The first meeting that Ed Brand presided over since being appointed superintendent of the Sweetwater Union High School District took place on October 15.
Brand sought board approval for a conflict-of-interest bylaw change. His proffered analysis was: “This bylaw is being revised to include language regarding gifts, as recommend by Eric Hall & Associates in the Proposition O Audit.”
Community advocate Maty Adato brought it to the board’s attention that the Eric Hall audit said, “The District should work with its legal counsel and develop a policy for board consideration restricting all gifts and donations from consultants [and] contractors.”
District trustee Bertha Lopez asked if any board members would be willing to include donations in the language. Trustee Pearl Quiñones said she was uncomfortable voting on it and wanted more time to review it. Brand urged the board to pass the resolution because it was “time sensitive.” Lopez voted against it. Board members Quiñones and Arlie Ricasa — both under indictment for allegedly failing to report gifts — abstained. The resolution failed.
Later, Proposition O bond oversight committee chair Nick Marinovich gave his committee’s report. He shared with the board the committee’s concern regarding the manner that Brand imposed the new requirement of conflict-of-interest forms subsequent to the oversight board’s vote of no confidence in the superintendent.
Marinovich also reported that in an August meeting with then-interim-superintendent Brand, Brand told him and committee member Kevin O’Neill that he had “a network of people out there” and that oversight committee members had better not be involved in anyone’s political campaigns.
Brand “categorically” denied having said that. He stated that Thomas Calhoun, chief facilities executive, was his witness. From the podium, Marinovich characterized the night’s exchange with the superintendent as “a pissing match” and “intimidation.”
Board members were also served with subpoenas by Kevin Carlin of the Carlin Law Group. The subpoenas are seeking, among other things, information about board members’ relationships with contractors in the past.
The subpoenas stem from a lawsuit filed by Sweetwater parent Stewart Payne and Davis Moreno Construction, Inc. It is in regard to a $17.3 million construction contract the district entered into with Balfour Beatty Construction to build Montgomery Middle School’s library, cafeteria, and other buildings.
The agreement uses the lease-leaseback method, which allows the company to lease district property for $1.00 a year while constructing the building; it also allows the district to circumvent the bidding process.
The state allocation board has concerns that “significant numbers of projects and significant sums of public funding are not being subjected to the checks and balances of the competitive bid process.”