Contentious Antioch School Board snubs Vinson for President, elects Hack on split vote instead

Antioch School Board Trustee Debra Vinson. Herald file photo.

Due to censure, discipline earlier this year; possible lawsuit; board “needs a year to heal”; Sawyer-White unanimously elected VP

By Robbie Pierce

Many items – over three dozen in fact – were covered during the Wednesday, Dec. 13 meeting of the Antioch Unified School District Board of Education. But one of paramount focus, importance and contention was the election of the President and Vice President of the Board. It resulted in a contentious, split vote of 3-2, with the board majority bypassing Vice President Debra Vinson and instead electing Trustee Gary Hack as the new President of the Board for the coming year. However, Trustee Crystal Sawyer-White, the top vote-getter in last year’s election was elected Vice President on a unanimous, 5-0 vote.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about this,” stated Trustee Diane Gibson-Gray, speaking first on Item 12.B, the President’s election. “We need somebody that will help to bring consensus to the board.”

New AUSD Board President Gary Hack. Photo from AUSD website.

Gibson-Gray went on to nominate Trustee Gary Hack, citing his experience and the fact that he has served as Vice President but never President. President Walter Ruehlig seconded her motion, but the item was opened to public comment before they could vote on the nomination. The speakers were supposed to speak before the board when the item was first brought up, but were skipped initially due to a clerical error.

Jeff Belle, Contra Costa County Board of Education trustee and Vice President, spoke first, about history, precedent and inclusion.

“History has been very kind to us, and also has been very unkind to a lot of us in different ways,” he began. “Do keep in mind that history is very important in terms of precedent… tonight, just for the record, the Contra Costa County Board of Education voted two African-Americans to lead as President and Vice President.” According to Belle, the vote he described marks the first time the Contra Costa County Board of Education has appointed an African-American to either of those positions.

“We know there are individuals who are qualified to lead the board,” he continued. “It would be my pleasure to see individuals who are qualified, of color, to lead boards, and that was not even a tough discussion with the county tonight… I hope we will see the same thing here… We know that Antioch really needs it.”

Antioch resident Velma Wilson spoke next, describing that she came before the board as “a community member and… as a parent in this district, a very active parent with two students in this district.” However, Wilson also stated that despite her community and familial ties, she was “talking on behalf of Velma Wilson.”

“As an African-American mom I can’t sit idle and say that I am pleased with the representation. The color of our skin does not determine our skill set,” she stated. “The color of our skin doesn’t determine how well we form and how well we advocate for the needs of everybody, collaboratively, collectively, not [divisively] for our students.”

Wilson stated that she would be glad to see upward movement for Hack, but pointed out to the board that “we have to be fair, and we cannot make a decision based on one’s skin color… we need to make a decision based on what’s going to be best for everyone, collectively.”

The focus then shifted back to the board’s own internal discussion, in which Trustee Crystal Sawyer-White stated she was “not in agreement with the motion” of Hack’s nomination, and motioned to postpone the election, expressing her agreement with the public commenters and support for electing Vice President Debra Vinson to the presidency.

“Two of the board trustees have attended governance training, the other three have not… It is not about race, it’s about qualifications,” she expressed. “How many years’ experience have you actually taught in the system? Your educational background, your credentials… I think Debra Vinson is qualified to be Board President.”

Vinson spoke next, explaining a “system” that has been followed for some time in the district in which the current Vice President, if they have not previously served as President, is elected ceremonially to give them the opportunity to serve.

“I’d really like to see this board do something that is equitable and fair,” she stated, highlighting the need for inclusion and collaboration. “It’s important that we practice what we say and that we say what we mean… I look forward to this board making an equitable decision, following the process that we’ve always followed… to move this district forward positively and in a manner that’s going to work for all staff.”

The board’s deliberation was interrupted by one final public commenter, Odessa L., who questioned “why would we change the direction of things we’ve always done in the past” in regards to Gibson-Gray not nominating the sitting Vice President.

“I want trustee Gray to explain to me and to the residents of Antioch… why would we deter from [the old process].”

“I was going to do that, and I’d be happy to do that,” Gibson-Gray responded immediately after discussions shifted back to the board.

“In the history of Antioch… for as far back as I remember when I lived here, we’ve never had a censured Vice President,” Gibson-Gray explained. While there is a ‘system’ in place to nominate the sitting Vice President for the position of President automatically, Vinson is a unique situation, having been formally censured by a majority of the board earlier this year “for allegations of bullying and intimidating staff members” according to a Herald article from earlier this year.

“That is my reason for not going with Vice President Vinson,” Gibson-Gray stated firmly. “You can’t do one thing and then say, ‘oh, by the way, it’s ok, we’re going to make you president.’ Perhaps next year, but there has to be a lesson learned here.”

Possible Lawsuit

The explanation did not resolve the situation however, as Sawyer-White mentioned that she consulted an attorney about the censure and remarked that “this is going to end up being a lawsuit.”

Vinson is an elected official, not a hired district employee, and thus according to Sawyer-White’s research and claims, “the [censure] is non-valid… based on the board by-laws… she cannot be censured.” Sawyer-White also pointed out that Gibson-Gray’s comment of ‘perhaps next year’ is null and void as this is Vinson’s last year serving on the Board.

“What is your reason, aside from the censure-ship, that [Vinson] is not qualified for this position?” Sawyer-White asked Gibson-Gray.

“I feel that trustee Hack would be a better President,” Gibson-Gray began. “The censure is a big one for me.” She paused briefly before going on to accuse Vinson of calling her “racist” and of being “not nice to staff”, stating that the board needs “a year to heal” with Hack as president.

“I need to respond, I’m sorry, I can’t leave those comments out like that,” Vinson said, overstepping President Ruehlig’s attempt to call a vote on the motion of nominating Hack.

“I’m going to be quite frank with you,” Vinson said toward Gibson-Gray. “I have received numerous comments and postings from community members that have felt you present yourself as racist based on your comments and based off your actions.”

Vinson Defends Herself

Vinson pointed out that Gibson-Gray denied several of Vinson’s invitations to get coffee, which Vinson hoped to use as opportunities to pass along that information to Gibson-Gray. Vinson also alleged that Gibson-Gray previously pledged to support Vinson when it was her “time” to be president.

“It’s pretty clear that you’re not ready to keep your word based on false information of a censure,” Vinson stated. “This is not a game, this is about our children’s lives, this is about what’s at stake for the staff, and this is about practicing what we say we’re going to do to make this district a really positive and open district… it’s unfortunate that you’ve made it personal.” Vinson re-extended her invitation to coffee in hopes of working out some of her and Gibson-Gray’s apparent issues, noting that she’s only had coffee with one member, and went over some of her qualifications for the presidency and agreed with Sawyer-White’s notion that a lawsuit might be brewing.

“I really think that I am next in line to be Board President,” she stated in conclusion. “And I really would like to see this board follow through on that action.

“I apologize, I must have missed the invitation, I haven’t received it,” Gibson-Gray responded. “Regardless, I just feel that the behavior that led to the censure is a reason that I am nominating Gary Hack… unless there is further conversation, there is a motion on the table.”

The board eventually voted Hack to the presidency with a 3-2 vote, with Gibson-Gray, Ruehlig and Hack himself voting yes and Vinson and Sawyer-White voting no.

Sawyer-White Unanimously Elected VP

The election for Vice President was much less of an affair. Gibson-Gray again spoke first, mentioning that “Crystal Sawyer-White has indicated an interest to educate herself” and nominating her in order to give her “more opportunities to understand the processes.”

Encouraged by Hack and Vinson, Sawyer-White made a brief statement before accepting the nomination.

“I am about the kids for Antioch,” she stated. “I wish this board could be more cohesive… things need to change.” In reference to a training conference she recently attended, she mentioned “in Southern California, people are aware of what’s going on in this board, and I was really shocked that they feel that we’re not supporting one another.”

Sawyer-White pledged to be the “best leader [she] can be” and was elected by a 5-0 vote.

Vinson Congratulates New President, VP says “Vengeance belongs to God”

“Although I’m disappointed that this board failed to make an equitable decision, I will congratulate trustee Hack and trustee Sawyer-White,” Vinson commented. Ruehlig expressed a genuine desire for Vinson to be president next year, but Vinson restated that she will not be in office next year.

“That probably was a part of the design,” Vinson stated. “But I’m not really worried because vengeance and justice will be served. Vengeance belongs to God, so I don’t really have to be here and take it personally… I would hope that this board is capable of putting children’s needs first and that they take this job seriously… I know that the truth is coming.”


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2 Comments to “Contentious Antioch School Board snubs Vinson for President, elects Hack on split vote instead”

  1. Rjb says:

    This is Jerry Springer material in Antioch. Liars, frauds, and bullies. Of course we can’t forget the race card!

  2. […] While Vinson, finishing her first and rather contentious term on the Antioch School Board, didn’t officially announce her campaign, she did ride in a car in the Antioch July 4th Parade with a sign indicating her decision to run for the county board. In 2017 Vinson was censured by her fellow board members for her interactions with district employees. (See related article). She was also passed over for the board presidency, following her year as Vice President. (See related article). […]

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