If all goes according to plan, next March four of five Sunnyside School Board members could be facing one or more challengers in four separate recall elections as part of a colossally stupid struggle for political control of the school district.
The eye of the political storm is ostensibly district Superintendent Manuel Isquierdo, who is either the actual education reform Superman everyone has been waiting for or a heavy-handed tyrant who suffers from far too many embarrassing pecuniary peccadilloes.
In July, opponents of Isquierdo launched a recall of board members Louis Gonzales and Bobby Garcia. The two, along with Board Member Eva Dong, had voted to renew Isquierdo’s contract in June shortly after he had slinked back to Sunnyside to get his job back when his attempt to become a school district chief in San Antonio went kablooey after the press there reported his varied financial failings.
That filing was followed in August by supporters of Isquierdo taking out recall petitions on board members Buck Crouch and Daniel Hernandez Jr., who had voted against Isquierdo’s contract and who have given tacit, if not explicit support for the recalls of Garcia and Gonzales.
The dueling sides have until November for Garcia and Gonzales and December for Crouch and Hernandez to collect about 1,300 valid signatures against each board member to force them into a recall.
If that happens, then each side will have to recruit candidates to run against each of the recalled members. Each election is separate, so, for instance, if no candidate steps forward to run against Gonzales, then he automatically wins his recall election and is retained.
Rounding up four people to run against each of the recalled will be difficult, raising the possibility that one or more, or perhaps all could be recalled but not face any opponents, which would make the whole expensive endeavor pointless.
Which it is anyway.
Any state or local elected official in Arizona can be recalled for any reason. The reason the law is that broad is because what amounts to a “good” reason to recall an elected official should be left up to voters.
But the recall process is too often abused in Arizona when bickering factions in a community use it to punish their opponents. It shouldn’t be a tool for petulant voters who ball up their little fists and stomp their feet every time an elected official votes for a policy they don’t like.
That’s what general elections are for.
Recall should be used rarely and only when an elected official has acted in ways deleterious to the elected body and the constituency the official serves, either through malfeasance, misfeasance, corruption or abusive or outrageous behavior.
None of the four SUSD board members have been accused of any improper behavior. They happened to vote for or against the renewal of the Superintendent’s contract.
That’s what you call democracy. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t.
If you don’t like the result of the Superintendent vote, there’s going to be a regular board election next year. Round up some candidates and start campaigning.
But there’s more to this than just a dispute over Isquierdo. Sunnyside’s school board has been a revolving door for more than10 years.
It’s telling that Dong isn’t a target for recall despite her strong support for Isquierdo. The only constant on the board has been Dong, who won her first SUSD election in 1998. In her 14 years on the board, nearly a dozen people have sat next to her on the dais, coming and going by various means and for various reasons.
This dispute is as much about board members not liking each other as it is about whether the bankrupt superintendent of a poor school district should be paid $300,000 a year.
Isquierdo might be the eye of the storm, but the storm has roiled SUSD for years, long before he was hired in 2007.
The warring factions would better serve the district by putting an end to these petty recall efforts, agree to disagree over the superintendent, and attempt to find common ground solving the district’s many other problems.
If you want to change the district’s leadership, wait until next November. Save recall for when you really need it.