Steller: Sunnyside politics take a turn to the absurd

2013-08-25T00:00:00Z 2013-08-27T22:17:54Z Steller: Sunnyside politics take a turn to the absurdTim Steller Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

To understand how low Sunnyside school-district politics are sinking, get a load of what the school board president was peddling last week.

President Louie Gonzales and his campaign manager, Marcos Castro, mentioned to me how board member Buck Crouch described himself as a “libertarian anarchist” in an online posting years ago.

Gonzales told me Friday he isn’t sure what that means, but he thinks it might violate the oath Crouch took when he joined the board, so he’s composing a letter reporting Crouch’s views to the Pima County attorney and Arizona attorney general.

Now that’s low.

Sunnyside sank to these depths this week after a second recall effort was launched — one to recall the two board members who make up a minority bloc, Crouch and Daniel Hernandez Jr. Gonzales, the board president who leads the majority bloc, does not try to hide his involvement in that effort — after all it is his campaign manager and brother-in-law, Castro, who is leading it.

This second recall effort came on top of the first one launched weeks ago, attempting to recall Gonzales and new board member Bobby Garcia. Both are part of the three-member majority bloc who voted in June to extend Superintendent Manuel Isquierdo’s contract. Of the five board members, only Eva Dong is not facing a recall — those trying to recall Gonzales and Garcia chose not to target her because she’s up for re-election so soon, in 2014.

But you shouldn’t look at the two recall efforts, throw up your hands and say “a pox on both their houses.” First you need to look at the motives of both groups.

The reason for the first recall effort — the one targeting Garcia and Gonzales — is clear: They voted to extend Isquierdo’s contract against the wishes of many people in the community.

“They galvanized the community by keeping Isquierdo,” said Richard Hernandez, who is leading the effort to recall Gonzales and Garcia.

The reason for the second recall? Well, speaking with Gonzales and Castro on Friday, they gave me a few. Gonzales said he doesn’t like how those involved in recalling him are talking about him and Garcia, accusing him of taking money and other misdeeds.

“If they can go out based on the records and go out and get signatures, there wouldn’t be a problem,” he said. Speaking of one recall leader, Gonzales added: “If he wanted to say, ‘he voted for the superintendent’s contract so I want to recall him’ I’d be OK with that.”

Castro pointed to a couple of other factors, one of which I found legitimate: He said Daniel Hernandez is too often attending board meetings via telephone from other cities.

A reason Castro shared with Star reporter Jamar Younger last week was laughable: “Every time the school board makes a decision, they always have a comment,” Castro said. “If the board approved it, why are they against it?”

But both Castro and Gonzales have coincided on this point: If the people trying to recall Gonzales and Garcia would drop their effort, they would stop the effort to recall Crouch and Hernandez. That, I concluded Friday afternoon, is the fundamental reason for this second recall — leverage.

I concluded that Friday afternoon when walking Sunnyside streets with Richard Hernandez, who is leading the Gonzales and Garcia recall effort, in order to see what kind of response he is getting. The answer: Most everyone is unhappy with the decision to extend Isquierdo’s contract and therefore sympathetic to recalling Gonzales and Garcia.

Resident Johnny Badilla was sitting on his porch, making elaborate scorpion figures out of copper wire, when Hernandez and I approached. He’d already signed the petition, he said. His reason: “They’re backing Isquierdo, and he ain’t done nothing.”

If there is widespread dissatisfaction with the decision to extend Isquierdo’s contract, as it seems there is, then Gonzales and Garcia are at real risk of being recalled. They need some leverage to fight off the recall: Hence, the counter-recall of Crouch and Hernandez.

Gonzales denied that was the reason when we talked on Friday, but he told KVOA earlier in the week: “If they withdraw, we’ll withdraw.”

I get that it doesn’t feel good to have a recall drive launched against you, and that people’s criticisms can be unfair. But I don’t think Gonzales, a socially gifted man who should know better, and Garcia are seeing clearly if they see themselves as victims.

Consider Buck Crouch’s open-meeting law complaint, filed earlier this month. He accused the board majority — Gonzales, Dong and Garcia — of breaking open-meeting law by attending a summit meeting of the district’s administrators in late July. Together, the three of them make a quorum.

I’m not convinced that any laws were broken by their attendance at the ceremonial event because no board business was done. But Crouch’s complaint made clear that Isquierdo and the board majority are ganging up on Hernandez and Crouch, the board minority.

It’s unseemly and, like the recall effort against Crouch and Hernandez, makes the board majority and superintendent look like bullies who are afraid to lose their hold on power.

Contact columnist Tim Steller at tsteller@azstarnet.com or 807-8427. On Twitter: @senyorreporter

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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