Most people were expelled from the October 23 Sweetwater Union High School District board meeting. So, public comment allowed prior to specific agenda items was not so public.
To several trustees and apparently superintendent Ed Brand’s surprise — a speaker announced that the district’s L Street property housed a new sports hall of fame with Brand’s name mounted on the wall.
Sweetwater parent Stewart Payne told the trustees at the October meeting that when he went to the Compliance Office on L Street to file some paperwork, he noticed Brand’s name on the wall and beneath it the words “Sweetwater Athletics Hall of Fame.” Payne questioned the board about the naming rights and about any monies that might have been spent.
On October 28 this reporter went to tour the site. As you walk through the Sweetwater Compliance Office doors on L Street and look to your right, you see a long wall with signage that says in lower case “dr. edward m. brand.” Beneath the superintendent’s name are the words “SWEETWATER ATHLETICS HALL OF FAME.”
Down the long corridor, there are rooms with sliding doors and sports equipment mounted on the wall outside rooms. Inside the rooms, memorabilia from various Sweetwater schools is displayed.
As the board of trustees did not authorize this use of district land, the hall of fame, or the Ed Brand signage — where did it come from?
An October interview with Sweetwater’s chief compliance officer/athletics coordinator, Bill McLaughlin, shed some light on the purpose, albeit not the origins of the project. McLaughlin said the signage had been put up within the past month and explained, “This is a work in progress.”
McLaughlin stressed that the building itself was not named after Brand, rather an award has been created in his name and will be given to individual athletes, teams, or people who support athletics.
He said an independent committee of newspaper and sports writers will select the award recipient or recipients. “We haven’t quite determined what our procedure is because we’re in the process; our hope is to induct our first class this school year.”
Regarding any monies spent, McLaughlin said, “I want to make it perfectly clear there hasn’t been, that I know of, from public funds or district monies, a thousand dollars spent on this building. I would be surprised that the dollar amount is in the hundreds at most because most of what you see here is sweat equity by volunteers and that there is no intention of having this becoming a funded item for the district.”
When asked if the hall of fame would pay the district rent, McLaughlin said, “No.”
However, the previous tenant, the district’s Compact for Success, did pay rent from district funds. Board documents show that the building was remodeled using $300,000 from district capital funds in 2008.
Board documents from 2007 show the district approved a renewal lease for post-secondary initiatives, including Compact for Success, to the tune of $65,548.
Asked about the origin of the idea, McLaughlin answered: “The genesis of the idea is that the Metro Conference is in its 80th year of participation in the CIF, and we have had a long and storied history with some great athletes that have come through this program and we just thought it was time to tell that story.”
When asked who “we” is, Mclaughlin said, “Ideas come from many, many places; it’s an idea that’s been talked about by many people. Generally, in the world of sports you want to recognize people for their achievements.”
When asked if there was a committee or a way for the public to have had input, McLaughlin stated, “You want a name, you want five names, you [this reporter] want to go out and harass five other people. It’s not that process and I don’t know if you can get your head around that. It’s a process of talking to coaches, athletic departments. 'We' is that collective spirit of the Sweetwater Union High School District that want to do good things for kids. You’re [this reporter] not going to be able to isolate one or two people and harass them into saying we’re doing bad things.”
The ambiguity of who authorized the project (as well as who decided the award would be named for the superintendent) is further complicated by an email exchange between Brand and Sweetwater parent Bernardo Vasquez.
Vasquez wrote an email to Brand and Sweetwater trustees expressing his dismay about the district’s recent purchase of property for new district headquarters. (L Street, where the hall of fame is located, was also purchased for district headquarters.)
In his reply to Vasquez, Brand wrote: “Regarding the Metro Hall of fame. Bill McLaughlin set it up. He did it volunteering his time, cleaning vacuuming etc. Bill has spent $5,000 of his own money because he believes in student and staff recognition. The building is not named after me — the award is. I was unaware of this until Mr. Payne brought it up and I asked Bill about it, The naming of the award was his and some coaches ideas and does not fall under naming rights as a policy in our district. Bill explained this to Mr. Payne.
“Regarding the cost — It was a vacant building before Bill’s arrival — It was previously used by compact for success offices and was abandoned when the district downsized several years ago — No monies were used to build any of the offices. Bill indicates $500 has been spent on the space since his arrival. This was all explained by Bill when Mr. Payne came by (Please check for yourself). Sadly, Mr. Payne choose [sic] to make up facts and figures and spew the poison he is known for.”
Contacted for a comment on November 4, Payne said, “I am supportive of a hall of fame. In fact, my daughter is in it. But there are issues that should have been considered. What funds were spent? The district just spent a million dollars toward entitlements for the L Street property so they can sell it. Why put the hall of fame on property you’re trying to sell? And where was the community input? And when it comes to naming the award, there are more fitting coaches and athletes that should have been considered.”