Former board members got send off during November 16 meeting before term ended, also without being on agenda
By Allen Payton
The new members of the Antioch School Board, Crystal Sawyer-White and Gary Hack, along with Diane Gibson-Gray who was re-elected to a third term in November, took their oaths of office, this week. But, not when they were supposed to according to Wednesday night’s board meeting agenda.
The oaths were scheduled for 7:00 p.m. at the beginning of the board’s regular meeting, but Hack, who the voters returned to the board after having lost his re-election bid in 2014, and Gibson-Gray were sworn in on Tuesday, according to Superintendent Stephanie Anello. She said Hack thought he was going to have a scheduling conflict.
Sawyer-White, who received the most votes in the school board race in the November election, was given her oath by County Supervisor Federal Glover at 6:00 p.m. prior to the board’s previously scheduled closed session. Only her husband Casper and a few others were in attendance.
When asked if the public or media was informed of the change in schedule for the oaths of office for the new and returning board members, and why it wasn’t on the agenda for 6:00 p.m., Anello stated, “We don’t have to.” She later said her answer was in response to not having “it on the agenda prior to closed session, not about informing the media.”
Asked when Sawyer-White’s oath ceremony had been rescheduled after the meeting agenda was published on Friday, December 10th, Anello said she would respond later today. Sawyer-White said “Nancy (Stephanie’s Admin)…asked if I could be sworn in at 5:45 with Stephanie. I preferred Federal Glover and we decided 6:00 p.m. after all the confusion.”
Asked again about when the change in scheduling of her oath ceremony occurred, Sawyer-White responded, “I am not sure which day. Nancy would know. Nancy sent out all the emails.”
When contacted about the matter, Nancy Belleci, Senior Executive Assistant for Anello, did not respond.
UPDATE 1: However, Anello did respond, Thursday afternoon, as she said she would.
“We sent an email to all three incoming Board Members approximately a week ago stating that they would need to be sworn in prior to Closed Session Wednesday night which was scheduled for 6:20 pm. We figured that 6:00 pm would be enough time for all three to be sworn in,” she said. “Tuesday, both Gary and Diane asked if I could administer the oath that day rather than prior to Wednesday’s meeting.”
“We then contacted Crystal to let her know that if it was more convenient for her to come at 6:15 pm. we could administer the oath then as Gary and Diane had already been sworn in,” Anello continued. “She said she needed to come at 6:00 pm since Federal Glover was swearing her in and he had another commitment.”
“The ceremonial oath of office was agendized,” she added. “None of the three Board Members felt they needed to participate in a ceremonial swearing in.”
She was then asked why then did the agenda which was sent out on Friday, two days later, show the oaths of office during the regular meeting that started at 7:00 p.m.
“Because in the past, Board Members wanted to have a second ceremonial swearing in after closed session when more people may be present,” Anello explained. “The three incoming Board Members declined.”
But, that was for a re-enactment ceremony, which is not how the item was listed on the agenda at 7:00 p.m.
The item on the agenda for the regular meeting was listed as a “Ceremonial Oath of Office.”
5. Recall to Open Session – 7:00 PM
A. Reports from Closed Session
B. Flag Salute
C. Ceremonial Oath of Office – Diane Gibson-Gray, Gary Hack, Crystal Sawyer-White
The confusion lay in the use of the term “ceremonial” by Anello and the new board members, to refer to the re-enactment of the actual oaths of office which occurred earlier. There was no oath of office ceremony for the public to be aware of and attend.
Former Board Members’ Farewell
The two former board members who were not elected in November, Fernando Navarro and Alonzo Terry, did not attend Wednesday night’s meeting, as they were given their farewell send-off at the board’s meeting on November 16, according to Anello. However, it wasn’t on that meeting’s agenda for the public to know.
Navarro said he refused to have his photo, which was hanging on the wall inside the district office, given to him that night, since he and Terry were still on the board and continued serving until the new members took their oaths of office. He saw the effort as an attempt to demonstrate that the two of them were no longer on the board, so that they could not vote on the Rocketship Education charter petition at the board’s meeting held on Wednesday, December 7.
Asked if they were going to be recognized at the Wednesday’s meeting, Anello said, “They were recognized by Board Members and myself at our last regularly scheduled meeting.”
Asked if it was on the agenda, she responded, “My administrative assistant sent them an email letting them know that we would be recognizing them at our last regularly scheduled board meeting as we have done for all other outgoing board members in past years. Fernando said it would be inappropriate and that he would come pick up his picture at a later date. He said he spoke for both he and Alonzo. Thus, during my comments I acknowledged and thanked them for their service. Other Board members thanked them during their comments.”
According to Navarro, following the comments made by Walter Ruehlig and Debra Vinson, Gibson-Gray’s was merely, “ditto.”
I’m sorry if it appeared to…Fernando like it was a political move to formally recognize them as we had done in the past in order to send an inferred message of powerlessness,” Anello added. “I can assure you that from my perspective that was absolutely not the case. I didn’t always agree with them — nor they me, but I enjoyed working with them.”
However, Gibson-Gray did make an attempt, as board president at the time, to get Ruehlig and Vinson to join her in swearing in the new board members at the meeting on December 7th, prior to the vote on the Rocketship petition.
While the state Education Code states that terms of school board members end on the first Friday in December after the election, it also states that they serve until the new members are qualified. That has been interpreted to mean when the new members are given their oaths of office.
So, there was no formal, dignified ceremony of the transfer of power by the Antioch School Board as happened last Thursday, by the Antioch City Council. A video of Sawyer-White’s oath of office, taken by her husband Casper, can be viewed on the Antioch Herald’s Facebook page.
UPDATE 2: However, as of Thursday afternoon, Sawyer-White said that new Board Vice President Debra Vinson told her that a ceremony for the new board members and and a re-enactment of the oaths of office will be held Jan. 25th. That was confirmed by new Board President Walter Ruehlig, who wrote via email, “More details to follow.”