Time is a finite commodity and spending it one way takes it away from something else. When Santa Clara Unified School District board meetings are diverted, as they have been in recent years, into long-winded discussions ranging from adding librarians and grades at schools that haven’t asked for them to harangues about the district’s alleged racism, important things haven’t gotten done.
One of them is the appointment of an “advisory oversight committee” for the 2012 Measure A parcel tax. State law mandates oversight committees for general obligation bonds and parcel taxes, ensuring money is spent for what voters approved.
But at the Nov.13 meeting, not everyone shared the sense of urgency that might be expected about tardiness in conforming to state law. It was, said Trustee Christopher Stampolis, an opportunity for starting from scratch to define the mission and makeup of bond oversight committees
“This parcel tax gives us [the chance for] a lot of creativity,” he said. “That advisory committee gives us a lot more control than the oversight committee … we’re talking about getting input on the front end about how that money is going to be spent.” Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Mark Allgire pointed out the description was the district’s standard bond oversight committee description.
The creativity Stampolis sought was changing the word “shall” to “may” with regard to the number of committee members and the representation of specific constituencies. This kind of discussion could easily drag the committee appointment into 2016 – potentially, a useful campaign issue.
The potential for turning a public function into a partisan opportunity was clear to Trustee Andrew Ratermann. It would launch a wrangle about “who gets the decision of what the maze is going to be,” said Ratermann. “If we change all the ‘shalls’ to ‘mays,’ then who’s going to decide how many members are on it? Who makes the decision? This is clean. It’s a copy of what’s already existing in law.”
Trustee Ina Bendis was concerned that if there were only seven members, what would happen if some drop out? More members would, she said, ensure “enough diversity to give an intelligent opinion.” (All district oversight committees have seven members, and to date no one has presented evidence that their decisions have been less than intelligent.)
Stampolis moved to approve the item, following with an amendment to “strip out the first line on page 2 … [and] just start ‘committee membership may include,’ and then… the next five the ‘shalls’ will be changed to “may” … and change it from seven … to no more than 11.” Then Bendis asked to separate it into two motions – one about the number and the second about the make up.
“This is getting so complicated, I just want to vote ‘no,'” said Trustee Christine Koltermann, whose patience with this kind of parliamentary gamesmanship has gotten progressively shorter over the last year. Koltermann wasn’t the only one whose patience was being tried. “The evening rolls on, and things twist and turn and change, so I’ll vote no,” Trustee Jim Canova said.
“I would like to have people vote ‘yes’ so people can vote their conscience,” said Stampolis. In the end, there was no second for separating the items. Stampolis’ amendment was voted down and the original item approved, both by a 6-1 vote.
The Nov. 13 discussion about bond oversight committee appointments is actually a continuation of a dispute going back to the summer of 2012 about Measure J oversight committee appointments.
Stampolis was running for the SCUSD board at the time and criticized the appointments of Mohammad Nadeem and Patricia Flot (a former board president with whom Stampolis’ friend Trustee Ina Bendis had frequently butted heads, and who, rumor had it, intended to run for retiring Trustee Don Bordenave’s seat against Stampolis).
“In terms of the competence of the outreach for these appointments, I think the board would want to take a look at these details,” he said in 2012. “One of the goals the board has is diversity. There are no Latinos on either of these two boards … I don’t know what kind of professional marketing outreach was conducted.”
Bendis then asked for a separate vote on each of the two appointments (oversight committees are usually appointed as a whole), on the grounds that “issues that have been raised by the public.” This didn’t fly, and the committee was appointed
This was followed by Bendis’ police complaint that Flot, seven months earlier, had threatened to “shoot” her – sworn to by Koltermann and then-candidate Michele Ryan. The police dismissed the complaint, but Flot subsequently resigned from the committee.