Fri, Feb 03 2012 03:33 PM Posted By: Allison K. Sampité
It was like a bad play from the 19th century, minus the rotten tomatoes.
Instead of throwing fruit, hundreds of angry parents, teachers, students and community members hurled insults at board members in the gymnasium at Hilltop High School during a Sweetwater Union High School board meeting.
The controversial item on Monday’s agenda considered whether the district would pay up to $1.3 million in legal fees for current board members Pearl Quinones and Arlie Ricasa as well as former board member Greg Sandoval.
Board trustee Bertha Lopez asked for $100,000 in legal fees to be paid, but later withdrew her request.
The items failed for lack of a motion.
Board trustees sat stone-faced as they listened to complaint upon complaint.
Trustee John McCann was called out for a “robo call” he released opposing the district’s paying current or former board members’ legal fees, which one person called “a blatant Brown Act violation” during public comment.
According to attorney Dan Shinoff who attended the meeting, voting for or against the payment of attorney fees is discretionary and can be revisited at any time; however, while board members must recuse themselves from voting on their own legal fees, they can approve the expense for their colleagues.
Chula Vista resident Kevin O’Neil suggested the board attend an eight-hour ethics training session and take a test at the end, with public results.
Community member Kathleen Cheers asked board president Quinones to begin a search for a new superintendent and provided copies of a book titled “Greedy Bastards” to board members, making a point that they are guilty of using taxpayer money on themselves.
One speaker said the $1.3 million could cover the salaries of 15 teachers for one year.
Many in attendance Monday wore buttons that read “Stop Corruption,” while others held signs that read “Resign or Recall.”
Quinones, Ricasa and Sandoval were charged with multiple felonies by the District Attorney’s Office last month after their homes were raided, for engaging in a pay-for-play culture by accepting gifts from contractors and failing to report them on required state forms.
All three pleaded not guilty Jan. 13 during an arraignment.
Ricasa’s attorney Allen Bloom said she was disappointed that no motion was made to move the item forward.
He said her legal fees will now be “gut” from her kid’s college fund.
“Now there is no compensation for them,” he said.
Bloom said Ricasa would have voted in favor of the district paying attorney fees on the basis that if they did lose the case they would pay back the money.
Bloom said he’s not sure how the district came up with $400,000 for Ricasa’s legal fees.
“My fees certainly aren’t that high,” he said. “I cut my fee in half for her because I feel strongly about her case.”
The homes of former Southwestern College vice president Nicholas Alioto and former director of business services at
Southwestern College John Wilson were also searched in December, although no charges were filed by the DA’s Office.
President of Southwestern College Education Andrew MacNeill reminded board members that no legal fees are being paid by the college for criminal defense attorneys.
“They don’t get that coverage, there’s no reason you should,” MacNeill said.
Attorney Cory Briggs, on behalf of San Diegans for Open Government, provided the board with a copy of the summons and complaint he filed last week in which he’s suing for the return of contractor payments.
Chula Vista resident and parent Isabelle Espino was upset that the city of Chula Vista didn’t have the funds for a library that her son could use.
“But there’s always money available for corruption,” she said.
Five Chula Vista police officers as well as additional independent security were present for crowd control.
Journalism student Juan Hernandez, who attends Otay Ranch High, spoke as a member of the public Monday night.
“The children are watching,” he said. “Unfortunately I shook Arlie Ricasa’s hand at my eighth grade graduation. I don’t want to shake any of your hands at my senior graduation.”
Sofia Reyes, an 11-year-old attending Chula Vista Hills Elementary, asked board members to stop hiding the truth from the public.
"Mr. Brand, transparency,” she said. “What does it mean to you? … Clean up your act."
Bloom said he is interested in seeing how much money will ultimately be spent prosecuting the defendants, estimating the District Attorney has spent close to one million dollars already.
As far as hiring a public defender, like many public speakers suggested Monday night, Bloom said the option isn't available to her.
“She wouldn’t qualify for it because she has a house and those sorts of things,” Bloom said.
© 2009 The Star-News