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The difference between classless and corruption Tom Basinski | Sat, Apr 02 2011 12:00 PM

Corruption may be illegal but not having any class isn't

During my brief sojourn with the San Diego city attorney's office, I worked public corruption. Before I ever handled a case my idea of public corruption was of some guy handing a public official an envelope full of green stuff in exchange for a past or future favor.

Not true. I learned that most corruption is subtle. For example, someone on a civic board might be involved with a company bidding on a public project.

Ethics and common sense would dictate that the board member remove him or herself from the vote that would award the contract. Sometimes they "forgot" to opt out of the vote.

Or, maybe it might be a quid pro quo, as in "come to my daughter's wedding shower and I'll give a good long look at your bid to do construction work for the public entity I run." (Wink!)

This brings me to Bridal Showergate, the South Bay's most recent foray into the realm of ethics and corruption.

Sweetwater School District Superintendent Jesus Gandara threw a wedding shower for his Texas-based daughter. I don't know if the DA or another government watchdog unit will look at the case. The DA's office might be reluctant to get involved because they were handed their heads in their previous case involving Councilman Steve Castaneda.

When I first read the shower story written by Tanya Sierra of The Union-Tribune, I said, "Whoa! What's going on here?"

Several people who did business and/or want to do business with the Sweetwater Union School District attended the shower.

Mr. Gandara gave the cavalier impression of "so what?" when asked if there was something untoward regarding the social event and those in attendance.

Chula Vista Chief David Bejerano attended. He told me he has extensive involvement with Dr. Gandara based on their respective positions. While not involved socially on a regular basis, they are frequently together on a professional basis. Neither man would seem to have a superior position when it comes to professional contact. Bejarano's attendance, then, would not seem to be a big deal.

There was a "money tree" at the bridal shower. You didn't have to put any dough on it, so Gandara said. In a half-hearted, some might say sarcastic, rebuttal Gandara said people also brought Tupperware. This is hardly the point. To me, the point is who is on the guest list and in what capacity did they have previous contact with Gandara?

Gandara said he doesn't have full control over who is awarded contracts. Yeah, but I wasn't born yesterday. Boards listen to their superintendent. Gandara's argument doesn't convince me of anything.

I don't have a problem with the sitting board members being invited. After all, Gandara is their boss. And Sweetwater's board is one big family, right? Like the Manson Family.

My acid test is this: If the attendees who do business with Gandara have had previous contact with Gandara, and are not beholden to him, it can be classified as just another social get-together.

However, if their contact was commercially related, then something stinks. Why invite these people unless there were ulterior motives?

Way back when, Chief Bill Winters invited me to his daughter's wedding. I was up for promotion. I attended the event and gave a gift. I went because I liked the chief and his wife. I did get promoted-12 years later.

People in the public eye have to know their behavior is under the microscope. Judging by Gandara's previous volatile experiences with his employees, he has to know people are just waiting for him to stub his toe.

Some wondered if it was proper for a family member to throw a shower. The New Emily Post says it's okay today, especially if the soon-to-be-betrothed lives elsewhere.

I think it is the height of lowness for a powerful public official to invite people who may be dependent on his future decisions as it pertains to their livelihoods.

It's not against the law to have no class. It's not very smart either.

Tom Basinski's column appears the first and third Friday of the month.

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