By Jose J. Granda
What is the biggest lesson we should take away from the Peterson scandal from last winter and what steps would you take as a school board member to prevent its recurrence in the future?
I think the biggest lesson is that School Board members need to recognize when they have a conflict of interest whether it is in their actions, their beliefs, their campaigns or their own agendas. The position of School Board trustee should never be used to advance personal beliefs or favor family members or friends. Nancy Peterson’s biggest problem was that failure to recognize a conflict of interest of her beliefs regarding volleyball coaching and their relation to her own personal feelings towards the coach in a situation which involved Nancy’s daughter. On the other hand I understand her feelings as a mother which in this case got mixed with her position as a trustee.
We have a situation in this race with similar potential conflict of interest. Everyone seems to think Madhavi Sunder or Barbara Archer can do no wrong. That needs to be explored with a magnifying glass. Madhavi Sunder wrote an article 10/14/2014 in the Vanguard entitled: “Respect for All in Davis Classrooms“. For the record, I agree with her that discrimination, racism and bullying are wrong against anyone and should never be tolerated in schools, and all children need to find in school a safe place. However on close examination of her article I see a conflict of interest that she fails to recognize. She starts the article saying:
“Schools must be safe spaces for children of all races, and for LGBT children. As School Board Trustee, I will work to my utmost to ensure that all our children feel valued and respected. While Davis is a wonderful community and I feel lucky to raise my children here, we are hardly immune from issues of racism and homophobia. We live in a country and a world where racism and homophobia sadly persist.”
By LGBT children she means Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual and Transgender children. For the record I also am against any discrimination against these groups. However, Madhavi uses the word “homophobia.” The problem here is that she fails to see that calling anyone a homophobic is equally discriminatory against those children who hold religious beliefs that homosexuality is wrong. If you take 10 children of any classroom in Davis, at least 7 belong to groups like Catholics, Christians, Muslims and Mormons. Are the beliefs and values of these children also to be respected, included, and not ridiculed by calling them homophobic? Injecting an issue so private to these children and making it a public discussion in a classroom, I am not sure falls in the duties of a trustee as she clearly indicates she intends to use her position as a trustee to impose her beliefs in this area. I do not think I am misinterpreting her article because in another part she states:
‘If elected to the Davis School Board I would support safe, inclusive environments that promote engagement and learning for all students.”
Note the use of the words “support” and “inclusive”. Does this include support and inclusion of Catholics, Christians, Muslims and Mormons?
“8) Offer diverse images. We must ensure that students of color and LGBT students see themselves reflected in the school curriculum, in the people we celebrate through naming, and in the images that they see around them.”
Clearly these statements have Madhavi telling the public that she intends to use her position as a trustee to promote her own personal beliefs on the subject. When she states that Lesbian, Gays, Bisexual and Transgender students should see themselves “reflected in the school curriculum”, I believe she has gone overboard. I respect what Madhavi believes but her position as a trustee is not the place to trample the personal beliefs of others.
Madhavi fails to see other conflicts of interest in her campaign. Raising thousands of dollars for the campaign from outside the district and injecting the Democratic Party in a nonpartisan race, does not give a comfortable feeling that this campaign is local and nonpartisan. Moreover there is a grave situation when in her mailer distributed to homes in Davis she lists the endorsement of the County Clerk, Freddy Oakley. For those of you who may be wondering what is the issue here: Freddy Oakley is in charge of counting the votes for Madhavi Sunder and for other School Board candidates including me. If the person in charge of the vote count endorses one of the candidates she has violated the public trust on the fairness of the election and has put that count under scrutiny for fraud. Madhavi sees no wrong in listing the County Clerk as endorsing her, the very person who will count the votes in this election. I do not deny Ms. Oakley her right to pick and to vote for whomever she wants, but using her position as County Clerk to promote one of the candidates is also a conflict of interest for her. For Madhavi to accept that favor from the County Clerk raises serious questions.
Barbara Archer also has a conflict of interest regarding the parcel taxes. She has co-chaired the campaign in favor of Measure C and she has every right to do so because that is what she believes. However at the same time she has been a member of the Parcel Tax Oversight Committee for measures C, E and A that evaluates the use of those funds. The evaluation has to be done by someone impartial, independent, not by those who campaigned to pass the measures; otherwise there is no credibility in such evaluation. If she is elected, would she still continue in that position? She has been silent on this issue.
What do I suggest we do in the future? School Board trustees should reflect on the lesson we learned from the Nancy Peterson ordeal: conflicts of interest should be avoided at all cost, regardless of what the issue is or how dear some beliefs are to them.
If I am elected, I will quickly point out conflicts of interest that potentially may carry us down the wrong path. I will excuse myself from any issue that has the slightest color of conflict of interest. For this reason and before the election, I invite all candidates to reflect on this and take steps to separate their interests from the position of a trustee whose duty is to represent all Davis voters, including me..!