At the outset, I want to make this clear this is not about Alan Fernandes. In fact, I would give Mr. Fernandes credit here, there was no reason that he had to run for reelection in the two-year seat when he could have run as an incumbent for four years.
But we could see this coming when the appointment process began. Whoever was appointed by the DJUSD School Board to a two-year seat to serve the remainder of the term that Nancy Peterson abandoned when she resigned would have a tremendous advantage in running for reelection.
The rules for filling a vacancy are a bit arcane. The school district is obligated to either fill a seat within 60 days or set a special election. Given that elections are expensive, no one reasonably could have expected them to do anything but appoint a replacement.
But here is where things get tricky. State law dictates that the person appointed face election at the next general election. It so happened that in November there were three seats up for election and we now know that none of the incumbents are going to run for those three seats – meaning that there are now three open seats.
Now, if you’re a candidate running for office, what do you do? Do you run for the two-year seat where there is already an appointed incumbent – a candidate who would have been very strong in his own right had he simply put his name in to run for the four-year seat with no appointment? Or do you run for a longer term seat where there are three open seats?
Naturally, at least so far, everyone has done the logical thing for themselves – they are running for the four-year seat and Alan Fernandes is likely to get a free ride here.
All of this was entirely predictable before the appointment was made. In fact, the Vanguard wrote about this eventuality.
Well, you say, how could the school board have avoided the potential for their appointment to turn into a two and a half year anointment? They actually had several options. Alan Fernandes, prior to the appointment process, told me that regardless of what happened he would run for the two-year seat. Now, he kept his promise, but when they appointed him, it actually nullified the majority of the benefit, because now we are stuck in the situation where no one is going to challenge him for the two-year seat.
The other option would have been to appoint someone who would be willing to serve for six months and not seek reelection. Depending on what you think of BJ Kline, a former school board member who was defeated interestingly enough by Tim Taylor, Gina Daleiden and Sheila Allen way back in 2005, he was such an option.
He was familiar with the school district but stated he would not seek reelection.
The school board could have, in fact, appointed someone who pledged not to run again. That would have left another open seat for November, someone would have run for it and the voters would have a real choice.
I understand that the school board probably had a number of good reasons not to make that call. They probably wanted to fill someone in that seat who would run beyond November and begin to help re-shape district policies. But the problem is that Alan Fernandes, who did run for election two years ago, will have been appointed to his seat and then will run unopposed. That’s not a good recipe for accountability.
The school district took a bit hit earlier this year when the Nancy Peterson scandal exposed a lot of district policies, and a school board that was very slow to respond to what was a small issue in spring 2013 but snowballed into a major crisis by February 2014.
A lot of people have expressed concern about the way the school board has conducted itself. They were dissatisfied with the appeal process and the seeming discrepancy between upholding the appeal in a major showdown, and then the relatively minor slap on the wrist given the volleyball coach.
It was a serious enough crisis that one school board member was forced to resign while another finished a distant fourth when she ran for city council. Prior to the scandal, Sheila Allen was considered a prohibitive favorite for city council.
Given that backdrop, the school board needs a clean and fresh start. And they will largely get it, as Susan Lovenburg will be the only holdover from the Nancy Peterson school board.
Again, this is not about Alan Fernandes, an eminently qualified candidate in his own right, but about process. For a school board coming forward from a crisis, the last thing they need is the anointment of one of their colleagues, particularly when the problem was foreseeable.
—David M. Greenwald reporting