Sat, Dec 21 2013 12:00 PM Posted By: Carlos R. Davalos
Well, maybe there is a Santa. Or Lady Justice. Or any of the other mythical figures we were taught to believe in as children.
That might be what parents and teachers who have been critical of the Sweetwater Union High School District board of trustees are telling themselves this week.
After former board member Arlie Ricasa pleaded guilty Wednesday to one misdemeanor count of accepting a gift she shouldn’t have, it’s likely there were sighs of relief and shouts of “Yippee” from those who have wanted to see her and other members of the current school board banished from public office and punished for their roles in what the district attorney has characterized as the largest corruption probe in San Diego County history.
The district nightmare started in 2011 when the homes of school board members were raided by DA investigators.
Since then countless charges — from bribery to extortion to fraud — were levied against almost 20 people representing or doing business with three school districts in South County.
At Sweetwater, board members Arlie Ricasa, Pearl Quiñones, Bertha Lopez and Jim Cartmill have been under greater scrutiny than wolves at a sheep shearing contest. The popular chorus, even before the indictments were read, was that as a caretaker of the public trust the board was incompetent, inept, dishonest and corrupt.
Turns out the chorus may have been right and now they can sing “Hallelujah” for the time being.
To date 10 of the 15 people charged in this melodrama have pleaded guilty. But where most of them faced a mountain of charges in 2012, by the time they reached a plea deal their lawyers had negotiated that down to a thumb-sized ant hill — most are looking at probation and fines with no time behind bars.
Given the nature of their misdeeds, that’s a fair outcome. Do we really want to give away valuable prison real estate to people guilty of non-violent offenses, or would we rather have our physically abusive neighbors behind bars and our white collar criminals performing community service (I’m sure there are bathrooms in parts of the dilapidated district that need fixing)?
If Ricasa’s guilty plea sets the stage for her board colleagues to plead guilty and leave their posts, the nightmare at Sweetwater won’t be over.
If Quiñones, Lopez and Cartmill claim mea culpa and quit, that will leave board member John McCann and superintendent Ed Brand to take care of the district until new board members are appointed or elected to office.
With only those two at the helm, I wonder how that makes some people feel. Maybe like singing a verse from T-Bone Walker’s song, “Stormy Monday” — “They call it stormy Monday, but Tuesday’s just as bad.”
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