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