As the Sweetwater Union High School District elections loom closer, Chula Vista mayor Cheryl Cox and county supervisor Greg Cox are flexing their political muscle in the campaign.
On October 14, many residents who live in Sweetwater Area 2 received a robo-call from Supervisor Cox urging them to clean up Sweetwater with a vote for Kevin O’Neill. The robo-call indicated that the plea was also on behalf of the mayor, his wife.
Sweetwater Area 2 covers a portion of western and eastern Chula Vista and Bonita.
As listed on the sample ballot, the candidates for Area 2 are: Dr. Adrian Arancibia, Bertha Lopez, Kevin O’Neill, Kevin J. Pike and Dana Toogood. All the candidates’ platforms are based on reform, anti-corruption, or integrity.
In 2009, when O’Neill applied to fill a vacant council seat, the U-T described O’Neill as “a local contractor and close ally of Mayor Cheryl Cox.”
O’Neill often appears at Chula Vista City Council meetings to support the mayor’s projects. He was one of two people who spoke in favor of the unpopular general plan change that allowed an increase in condominium density in the Otay Lakes area.
Aside from lending their voices to a robo-call, the Coxes are hosting a fundraiser for O’Neill.
In the first round of campaign donations, the Coxes contributed a cumulative of $520 to O’Neill’s campaign. David Malcolm, also a longtime friend and ally of both Coxes and O’Neill, contributed $250.
The Coxes have also endorsed Thomas Schaaf, a candidate for Area 5.
One of the first items of business for the newly elected Sweetwater board will be to choose a new superintendent. Mayor Cox will be termed out in December.
In 2014, Cox became involved in the prolonged discord and corruption in the Sweetwater district. In February, she gave a State of the City address in which she said, “…I am done watching poor governance get worse, and I am compelled to confront Sweetwater’s current problems through my ability to convene community members in constructive conversation.”
Mayor Cox and former Sweetwater superintendent Jesus Gandara both came into office in 2006. The Gandara years were plagued by discord and accusations of corruption. Ultimately, Gandara pleaded guilty to a a felony conspiracy charge.
During the Gandara years, the Coxes lent support to him through public appearances or, in the case of Supervisor Cox, a quote to a Gandara op-ed piece in Star News praising Proposition O implementation.
When Gandara was sent packing, former superintendent Ed Brand returned. His regime, like Gandara’s, was plagued with problems — most notably boardroom strife and controversial real estate deals. Yet, Mayor Cox was silent.
In her February address she explained: “I’ve repeatedly been asked to intervene; however, a mayor’s jurisdiction in our schools is limited, so until now, I have purposefully abstained.” Then Cox put in appearances at a Sweetwater Proposition O bond oversight meeting and two board meetings.
She also held “community conversations” on “preparing for future leadership.” She asked invitees to respond to questions such as: “If you were to ask Sweetwater board candidates two questions to gauge their ability to effectively serve as trustee of the district, what would they be?
An April Star News article states, “She [Mayor Cox] said the upcoming general election will be the time for voters in the South Bay to elect the right board members.”
Then she and county supervisor Cox publicly endorsed O’Neill and Schaaf.
Dave Grylls is a Sweetwater parent who has met with superintendents and attended school board meetings to express concerns about district issues.
On October 20, Grylls said that he hates to see this election getting “muddled by politicking. We aren’t interested in people who are going to be elected and then come in and do a slam dunk for a superintendent. We have enough nepotism and cronyism in our city.”
On October 21, Fran Brinkman said she and several others have been fighting Sweetwater corruption for six years. “We studied every agenda and went to every board meeting and questioned everything that needed to be questioned. We were the whistleblowers and we did this for the Sweetwater students.”
Brinkman said she put in a request to the district three weeks ago to start a superintendent search.
“I believe we need a superintendent who will come in from the outside with fresh eyes to do the business of the people,” said Brinkman. “We need someone who doesn’t have any personal relationships with anyone in the district and who is not politically entangled.”