Four Antioch School Board candidates to boycott tonight’s Herald sponsored forum, refuse to answer questions due to false assumption of bias

By Allen Payton

After informing the Herald that for various reasons, they couldn’t attend the twice-rescheduled forum, sponsored by this newspaper, for Antioch School Board candidates in the November election, those same four candidates signed and sent a joint press release, on Thursday, announcing that now they will not participate in the forum, nor will they answer the questions sent to them and the other three candidates, because of a “perceived bias.”

The forum, includes opportunities for each candidate to answer questions prepared by me, those submitted by the audience, as well as to ask and answer questions of fellow candidates, plus two rebuttals. Also, the  forum is the only one for Antioch School Board candidates that has been announced, so far, which will be televised on local cable access channels.

Incumbent and board president Diane Gibson-Gray, former school board members Joy Motts and Gary Hack, and challenger and news website publisher Mike Burkholder, each signed the press release, which states:

“The undersigned have agreed that we will not be participating in the Antioch Herald Forum due to a perceived bias that has been displayed by the editor of this publication in this school board election. In addition, we will not be responding to the Antioch Herald’s questions that have been sent to us for a response.

As candidates for the school board, we are expected and more than willing to answer questions from the community. However, the forums should be objective, unbiased and fair. In this case, the editor has crafted the questions, is sponsoring the event, acting as moderator and will be critiquing the candidate’s responses in his publication. In our opinion, we feel that is inappropriate, unusual and is a conflict of interest.”

Herald Coverage of School Board Race

There have been five articles and one letter to the editor about the Antioch School Board race written by Herald staff and posted on our website. The first article listed all the candidates for Antioch Mayor, Council and School Board, which can be viewed, here. It was also published in the September print edition of the Herald.

The second one was about the candidates forum on Thursday, September 8 sponsored by the Friday Morning Breakfast Club, which could not be recorded. So it was based on handwritten notes. It can be viewed, here.

A third article was about Burkholder’s complaint about Navarro’s comments about the district at both that forum and in a private conversation with Mayor Wade Harper. It was edited after Burkholder offered a correction about the public comments, and then provided an audio of Navarro’s comments at the forum. That article can be viewed, here.

The fourth article (which can be viewed, here) was about the endorsement of Gibson-Gray by the Antioch Chamber of Commerce.  The fifth article included the endorsement of Burkholder by the Antioch Police Officers Association, can be viewed here.

Finally, the letter to the editor was from Burkholder and was published exactly as he sent it to us and can be viewed, here.

We encourage readers to view the articles and determine for themselves if they detect any bias.

Different Reasons They Couldn’t Attend

During efforts to reschedule the forum twice, to accommodate as many candidates as possible, these same four candidates said they couldn’t attend either Monday night or Friday night, this week, for various reasons.

Originally scheduled for Thursday night the 22nd, the forum was rescheduled to Monday night, September 19 to accommodate those candidates who said they were attending the 2016-17 County Teacher of the Year dinner in Concord, which would feature a speech  by outgoing 2015-16 County Teacher of the Year Maria McClain, a math teacher at Deer Valley High School.

Each of the candidates was sent an email on September 9 informing them of the date change.

Hack responded on Tuesday, September 13 in an email with “I have changed the date on my calendar to the 19th at 7:00 and look forward to being there.”  But, then last Friday, he wrote via email, ” I apologize.  I need to change my acceptance for the forum on the 19th.  When you changed the date from the 22nd to the 19th, I thought ‘no problem’.  However … this morning Diane [his wife] shared ‘her’ calendar with me … and a ‘reminder’ … that we have a family commitment that has been long standing.  So, I need to respectfully decline the opportunity to participate Monday evening.”

Gibson-Gray and Burkholder didn’t respond until Sunday, September 18 that they had previous commitments.

“I’m sorry for the late notice,” Gibson-Gray wrote in an email at 5:50 p.m. “I have a double header on Monday; first a work commitment, followed by a family commitment, so I will not be able to make the forum. I’ve been in Southern California last week and got home Saturday. I’m just now catching up on emails.”

When asked what his prior commitment was so I could inform those in attendance at the forum and who might watch the forum on TV, Burkholder did not answer.

Each of those who said they couldn’t attend were then offered the opportunity to send a surrogate to provide their opening and closing statements, but not participate in the forum.

However, at 7:47 p.m. on Monday night, during the time the forum would have been held, Burkholder was campaigning, posting a comment on his Facebook page “Getting out of my comfort zone is fun…Check out my video on Mike Burkholder for Antioch School Board.”

Ironically, in a post at 5:57 a.m. that day, Burkholder wrote on his Facebook page “My rant for Monday morning…SHOW UP!…half the battle is won when you simply show up to create the change you want to see.”

Asked if Friday night would work instead, Gibson-Gray responded via email Monday morning, “I’m sorry, I cannot attend. I have already made plans for Friday.” In response to an email offering her the opportunity to send a surrogate to provide her opening and closing statements, and that it would be good to let the public know what her plans were, she replied on Tuesday, “I will not be sending a surrogate. I have a prior personal commitment on Friday.”

Once it was learned on Monday morning, that the council chambers were available, the forum was rescheduled, again this time tonight, Friday, September 23 to accommodate the most candidates, as possible.

An email was then sent informing the candidates of the new date for the forum, with a list of questions attached, that will be asked at the forum, offering those candidates who could not attend that they could send a surrogate to provide their opening and closing statements, but could not participate in the rest of the forum, and the opportunity to answer the questions by 5:00 p.m. on Friday.

Motts responded, via text on Monday, “I am sorry but the 23rd does not work for me either…such a crazy busy time of year!”

Gibson-Gray responded via email, “I will try to make the deadline, but I have a full schedule this week due to an art opening on Saturday and events each evening. Is this a firm deadline? If I don’t get to you by Friday at 5 PM, would you still want it sent to you if I complete over the weekend?”

I responded that we needed her responses by 5:00 p.m. due to deadline issues and to “Please answer as many questions as you can. The ones at the bottom just require yes or no answers. It shouldn’t take you more than a half hour. The time we’ve allotted each candidate at the forum is 15 minutes.”

Hack responded on Wednesday, via email, with “Good Afternoon Allen! I appreciate your efforts to accommodate the candidates.  However – unfortunately for me – Friday evenings are always dedicated to family.  So I’ll have to pass on the forum this Friday evening.  Take care.”

Burkholder did not respond to the email but he and I spoke by  phone on Wednesday afternoon, and he didn’t say whether he would or would not be attending the Friday night forum.

Two Miss Two Forums

This will be the second forum that Gibson-Gray and Burkholder will not be participating in. Neither candidate attended the one sponsored by the Friday Morning Breakfast Club on Thursday, September 8 because they said they were attending the back-to-school night at Antioch schools, instead. Yet, two of the other candidates, Fernando Navarro and Alonzo Terry, both school board members, attended both the back-to-school night activities and the forum. Terry showed up late, but explained that he had previously committed to attending three schools, that night, which he fulfilled.

Questions Emailed to the Candidates

In a Word document attached to the email sent to the candidates on Monday, included the following:

Antioch Herald

2016 Antioch School Board Candidate Forum

September 23, 2016

7:00 p.m.

Panelist Questions

  1. What should be done to address the district’s annual deficit spending and do you have a copy of the district’s latest budget and have you read and reviewed it?
  2. What do you propose the district do to improve graduation rates?
  3. What can be done to improve proficiency of Antioch students in both English and math?
  4. How will you handle discipline problems and put the teacher back in control of the classroom?

Additional Questions (if there’s time)

  1. What is your number one goal for the district?
  2. What has been your greatest accomplishment for the students and schools in the district?

Lightning Round Questions (if there’s time) Yes or No responses

  1. Do you support either televising the school board meetings live on the local cable access TV channel like the city council does and/or at least live streaming them on the school district’s website? And will you take action on this in your first year in office?
  2. Do you support entrepreneurship classes in the high schools?
  3. Do you support bringing back shop classes to the high schools?
  4. Are you following the rules, have informed your volunteers to make sure your campaign is only placing your signs on private property where you have permission and no signs are in the public right-of-way which is illegal? And if not will you commit to following the rules for the remainder of the campaign?

Responses to Press Release

On Thursday, I emailed each of the candidates who are participating in the boycott, the following questions and information:

“How is it biased to ask the same questions of all the candidates, then use those responses as part of the basis for determining which candidates we will endorse?

I specifically have included our Associate Publisher in the forum to both ask the questions – since Paul Burgarino is not available, tomorrow night – and write the article about it, including the answers you give to both the questions I have developed, as well as questions from each other and those from the audience.

So, are you all lying to me, now or were you lying, before when each of you told me you were unable to attend the forum for your various reasons, either tomorrow night, tonight or Monday night?

This is very unfortunate for the voters of Antioch that you’ve chosen to play your game. But, go ahead and try to make this about me. It’s not. You’ll have to answer to the voters for what you’re doing.

If any (of you) had attended either of the forums on Tuesday night, you would have seen they were quite fair and unbiased.

Furthermore, how is asking you questions and getting your responses by this newspaper any different than an endorsement interview with the East Bay Times? Are those editors biased if they use your answers as the basis for determining their endorsements?

The answer is obvious.”

In another email, I wrote to the four candidates:

“The most ironic part of this is I thought I was being more than fair to each of you, and the other three candidates, by giving you four days to prepare your answers and send them back or provide them to the public at the forum.”

In another follow up email I wrote:

“Regardless of your press release, you are all still welcome to attend and participate in the forum, tomorrow night.

The funny thing is, I have been considering each of you for an endorsement for various reasons, including ensuring stability and experience on the board, because right now three of the current members have less than two years experience on the board, as well as bringing a new, fresh perspective to the board of a parent with young children who will be attending Antioch schools for many years.

An endorsement is still possible, if you will either participate in the forum or submit your answers by 5:00 p.m. on Friday.

Since your press release was received too late to make it into subscribers’ emails, today, you have until tomorrow, Friday at 12:30 p.m. to inform me of your participation in the forum or that you will be submitting your answers by the deadline, before I post the article containing your press release on our website, to make it into subscribers’ emails, tomorrow afternoon, and posted on our Facebook, as well.”

The final email on Thursday night sent to the four candidates, reads:

“In wracking my brain to try to figure out how any of you could perceive any bias in the Herald in the coverage of the school board race, it occurred to me that you might think I’m asking you to provide your answers by 5:00 pm so they can be shared with the other candidates, who are going to participate in the forum, prior to the forum, to give them an advantage.

While that would never happen and nothing could be further from the truth, to avoid even the appearance of the possibility that could happen, you now have until 8:00 pm, Friday night – at the time I expect the forum will end, at the latest – to provide your answers to the questions emailed to you and the other three candidates, on Monday.

Again, if you really can’t attend the forum for a legitimate reason, you’re welcome to send a surrogate to give your opening and closing statements, but not participate in the forum. Your answers will still be required by 8:00 pm to be considered for an endorsement.

Also, again, you have until 12:30 pm tomorrow (Friday) to let me know what you plan to do. Finally, if you plan to send a surrogate please provide their name for proper introduction.”

None of the four candidates responded to any of the emails sent in response.

The Real Reason – An Endorsement That Didn’t Happen

When contacted by the reporter for the Times, Friday morning, she said the reason the four gave her for boycotting the forum and the questions from the Herald was that they believe I have already endorsed Navarro for one of the school board seats. As I told her, that is not true. Neither I nor the Antioch Herald has endorsed any candidate for any office in the November election.

I also told the reporter that I have discussed the pros and cons about the candidates with some people who have asked my opinion. But, when they asked who I’m voting for and who I recommend they vote for I specifically told them I would not reveal who I’m supporting until it’s revealed in the endorsements in the October issue of the Herald.

I also said to her that I did speak with Burkholder on Wednesday and told  him that I hadn’t endorsed Navarro but, if I did end up supporting him it shouldn’t be a surprise since I was the one who recruited and encouraged him to apply for the appointment to the vacancy on the school board, last year. But, I also told Burkholder that I don’t agree with everything that Navarro has said or how he’s voted.

As I told the Times’ reporter, I have not told Navarro that I’m supporting him, voting for him or that I have endorsed or will endorse him.

Final Email to the Four Candidates

After learning the real reason for their boycott, I sent one final email message to the four candidates, at about 12:10 p.m., letting them know the bias they perceived is wrong and appealed to them one last time to encourage them to reconsider and either attend the forum or submit their answers to the questions, and to let me know what they planned to do by 12:30 p.m. before I posted this article on our website.

Following is that email:


I was just informed by Rowena Coatsee of the Times what the real issue is. You all think I’ve already endorsed Fernando Navarro for election.

First, that is not true. I have not told him I would be voting for him or endorsing him in the race nor have I endorsed him or anyone else, yet.

While I have discussed the pros and cons of each of you in the race with Antioch residents who have asked my opinion, if they’ve asked me who I’m voting for or how I think they should vote, I’ve specifically told them I will not announce who I or the Herald – because I’m discussing the matter with our Associate Publisher to get her input – is endorsing until our endorsements appear in the October issue.

In a conversation with Mike Burkholder this Wednesday, I reiterated that, but I also said it might not be a surprise if I do end up supporting Navarro, since I’m the one who recruited and encouraged him to apply for the appointment to the vacancy, last year. But I also told Mike I don’t agree with everything Fernando says or how he’s voted.

But even if I had already endorsed him, there are two other seats up for election in the race, for which any one or two of you could get endorsed.

Why any or all of you couldn’t just have called and asked me about that I don’t know.

But I will say this, your press release was accurate, because it’s only a perceived bias. As I’ve said to others about the article our reporter wrote about Mike and Fernando, last week is I believe hurt both of them and Mayor Harper.

As for being fair, I edited the article after Mike pointed out something that my reporter got wrong about when he spoke at the board meeting. I also updated the article to add Fernando’s complete statement at the FMBC’s forum, after Mike provided the audio of it to me.

If I was going to be biased about it in favor of Fernando, I wouldn’t have published it. My reporter got both sides of the story and we published them in the article.

I encourage you to go back and look at that at article, the one about Diane’s endorsement by the Chamber, the one about the FMBC forum and the original article about all of the local candidates and please point out any bias you can detect in them. I’m always willing to correct the record it we get something wrong. In fact I edited Fernando’s quote I had for him in the article about the FMBC forum after receiving and hearing the audio of what he said exactly. As you know neither I nor anyone else was allowed to record the forum. So I had to take notes and write my article from them

Again, I hope you will reconsider and attend, tonight’s forum or submit your answers to the questions by 8 pm.

In the future, just call me. Come on, folks. We’ve all known each other for years. We all want to make Antioch and our schools better. While we may disagree from time to time on various issues, I don’t think any of us are that unreasonable that we can’t talk something out. What you’re doing is damaging our relationship and won’t reflect well on any of you.

Whether or not you attend or answer the questions is up to you. But I really don’t want to have to post the article about your boycott of the forum and the questions, as I’m afraid it will unfortunately further damage my relationship with each of you.

Again, please let me know by 12:30 what your plans are.


Again, and unfortunately, none of the four candidates responded.

Reasons for this Article

I am in the newspaper business for a few reasons: to inform the public about their community and government, to hold the elected officials accountable and to help promote the businesses in Antioch so as to grow our economy, and to get the good and other news out about and to our community, and of course, make a profit, which allows us to remain in business.  The word “herald” means an announcer. Like the “herald angels” that pronounced Jesus’ birth, the Antioch  Herald is in business to announce what is happening. While that was the Good News, not all of our news is good, unfortunately.

The reason I wrote and published this article was because the integrity of the Herald, our reporters and specifically me were called into question and based on a false assumption and the record needs to be cleared. I will not sit by and have the integrity of the Herald or it’s reporters falsely accused in an attempt to either score political points or to undermine the effectiveness and credibility of this publication. Say what you will about me, as a Christian, I answer to the Highest Authority and do my best to live by His standards, as I have committed my life to do, and am willing to overlook an insult. We do our best to get the facts in our articles and ensure they are accurate. If and when we get something wrong, we are always willing to make corrections to articles, as we have done, when necessary.

We will continue to fulfill our mission, as long as the Lord allows us to remain in business and will continue to challenge, ask questions of and hold accountable our government officials and candidates running for office, and inform you, the readers and residents of Antioch.

Forum Will Happen As Scheduled

The forum for those candidates who wish to attend – and all are still welcome – and the same questions, provided via email to each of them, will be asked by the panelist, currently scheduled to be our Associate Publisher Connie Woods. Questions from the audience will also be asked, and the candidates can ask two questions of their competitors. The forum begins at 7:00 p.m. in the Antioch City Council Chambers at City Hall, 200 H Street, between 2nd and 3rd Streets in downtown regardless of how many candidates attend.

The forum will be televised beginning Sunday, October 2nd on Delta TV (Comcast Channel 24 and AT&T U-verse on Channel 99) and the schedule is as follows: Sundays at 1 pm, Mondays at 11 am and Thursdays at 6 pm.

11 Comments to “Four Antioch School Board candidates to boycott tonight’s Herald sponsored forum, refuse to answer questions due to false assumption of bias”

  1. Nancy Fernandez says:

    When some one wants to be an elected official they pledge to serve the public. In order for me to vote for the right candidate I certainly want to hear from each and every one of them. Any no shows will be guaranteed a no vote from us. Every paper in the world has some sort of bias. Get over it!

  2. Martha Steele Spellman says:

    It would be nice to know where this forum is going to be located. I’ve looked on your website and it’s not readily apparent.

    • Publisher says:

      Ms. Spellman,

      It will be held in the Antioch City Council Chambers at City Hall, 200 H Street between 2nd and 3rd Streets in downtown beginning at 7:00 p.m. as was stated in the article posted on our website on Monday –

      On the upper left side of the website you will see a Search box. If you will simply do a search for “forum” or “candidates” or “school board” you find it.

      Hope you are able to attend and get answers to your questions of the candidates, tonight.

      Allen Payton, Publisher

  3. Nancy Fernandez says:

    Antioch City Council Chambers tonight 9/23 at 7pm is what I have read in this article.

  4. Karen says:

    Allen has been nothing but wonderful to this community. I remember 14 years ago he gave us a tour of the newspaper with my Tiger Cub Scout group. He put a picture of us in the paper. He also sent a news reporter for my neighbor who had cancer to tell her story. I remember her speaking so fond of him. Lastly, he is helping a family on my child’s soccer team who is a survivor of a brain tumor. I have been a loyal reader over the years and can make my own opinion on what I read. Four people who will NOT get my vote just on the pure fact they went this low. Keep up the good work Allen.

  5. RJB says:

    Let them boycott; nothing but a bunch of whiny sore losers who only want to play in their sand box.

    They won’t get my vote or any of my friends’.

  6. Arne says:

    I saw no bias in the questions that were submitted in advance of the Antioch Herald AUSD Candidate Forum. Nor did I witness any bias in the questions from the audience. I applaud Fernando Navarro, Crystal Sawyer-White and Angel Luveano (Surrogate for Alfonso Terry) for showing up and participating.
    Regardless of any ultimate endorsements from the Antioch Herald or East County Times, it will be the voters who will determine who is elected on November 8th.
    Yard signs and large 4×8 campaign signs don’t win elections. Participation in candidate forums and the coverage of them has far more impact with voters.

  7. Nancy Fernandez says:

    I have to agree with Arne. The candidates that did not show up will not get our votes. Obviously they do not care. The program was very well done and the questions covered pertinent information. The candidates did very well. Thank you to Mr. Terry for his stand-in Angel Luveano. He did a good job. Thank you to the Herald for making this available on television next month. (The schedule is posted on the Herald website.) Job well done.

  8. Karl dietzel says:

    I am at a serious loss here . What a shame, school board candidates
    Team up to boycott a round table because they want to fight the sponsor? KINDERGARTEN
    As a voter I had only two candidates to choose from, and that the way I will vote .

    As a city council candidate I can say, I did not get any questions in advance !

    Thanks antioch herald to sponsor the event .

  9. Peggy Wunderly says:

    This is why Antioch never moves forward…childish behavior. We need adults, who are willing to act on what is best for the community, not themselves. Thank you for sharing this info. My choices for Nov have been narrowed down.

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