700 form. Members, however, expressed reluctance to give in to what they characterized as a “heavy-handed” and “bullying” tactic by Ed Brand.
In an October 12 interview, Bernardo Vasquez, who has served on the committee for three and a half years without being asked to fill out a 700 form, said he is seeking legal counsel from the district on the requirement. Vasquez says he is hesitant to put personal information out after he and other Sweetwater parents were smeared in the San Diego Rostra website.