LBUSD To Hold Special Election for District 1 Board Trustee Vacancy

Los Banos Talk

On April 15, 2021 the Los Banos Unified School District board of trustees held a special public meeting to appoint a candidate to fill the vacancy left by Anahi Rodriguez, who resigned because she moved to a new home outside of district 1. Four candidates applied for the vacancy, Dennis Areias, Justin Collins, Alma Fabian, and Gene Lieb. The candidates submitted written applications as well as sat through an interview process held the evening of April 15. Candidates were asked a total of 6 questions, one per board member, and had a total of 20 minutes to answer all questions. You can see a side by side comparison of the interview questions and answers here.

After the candidates were interviewed the board proceeded to the deliberation phase of the process. Trustee Marlene Smith immediately motioned to nominate Dennis Areias to the position. President Ray Martinez informed her that this was the deliberation phase and was looking for comments and opinions on candidates and was not yet looking for a motion to nominate a particular candidate at that time. Trustee Smith proceeded to talk about how she felt Dennis Areias was a strong candidate and cited the fact that he had over 20 years of experience serving on the board and has worked with him in the past for several years. Next Trustee Anthony Parreira went on to talk about Areias' past experience, fiscal prudence, and knowledge regarding construction projects. Trustee Marg Benton also spoke highly of Dennis Areias and how she felt he was a strong candidate and brings experience to the table.

Trustee Jessica Muran stated that she felt it wasn't acceptable that lack of prior experince serving on the board was being held against a candidate, pointing out she was new to the board herself, and that she was going by her notes and the applications. She then went on to say that she felt Alma Fabian was the best candidate. Trustee Gary Munoz also stated Alma Fabian was his choice, after stating that he felt the candidates had a "personal agenda", and liked Fabian for her experience as a teacher. Board President and Trustee Ray Martinez expressed his support as well for Alma Fabian.

Several rounds of voting were held then after in which Dennis Areias was nominated and recieved 3 yes votes and 3 no votes. The yes votes coming from Smith, Benton, and Parreira, and the no votes coming from Martinez, Munoz, and Muran. Also several attempts to nominate Alma Fabian also failed with 3 yes votes and 3 no votes, with Martinez, Munoz, and Muran voting yes, and Smith, Benton, and Parreira voting no. This went back and forth for several minutes, until deliberations seemed to reopen and Trustee Munoz and Martinez listed their candidate prefrences as 1. Alma Fabian and 2. as Gene Lieb. At that point Trustee Parreira attempted to nominate Gene Lieb as a compromise candidate, but also recieved 3 yes votes and 3 no votes, the yes votes being Smith, Benton, and Parreira, and the no votes coming from Martinez, Munoz, and Muran. Trustee Parreira at one point tried to argue that by saying a candidate is someone's second choice is a vote for that candidate i.e. trustees have two votes, in order to pass Gene Lieb, but President Martinez argued, no, that the rules are clear each trustee gets one vote not two, and the yes and no votes are the only votes that matter.

Trustee Benton then nominates Justin Collins, which is seconded by Trustee Parreira. Collins recieves 2 yes votes and 4 no votes. The yes votes being Parreira and Benton, and the no votes being Smith, Muran, Munoz, and Martinez. At this point Collins now had the most no votes of any candidates, and President Martinez announces that he is eliminated from the process. This then left 3 candidates, who were Dennis Areias, Alma Fabian, and Gene Lieb.

This is the point in the deliberation process in where things arguably turn unproffesional and questionably unethical. Candidate Dennis Areias interjects during the interview and asks if the candidates can vote to break the tie. President Martinez reminds him that candidates are not allowed to speak during deliberations. Trustee Munoz then says a few times that Areias should be "kicked off the zoom meeting". The focus shifts from Areias and Fabian and goes to Lieb and Fabian. Some time there after, Dennis Areias leaves the zoom call and building. Trustee Muran asks, "Where is Dennis?", secretary Tina checks on his whereabouts and confirms he has left. At that time President Martinez announces that Areias has effectively withdrew himself from the process. This seemed to leave many in confusion as to what the rules for candidates were, and as a candidate myself, I can say that I was never instructed as to wether I can or cannot speak during the deliberation, but I knew that I should not from prior knowledge. I was also not informed that if I left I would be withdrawing my application either. I cannot speak for the other candidates but if it was part of the process, I as a candidate myself was not told such.

Things go from bad to worse as the 3 to 3 tie between Lieb and Fabian continues back and forth for several more minutes, and trustees can be seen becoming increasingly frustrated and increasingly antagonistic of one another. Trustee Muran, Martinez, and Munoz can all be seen several times texting during the deliberations and even reading arguments in favor of Alma Fabian from their phone into the meeting. The constant phone ringing gets disruptive and at one point Trustee Benton yells at Trustee Munoz to "get off the phone". Martinez and Munoz continue to mispronounce candidate Gene Lieb's last name even after being corrected several times. President Martinez threatens to silence or mute Trustee Parreira, at which point Parreira reminds him that he cannot do that.

Trustee Benton at one point asks candidate Alma Fabian if she can make it to a 2 o' clock meeting, and when Alma doesn't resopond says, "I still didn't get an answer". Trustee Muran points out that asking a candidate a different question than everyone else is unfair, and additionally the interview period was over. This took place after Dennis Areias had been seemingly eliminated for speaking during the deliberation, and its possible Trustee Benton was trying to essentially trick Alma Fabian into eliminating herself.

Trustees on both sides began talking about experience of the candidates. It was somewhat ironic that Trustee Parreira and Smith, both former educators were downplaying the relevance of a teaching background, while Trustee Martinez, Munoz, and Muran, none of which have a teaching background, were elevating teaching experience to most relevant. The idea of diversity was brough up, by Trustee Parreira, expressing that we wouldn't want a board consisting of only educators and that Gene as a reporter brings something different. President Martinez then went on to add that when talking about diversity the demographics of district 1 are over 80% hispanic and that a trustee representing that district should be also hispanic. Trustee Parreira told him that he was "on the verge of being out of line", because race should not be a factor in selecting a trustee. It got rather quiet after that, and then the subject of conversation moved to special election.

President Martinez said while a special election is expensive and would cost the district about $30,000, it is still an option. Trustee Parreira said that he felt the board was breaking their promise to the district by not appointing someone. They then moved to adjourn the meeting, which meant that no candidate was appointed and that a special election would be held.

Some things were made clear by watching the meeting. The board is evenly split between two controlling local political factions. Trustees Martinez, Munoz, and Muran are part of the same local unofficial community political organization and Tustees Benton, Parreira, and Smith are also politically aligned. Alma Fabian was the candidate backed by Martinez's political organization, and they were not going to vote for anyone else. The other side preffered Dennis Areias, but would have voted for a ham sandwich if it meant the other side didn't get a fourth vote. The situation is that each of these groups controls 3 out of 6 of the current votes. That fourth vote is make or break for either side. If Alma Fabian was selected than Ray Martinez would be able to remain as president of the board, and conversely if Areias or Lieb were chosen than Ray Martinezz would be voted out as president and Trustee Anthony Parreira would be voted in as president. This fourth vote determines whose agenda gets advanced, who is in charge, and the ultimate direction of the district as a whole. Neither side felt they could afford to lose it, and as a result unfortunately politics came before our kids. The fact that no one would make any concessions went both ways. One thing that was made painfully obvious was that it wasn't what you know but who you know, and that the interview process was entirely for show. Votes were pre-determined long before the meeting, and you have a right to know that political parties exist in Los Banos at the local level and that the tax payers pay the price for it. In fact, tax payers are about to pay $30,000 dollars for it to be exact this year.

The election will take place this November as the deadline for a summer election has passed. It is not known at this time who the candidates will be, but anyone who lives in district 1, registered to vote, and is over 18 years of age is eligible to run. You don't have to have been one of the candidates in the initial process to run, the election will be open to anyone who meets the basic criteria. The candidates standing in the appointment process etc. has no bearing on an individual's ability to run in the election other than how it effects voter perception of them.

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