Sweetwater Union High School District board meetings often last five hours and are characterized by conflict. The April 9 meeting ended in a meltdown over the selection process used by the district to choose members of the Proposition O bond oversight committee. The construction bond is for $644 million.
Sweetwater’s process for choosing oversight committee members dates back to the Proposition BB construction bond in 2000. A 2002–2003 San Diego County Grand Jury investigation made these recommendations to Sweetwater regarding choosing members:
“Revise and strengthen guidelines for the Bond Oversight Committee member selection process to ensure that situations are avoided which can be perceived as inappropriate by the community.”
“Open a regular formal dialog with the Bond Oversight Committee that gives more consideration to that body’s advice and recommendations and the rationale for them.”
At the time of the grand jury investigation, appointments were made by trustees. Ed Bagaporo, husband to trustee Arlie Ricasa, was appointed to the oversight committee.
After Sweetwater passed Proposition O in 2006, the selection process was still arbitrary. One current bond oversight member was chosen by SGI, the company managing the construction.
The fracas at the April 9 board meeting was the result of an agenda item to approve the appointment of Ditas Yamane to the oversight committee.
Nick Marinovich, the current Prop O oversight chair, was part of a recent selection panel that sent forward several candidates for approval. There were two vacant seats.
At last week's meeting, Marinovich said, “The committee process does not work. We interviewed a number of excellent candidates and ranked them in order of their professional abilities and their responses to questions during their personal interview. The candidate being recommended to the board of trustees this evening did not follow the committee’s recommendations.”
Marinovich also made the point that the committee’s bylaws require an odd number of members. The appointment of only one person would create an even-numbered board.
Potential committee members were also interviewed by district superintendent Ed Brand. One of those candidates, Brian Clapper, appeared at the meeting and stated he believed his appointment was waylaid by Brand. Clapper is a National School District trustee.
This is where the discussion began to heat up.
Trustee Bertha Lopez demanded a public explanation from Brand about who made the decision to send only one name (Ditas Yamane) forward for board confirmation. She told Brand, “I’m waiting.”
Brand declined to speak about qualifications. Lopez pointed out that the interviewees were not district employees, so the rules of confidentiality did not apply. Lopez continued to push for a response.
Arlie Ricasa angrily told Lopez she was tired of the disrespect shown on the dais and, regarding the selection process, “We decided among ourselves to leave it up to district leadership,” and gestured toward Brand.
Lopez then referred trustees to a transcript of an April 16, 2012, board meeting in which Brand stated, regarding the selection process: “One of the other criticisms that was repeated to me…was the concern that process and procedures were not followed, and that the board or the superintendent, or some other entity, arbitrarily and capriciously anointed people to serve…. So this item that is being brought to you tonight reflects partially our effort to fill the vacancies through an identifiable, pre-determined, non-interference by the superintendent or this board, to allow the process to play out.”
Over the continued commentary, president Jim Cartmill gaveled the meeting to an end — and no bond oversight member was confirmed.