Should trustees that be­tray pub­lic trust have their pho­tos on of­fi­cial dis­play?

Ripon Bulletin - - Local/state/opinion -

Editor, Man­teca Bul­letin, Al­though I re­al­ize that, to many peo­ple who are busy with their lives, work, and fam­ily, the de­bate whether a for­mer school board mem­ber’s photo should or should not be dis­played at the Man­teca Uni­fied School District of­fice is of lit­tle con­cern to them, I want to pro­vide a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive from Dennis Wy­att’s coun­cil, “Sam Fant: Mug shots & head shots”. We are all en­ti­tled, of course, to ex­press our own opin­ions, but some of the as­ser­tions and ar­gu­ments un­der­ly­ing Wy­att’s opin­ion are flawed. Wy­att as­serts that “the photo gallery ex­ists to ac­knowl­edge the his­tory of the ser­vice of those who have served on the Man­teca Uni­fied for the last 51 years”. If the sole pur­pose of the photo gallery was sim­ply to pro­vide a his­tory of trustee ser­vice, then the pic­ture of any­one who served on the MUSD school board should be dis­played, in­clud­ing Ash­ley Drain, Alexan­der Bron­son, Sam Fant, and the 90s era trustee whose photo was re­moved. Drain and Bron­son, al­though nei­ther com­pleted their full term, did serve on the school board, voted and made pol­icy de­ci­sions.

So what, ex­actly, is the cri­te­ria for hav­ing one’s photo dis­played or re­moved? Wy­att sug­gests that, since Drain and Bron­son ap­par­ently “used fraud­u­lent means to get elected there­fore they never met the le­gal cri­te­ria to be elected”, this dis­qual­i­fies them from hav­ing a place in the photo gallery. His cri­te­ria for the gallery is “trustees who legally could serve and did serve”. He opines that re­moval of the photo of any trustee who meets this cri­te­ria is “re­vis­ing his­tory”. If we fol­low Wy­att’s logic, the pho­tos of Fant and the 90s era trustee should re­main, de­spite the fact that one was con­victed of a se­ri­ous crime that Wy­att de­scribes as “heinous” and the other “pled no con­test to felony charges that he com­mit­ted voter fraud”. Wy­att’s cri­te­ria stands in stark con­trast to the school board trustees who seem to not only ex­pect a board mem­ber to be le­git­i­mately elected, with­out com­mit­ting voter fraud, but also not to be sen­tenced for any felony. To me, the board’s po­si­tion is a real­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tion and fair stan­dard. Wy­att points out that “there is no writ­ten pol­icy about whose photo gets hung” out­side the board room. If this is ac­cu­rate, the board should clar­ify and cod­ify its in­for­mal po­si­tion. A clear, con­sis­tent pol­icy is im­por­tant.

The rea­son I be­lieve this has to do with how I see the pur­pose of the trustees’ photo dis­plays at the district of­fice. The pic­tures don’t just rep­re­sent a his­tory les­son or a stroll down mem­ory lane, they honor the com­mit­ment of board trustees and cel­e­brate them as role mod­els and ad­mirable ex­am­ples of pub­lic ser­vice. When some trustees, through ques­tion­able or dis­rep­utable ac­tions of their own choice, dis­honor this ser­vice that they took an oath to up­hold, why should their pic­tures con­tinue to be dis­played? Re­moval of such pic­tures is not an at­tempt, as Wy­att claims, at “re­vis­ing his­tory’ or “to al­ter his­tory to re­move the warts cleans­ing it of all traces of those deemed to have done “bad” in fa­vor of those who meet the of­fi­cial stan­dard of good”. I would agree with Wy­att’s stance if ev­ery trace of a board trustee was ex­punged or oblit­er­ated from all of­fi­cial records. But that is not the case. We can’t undo or erase the votes or pol­icy de­ci­sions th­ese trustees made when they served. Their votes, ac­tions, and de­ci­sions are all part of pub­lic records, as well as cov­ered in news­pa­per re­ports. Th­ese trustees are not be­ing san­i­tized out of ex­is­tence. But to al­low their pic­tures to “rub shoul­ders” with the pho­tos of those trustees who hon­ored their com­mit­ment to serve the school district to the best of their abil­i­ties and to up­hold the pil­lars of char­ac­ter the district sets forth for both stu­dents and staff, seems in­con­gru­ous or out of place, at best, and a dis­re­spect­ful mock­ery of ded­i­cated trustees, at worst.

As Wy­att cor­rectly notes, “Fant — just like his for­mer col­leagues — has the ca­pac­ity for good and bad”. We all do. All of us have our strengths and our flaws. But this is­sue is not, as Wy­att seems to im­ply, some kind of per­sonal grudge against Fant or cherry pick­ing of the facts by those who may not view him fa­vor­ably. It is not a pop­u­lar­ity con­test, but a de­lin­eation of right and wrong. It ul­ti­mately boils down to a very sim­ple ques­tion — Should trustees who be­tray the pub­lic’s trust, use un­der­handed meth­ods, or vi­o­late the law, en­joy the priv­i­lege of a pub­lic dis­play of their pho­tos on a gallery wall meant to honor trustee ser­vice? I don’t think so.

Karen Pearsall Man­teca

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