Residents were fuming Thursday evening after Trustee Dennis Areias said a lack of quorum of the Los Banos Unified School District Board meant a special meeting to discuss a possible censure of Trustee Tommy Jones, who faces criminal charges of bribery, would not happen.
Jones and Trustees Marlene Smith, Ray Martinez and Carole Duffy did not attend the board meeting, resulting in a lack of quorum with just Areias, board President Anthony Parreira and Trustee Dominic Falasco in attendance.
One resident told the crowd of more than 50 people that, earlier in the day, a statement criticizing the meeting and declaring the board would lack a quorum was delivered to the district office and Parreira by Baldo Salcido, a member of a local group known as the Community Advocacy Coalition.
Salcido, who was in attendance, immediately exited the door to the board meeting, invoking calls from the crowd to explain why four board members didn’t show.
“Baldo, where are you going?” one resident shouted. Another person taunted, “Why are you leaving now, sir? Getting a little hot in here for you?” Salcido and two other members of the coalition didn’t answer as they walked toward the parking lot.
Salcido later told the Enterprise he left because the meeting was over. But Parreira, Areias and Falasco nevertheless made themselves available for a 30-minute public discussion.
The coalition and the possible removal of the four absent board members were the focus of comments.
The problems facing the school board, including the corruption charges leveled against Jones, “didn’t happen overnight,” said teacher Kathy Davis. “We can’t sit back and be quiet about this.”
Resident Carmella Smith said she has had to start paying attention to the school board again after a long time because now she has great-grandchildren attending.
“I don’t like the effect these (absent trustees) will have on them,” she said.
The discussion ignited a unity among the close to 40 people attending to support specific candidates to replace Jones and Duffy, whose seats are up for re-election.
Statement predicts no quorum
Those in attendance talked about the coalition’s influence on the board, including
the recent swearing in of Martinez, who claimed to be a co-founder of the coalition.
Salcido, who speaks for the coalition, has written letters to the editor of the Enterprise supporting Jones, Duffy and Smith.
The anonymous statement, which Salcido handed to the school district and the Enterprise Thursday morning, criticized the planned special meeting set to start at 5:30 p.m.
The statement said the special meeting would not have a quorum of the seven board members. It criticized the “hastily called” meeting as being motivated by politics and “scheduled on unduly short notice and unilaterally by the board president.”
Parreira last week had called the special meeting because he wanted to address public concerns about Jones’ arrest on corruption charges.
Jones has been accused of bribing another trustee to vote in favor of contractor Greg Opinski for the Mercey Springs Elementary School expansion project.
The statement said “members of the board believe that the proposed censure of board member Tommy Jones would be unprecedented in that it is based only on an accusation and not any legal finding of wrongdoing or impropriety.”
The statement goes on to state that a proposed censure is an important matter that should be discussed at a meeting all members can attend.
Earlier on Thursday, Parreira said Falasco and Areias confirmed they would attend the meeting, along with himself. He said he or the school district had received notices from Duffy, Martinez, Jones and Smith that they would not attend.
Smith told the Enterprise Thursday afternoon that she already had a personal arrangement scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Parreira said Duffy indicated that she had a doctor’s appointment at that time.
Martinez told the Enterprise he is helping conduct services at his church because a pastor was absent. Parreira said Jones reported he was out of town.
Who wrote the statement?
It’s not clear who drafted the statement criticizing the special meeting. Those in attendance speculated the author was one of the four absent trustees and may have violated the state’s opening meetings law by privately conferring with three other board members.
Parreira said he planned to take the statement to the Merced County District Attorney’s office Friday morning to inquire about any violations.
Speaking with the Sun-Star on Friday, District Attorney Larry Morse II said he is willing to listen to any concerns on the subject.
“If someone makes a complaint regarding possible Brown Act violations in connection with (Thursday’s) meeting and can provide us with information, we’d take a look at it,” Morse said in a telephone interview.
The unsigned letter had a file name of “jones-press release (5).” Salcido has told the Enterprise and Merced Sun-Star in the past that he has a close friendship with Jones.
But in an interview after the public gathering, Salcido told the Enterprise that he doesn’t know who sent him the letter and that he simply complied with an attached directive to distribute it to Superintendent Dean Bubar and Parreira. Salcido said he made the decision to also send it to the Enterprise.
“It was dropped off at my house,” Salcido said. “It asked for dissemination, so I did.”
Salcido also said he believes the trustees attending Thursday’s meeting may have held an illegal meeting by discussing school district topics despite the lack of a quorum.
Parreira said the tone of the last paragraph of the statement sounded like a perspective coming from the school district, but it wasn’t official.
It reads, “The issues pertaining to Board Member Jones … will be considered at a future meeting, at which all board members may attend, all pertinent agenda items may be considered and all necessary investigation and findings are available.”
Parreira said the agenda for the board’s Oct. 13 meeting would include discussion of a possible censure of Jones. Residents Thursday said, in the meantime, they needed to pool together to vote Jones out of office in November.
“We have a group of energized people now,” said resident and former board member Aaron Barcellos.
Vikaas Shanker: 209-826-3831, ext. 6562