The TUSD Governing Board unknowingly hired Board President Adelita Grijalva’s mother-in-law to serve as the principal of Myers/Ganoung Elementary School last month.
Grijalva recused herself from the vote, which led to unanimous appointment of Olga Gómez. But Grijalva did not tell the rest of the board about the relationship, saying Monday that she wanted the hiring to be based on her mother-in-law’s merit.
“I didn’t know that she applied until she was a finalist,” Grijalva said. “She didn’t want me to know. She wanted a fair and impartial process.”
While Grijalva says she couldn’t have influenced the process even if she had known in advance, she elected not to tell her fellow board members out of fear that some would vote against Gómez simply because they are related. “I was concerned she wouldn’t get a fair shot,” Grijalva said.
Grijalva did not participate in the executive session discussion about the hiring and only warned board Clerk Kristel Foster, saying she wanted Foster to understand why she was leaving the dais for that vote.
Grijalva said she does not regret the decision, noting she technically could have voted on the appointment as board members are only prohibited from hiring spouses.
“I could have voted, but I wanted it to be based on her interviewing and her record,” Grijalva said. “I figured people would find out, but I hoped it would be later so she would have time to work and not be scrutinized. I didn’t want her to deal with the label of being my mother-in-law.”
TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez does not have a problem with hiring Gómez or Grijalva’s decision to withhold the information, saying Gómez was the most qualified candidate .
“I didn’t find any instance in which she tried to use her name as an advantage,” Sanchez said of Gómez. “She went through the process as a candidate and made it to the end on her merit. That’s how it should be.”
The only time Gómez did mention her connection to Grijalva was in an interview with Sanchez at the end of the process.
“I told her that it wasn’t my intent to reveal that to anyone because I didn’t want it to be seen as an advantage for her,” he said.
Sanchez also sought legal advice and was told that policy did not prohibit the hiring, and that revealing the information could have put the district in legal trouble had Gómez not gotten the job.
“If it’s a non-issue, to put it out there and make it an issue puts me in a position of being liable to a person who says, ‘I could have had the job but you put this out there and it’s a non-factor and it’s allowable by policy.’ ”
TUSD Governing Board Member Mark Stegeman voiced concern about Grijalva’s decision not to make the connection public.
“Possible conflicts of interest should be disclosed when reasonable people could suspect that they are affecting decisions,” Stegeman said Tuesday in a constituent letter. “Hiding such information predictably creates the impression that the decisions would not survive scrutiny.”
Gómez is coming to TUSD after serving as principal of Palominas Elementary School in Hereford. The Sierra Vista Herald reported Gómez decided to make the move to Tucson to be near family.