Antioch School Board appoints Hispanic businessman as new trustee

Fernando Navarro speaks with the Antioch School Board Members after receiving their unanimous vote for appointment to the board vacancy on Wednesday night, November 4, 2015.

Fernando Navarro speaks with the Antioch School Board Members after receiving their unanimous vote for appointment to the board vacancy, as the other two final round applicants, Julie Young and Alicia Marroquin, as well as Antioch Mayor Wade Harper listen, on Wednesday night, November 4, 2015.

 By Allen Payton

With the field of applicants for the vacancy on the Antioch School Board narrowed down to eight, the Antioch School Board held their interview process at a special meeting, Wednesday night, and ended by appointing small business owner Fernando Navarro as the new trustee.

The appointment is provisional for 30 days, in accordance with the state Education Code, during which members of the public can voice their opinion one way or another, or call for election. If all goes according to plan, Navarro will be given his oath of office at the next regular School Board meeting, after the 30-day period, which will be held on Wednesday, December 16.

The process began with the applicants choosing numbers to determine the order in which they would speak and then being given a three-minute opening statement at the podium. Then they were each asked the same four questions, with each question beginning with the next applicant in order. One applicant, Alicia Okoha, left after her opening statement, to go pick up her daughter, and missed the first two questions. The meeting was briefly suspended so district staff could look for her in the district office building.

When she returned to the podium to answer the third question, Okoha explained that she had informed Nancy Belleci, Superintendent Don Gill’s Senior Executive Assistant, that she would have to leave the meeting briefly.

The first line of Okoha’s three-minute opening statement was memorable and sounded strident.

Hash tag all minds matter,” she stated. “But the black and brown minds have been miseducated in this history of this country.”

Another applicant, Mark Jordan focused his opening statement on the hiring of a new superintendent.

This is of paramount importance to this community,” he said. “Dr. Gill has done a good job. But we need change because the community has changed.”

Then he committed to only serving 12 months and not run for election.

Navarro offered a philosophical answer to the first question of why he wanted to be on the board and what skills he would bring to the position.

The basis of knowledge is understanding how the world works,” he stated. “But the basis of wisdom is the understanding of why the world works.”

He then shared about the need for more vocational schools.

Following the answers to the fourth question in the first round, the four board members then voted and announced their top four candidates. Any candidate who received at least three votes would move on to the next round of questions.

Only three candidates made the cut, Navarro, Alicia Marroquin, each with four votes, and Julie Young, who received three. The next closest applicant was Millard Larkin, who received two votes.

Jordan and former trustees Gary Hack and Joy Motts each received one vote.

School Board President Claire Smith thanked those who didn’t make it past the first round for their participation the process and said “By all means, consider running in November.”

I think it was a very transparent, fair process,” Jordan said, after the process was completed.

The board then asked the remaining three candidates another series of questions.

In response to the question about their short-term, and long-term plans if appointed, Navarro said “Nobody’s indespensible. My focus isn’t in being a career politician. If my time here is efective, then I’m open to it (running in next year’s election). But it’s not my goal.”

If I do a good job and if the community wants me to stick around, then I’m here at your service,” he added.

He spoke about being impartial and that he would listen, when asked what he would do if a parent met him in a grocery store and asked for his vote on a hot issue. Navarro also responded “It’s not the place to have a debate” and that he believed the role of a board member is “to be the voice of the community.”

Of the 11 applicants who applied, three were unable to participate in the interviews. Jayson Bordges, as previously reported, backed out because he was out of state and couldn’t attend the meeting. Another, Ronald Partain was disqualified because as of the date he submitted his application, he was still registered to vote in Brentwood, where he moved from four years ago. He explained that he has voted by mail for years and forgot to re-register when he moved to Antioch, but went to the county Elections Office in Martinez on Wednesday afternoon to change his registration. However, it was too late. Elections Office staff explained that candidates and applicants for elected or appointed office must be registered in the district in which they wish to serve at the time they file their papers.

The third applicant to miss the interviews was Carleton Booker, who stated by text, Thursday morning, that he had a family emergency and was still at the hospital, at that time.

Following the final round of questions, the board members shared their thoughts before taking their final vote.

I think you are all extremely qualified and would welcome any of you on the board,” Smith said. “Each one of you has great strengths. I wish that the two of you who don’t get appointed would run in the General Election.”

Trustee Walter Ruehlig offered a different perspective.

We’re not always looking for a better candidate,” he said. “We’re looking for the best fit for the board.”

They then took another vote and Navarro received four votes, Young received three and Marroquin received one. The unanimous decision of the board gave Navarro the appointment.

Smith offered her final comments to the two applicants who weren’t appointed.

You two ladies have made yourselves and your families proud,” she stated.

Then, Navarro was given the chance to return to the podium and share his thoughts.

Now I have to tell my wife. I’m in trouble,” he joked. “I’m in shock. I am so honored and humbled. This is my first dip in the pool. I just spoke from my heart. What you see is what you get.”

Then he turned to the audience and said “This is your opportunity to have a person in this seat who will listen to the community.”

Don’t worry,” Willie Mims, who regularly attends and speaks at school board meetings, said to laughter.

Navarro is married and they have two children who attend Carmen Dragon Elementary, and has lived in Antioch for nine years. He owns a mobile waterless car wash and detail company serving, what he said are “dot com companies in the Silicon Valley.”

To read Navarro’s application for the appointment, please click here: Fernando Navarro

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One Comment to “Antioch School Board appoints Hispanic businessman as new trustee”

  1. Reginald Jamal Brown says:

    Yay. I stand thankfully corrected.

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