October 14, 2013

Jeff Jardine: Endorsements draw anger of some teachers in Riverbank

School board candidate endorsements from Riverbank Teachers Association made it difficult for members to vote at all and forced those who did to vote for a slate, not individual candidates, some teachers claim.

From the emails and voice mails:

CITY OF FACTION When it comes to politics, boards and councils, nothing seems to come easy for the folks in Riverbank.

The Riverbank Teachers Association recently sent out a mailer proclaiming it collectively endorses candidates Patrick Hagan, Susan E. Taylor and former Councilman Charles Neal for the Riverbank Unified School District board in the Nov. 5 election. That brought a wait-one-minute reaction from two teachers who say they represent “a large group of informed teachers from various sites” who renounced the association’s endorsement and suggest the way it was conducted limited the full membership’s ability to participate.

Track and field/cross country coach Monte Wood and basketball coach Jeff Jennings said the endorsement vote involved only 30 out of the association’s 119 teachers, with 17 voting for the endorsement. Normally, they said, union votes are taken at the multiple school sites, enabling teachers to vote before school, on their lunch breaks or after school. This one, they claim, was conducted at the association’s office “on one specific day, after school, and in only a small window of time.”

They claim staff at Riverbank High, the most populated campus, didn’t learn of the endorsement vote until the day it occurred. And they said they were given no advance information about the candidates the association would be recommending.

“When we showed up to vote, we had the option of voting for all three or none,” their letter states. “If we supported Susan Taylor, which we all do, but not Charlie Neal or Patrick Hagan, we had to vote ‘no.’ Why weren’t we given the opportunity to vote for each individual that we believed were best for the positions? The question was posed to the leadership and a clear answer was never given.”

Taylor, in fact, told the union she didn’t want to be endorsed as part of a slate involving Hagan and Neal. Wood and Jennings added that sitting board members Steve Walker and John Mitchell recruited Hagan and Neal to run for the board to regain control. The association endorsed Walker and Mitchell the last time out. Then, after board President Ron Peterson and two others voted to eliminate health benefits for board members, Walker and Mitchell refused to sign off on hiring Peterson’s son as an assistant football coach, which they could do because Peterson had to abstain and left the board without a majority. Then, in an August meeting that Walker failed to attend, Mitchell voted “no” again. When another board member asked him to reconsider, he voted “yes” and then immediately left the meeting.

“We strongly feel that a vote for Patrick Hagan and/or Charlie Neal is a vote for Steve Walker and John Mitchell,” Wood and Jennings wrote.

Teachers Association President Jim Boling didn’t return my message. The phone number for the association office is disconnected, and its Facebook page hasn’t had a new posting since March 27.

The group of teachers led by Wood and Jennings, which Wood said numbers at least 40, plans to send out its own mailer within the next week or so, listing all of the teachers, coaches and support staff who are with them.

TINSELSTOWN SHOWCASE Ryan Koehn, who graduated from Downey High in 2010, Modesto Junior College in 2012 and now is a senior at UC Berkeley, wrote the screenplay for the movie “ Mischief Night,” which will debut Saturday at the Hollywood Film Festival. The movie will compete in the narrative feature category. The movie is set in Modesto on the eve of Halloween, focusing on a teen who hooks up with a group of delinquents that causes problems around town, and things get out of control that particular night.

“I technically wrote the first draft when I was 16 at Downey High,” Koehn said. Three drafts later, working with director Richard Zelniker, it headed for production.

Koehn participated in The Bee’s Teens in the Newsroom program from 2006 to 2010. He writes arts and entertainment stories for the Daily Cal newspaper and is president of the Berkeley chapter of the Delta Kappa Alpha national professional cinema fraternity.

COURT ORDER Smart people love to tell us lesser folks what to do and how to act. But sometimes they presume to tell others – some of whom might be smarter than themselves – to toe the company line.

The selection of the 10th Street site for the new Stanislaus County Courthouse has generated opposition, in part because it has been done out of the public eye and soliciting no public input, and because influential Modestans such as Marie Gallo, retired federal court Judge Frank Damrell and former Supervisor Ray Simon believe it belongs on I Street.

The other site is the Modesto Bee building between H and I and 13th and 14th streets. The Bee sold the building to a group of investors several years ago and merely leases office space there.

As the opposition to the 10th Street selection began to ramp up, Superior Court Judge Jack Jacobson on Sept. 26 emailed the county’s other judges and commissioners. In his missive, he asked that if contacted, they not give their personal opinions about where the courthouse should be located.

“What is most concerning is that a few people can send out misinformation and those who have received that information have not taken the opportunity to contact us to find out if the information being disseminated is true whether they have the relevant facts.”

And there, judge, you just bolstered the point of my Sept.14 column about the secrecy involving government and the courthouse site selection. Only the privileged few get to know the details, when it should be out there for everyone to see. It’s called transparency.

PYRO PUNKS A rash of fires in Keyes, including the torching of a single-wide mobile home Sunday, has authorities looking for a quartet of young arsonists. The crimes range from grass fires to trash fires in alleys to structure fires, Keyes fire engineer Adam Benjamin said.

“We’ll have a couple one day, and we can expect a structure fire that day or the next,” he said.

Witnesses told investigators the culprits are two boys and two girls ranging in ages from 13 to 15, and they reportedly were seen fleeing on bicycles.

“One neighbor caught them on tape,” Benjamin said. The video has been turned over the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department for investigation. Call (209) 634-7690 if you have information about the fires.

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