Sometimes you have to give credit where credit is due. Earlier this week, I reported that local State of Jefferson gadfly Sally Rally Rapoza had posted a call to arms on Facebook asking her followers to show up early to Wednesday’s Gateway Unified School District board of trustees meeting “before the libtards do and support the new Board members.”
As it turns out, Rapoza didn’t write the post that branded the Gateway district’s administrators, teachers, staff and parents as libtards and called for street thugs willing to go “hands on” in case said libtards got disruptive. That credit goes to another local rightwing provocateur, Rich Gallardo, who claims Rally Sally cut and pasted his original post without using his name.
So blame Gallardo for the overflow crowd of administrators, teachers, staff, students and parents who packed Wednesday’s board meeting, more than a few of whom publicly voiced their displeasure at being threatened and called libtards by hard-right supporters of Gateway’s newly elected MAGA majority board.
That majority, comprised of Cherrill Clifford and the husband-and-wife team of Elias and Lindsi Haynes, once again played deer in the headlights as their feeble attempts to install their handpicked choice for superintendent, presumed to be three-time loser Bryan Caples, were met with cries of outrage from the audience, which at one point numbered 120 people, counting the throng outside on the sidewalk.
According to a standing poll taken during the marathon evening meeting, which stretched on for six hours, more than 80 percent of the crowd was against hiring the controversial Caples to replace Jim Harrell, the former superintendent who was fired without cause by the new MAGA board earlier this month.
“I’ve never seen anything like this!” was the most repeated phrase of the night, as Clifford and the Haynes lurched from one potential Brown Act violation to the next. The trio have no experience running public meetings and have ostracized those who do have experience, including longtime board members Phil Lewis and Dale Wallace, as well as acting superintendent Steve Henson.
The acrimony began immediately as one audience member asked to start the meeting with a prayer, which wasn’t on the agenda and elicited terse church/state separation complaints from a few audience members. Clifford and the Haynes voted 3-2 against Lewis and Wallace to start the meeting with the prayer.
Then the real fun started, and by fun, I mean the shitshow.
According to the third item on the agenda, the board was supposed to vote on approving the closed session agenda, which was item 6. The closed session agenda included a student discipline issue and the evening’s main attraction, the appointment of a new superintendent, presumably Caples.
In between items 3 and 6 was item 4, public comment on the closed session agenda, and item 5, a proposed discussion of BP 2120, the board’s detailed 12-step policy on the recruitment and hiring of school superintendents.
Inexplicably, instead of approving the closed session agenda as scheduled, Elias Haynes made a motion to change the agenda midstream.
Even with a copy of the agenda in your hands, it was difficult to follow the jumble of numbers and agenda items, but the gist of what Haynes seemed to be suggesting was this: Swap public comment on the closed session agenda, item 4, with item 13, public comment on items not listed on the agenda.
If the motion had passed, that would have meant public comment on the hiring of a new superintendent, the main reason the public had turned out, would have been moved to after the closed session, where the new MAGA majority would have presumably hired Bryan Caples, making his ascension to the Gateway throne a fait accompli.
Asked repeatedly what his motive for changing the agenda was, Haynes couldn’t explain himself. His motion was reimagined, reengineered and regurgitated so many times, everyone in the room forgot what it was.
The motion had to be restated several times. Caught in the headlights once again, the new MAGA majority called for a break and fled the board room, potentially violating the Brown Act again.
“Recall!” someone yelled as they were on their way out.
“Resign!” shouted someone else.
In an office next to the board room, this reporter witnessed a Gateway teacher and Lindsi Haynes engaged in a furious, handwaving argument during the hastily called break, the teacher enraged that the new MAGA board’s supporters had branded them all libtards, attempted to pack the room against them and put a loose cannon like Gallardo in charge of security while Lindsi feigned ignorance.
Did I say shitshow? More like a shitstorm! A veritable shitnado!
After coming out of the impromptu and possibly illegal 20-minute break, acting superintendent Henson helped board president Clifford renumerate the spaghettified agenda. There was no rhyme or reason to the changes in the agenda, indeed, it was difficult to tell, underneath the veil of the MAGA board’s ineptitude, if anything had changed at all.
But the MAGA majority’s intent was made readily apparent after they voted 3-2 to abandon BP 2120, the board’s longstanding 12-step policy to recruit and hire district superintendents. The absence of a competitive job search opened the door to hire Caples in the closed session.
During the past decade, Caples has been dismissed from three school superintendent positions and had his teaching credential suspended by the California Teachers Association three times. In fact, it’s suspended now. He’s literally the guy you wouldn’t hire to be the dog catcher, let alone superintendent of the only K-12 district in Shasta County.
But his Christian nationalist politics and teaching philosophy aligns perfectly with Clifford and the Haynes’ beliefs. As was revealed at the meeting by the Gateway Teachers Association, both Clifford and Lindsi Haynes donated to Caples’ failed campaign for Shasta County Schools superintendent. Elias campaigned for him. Since becoming the MAGA board majority, they’ve violated just about every rule on the books to install Caples as superintendent.
That came to a screeching halt Wednesday night.
One of the first public speakers was attorney Adam Pressman from the Swanson Law Office representing the Gateway Citizen’s Committee, a newly formed group opposing the new MAGA board members.
Pressman admonished the board majority for continuing to allegedly violate the Brown Act, the state’s open meeting law, after they’d agreed to follow the letter of the law at the emergency board meeting convened a week earlier.
“Importantly, you did not agree to follow just part of the Brown Act, you agreed to follow the entire Brown Act, you can’t pick and choose what part of the Brown Act you want to follow,” Pressman said. “The Brown Act requires not only that you allow public comment, but that you allow the public to observe your deliberations.”
“You work for these people,” the attorney said, sweeping his arm to indicate the audience. “They are entitled to see you at work, not in some back alley, not in a meeting that occurs without their ability to observe you, except for in very rare circumstances.”
“What you have now done, you have elected to eliminate 2120, which is the process by which you decide how to appoint a superintendent,” he said. “Now you’re going to be without the policy and how are you going to do it? Because you’re going to sit in your back room and you’re going to decide which characteristics you’re going to follow in deciding how this person is going to be appointed. That is a Brown Act violation. Do not do that.”
Pressman noted that his clients have served numerous Public Records Act requests against the new board to determine if they’ve been conducting serial meetings behind closed doors in violation of the Brown Act.
“They’re going to see what led to the creation of item 18, which is the approval of a contract [for the new superintendent],” he said. “That contract did not grow out of the ground in the rain. Somebody created it. I’m willing to bet, or at least assume, until proved otherwise, that somebody met with somebody to put that agreement together.”
“President Clifford, how did that agreement occur? I know you you’re not going to answer that question because you don’t have to, but the group would like to hear that, and your silence will be telling.”
Clifford, who was asked many point-blank questions throughout the night, including “what’s your vision for Gateway?” stonewalled her interlocutors on almost every occasion.
Acting superintendent Steve Henson stepped up to the podium next. After detailing his family’s long history of military and public service, he begged the new board majority to stop treating him as an adversary and listen to his advice not to hire a new superintendent without following the proper procedures.
“I urge you to postpone any decisions that will put this district and yourselves at risk of future liability,” he said. “As you are aware [our law firm] has chosen not to represent us. Let me have the time to find and contract unbiased, objective legal counsel that will represent the district and all of the trustees.”
Henson, who plans to retire at the end of this semester if he isn’t fired by the MAGA board first, urged the board to take that the next few months to find a suitable superintendent.
“The chaos that you’re creating in this community is bad for kids,” said the next speaker, a silver-haired slender man who didn’t give his name. “It’s going to create a lot of trouble, not just for you but for a lot of people.”
Lisa Williams, a 3rd grade teacher at Shasta Lake School, was one of many present who took exception to Gallardo’s call-to-arms on Facebook.
“I want to share something with you that was written on Facebook,” she said. “I’m not paraphrasing and I’m not reading the whole quote: ‘I need as many citizens as possible to show up early at the boardroom before the libtards do.’ Really?! Is that what we are now? Calling names? I don’t know who wrote that, I don’t care who wrote it, but … we’re better than that. What are we teaching our kids? This is not what we want to teach our kids.”
The man who wrote that, the man who’s teaching this to our kids, Gallardo, skulked about the room in a dirt-stained hi-viz yellow fireman’s jacket, a black watch cap screwed on his balding head and a wire stuck in his ear, monitoring walkie-talkie traffic.
“Oh great, security’s here,” one woman said sarcastically as he passed.
“I wish I had toys that made me feel important,” another woman joked.
Gallardo and Rally Sally’s call-to-arms had not been heeded. The Rapozas were absent. Lori Bridgeford was there, wearing a nautical outfit and a floppy hat like she’d just blown in on the storm. Delores Lucero stood patiently beside the podium most of the night in a neat calfskin patterned coat.
A young woman named Rebecca vigorously defended the MAGA board. They most definitely did not own the room.
Louis Gustofson, an enrolled Pit River Tribe member whose son attends a Gateway school reminded the audience about remarks Caples made at a public forum during the runup to the primary election that were perceived as racist by many local Native Americans.
“The reason I am here specifically is because if someone like Brian Caples is to be a superintendent I’m completely against that,” Gustofson said. “His statements against Native Americans [were] unprompted racism, prejudiced, and at the very least perpetuated ugly stereotypes. My son’s 11 and my other child’s 17, and they’ve done nothing to warrant those types [of comments] about, you know, ‘they’re the reason our wives can’t go out at night to get milk for fear of being mugged.’”
Spencer, a bearded, broad-shouldered man with his hair tied back in a bun, works at Buckeye School for the Arts with special needs kids. He delivered a short lecture on taxpayer money and conservatism.
The district is already paying to buy out former superintendent Harrell’s contract, Spencer noted. If the board fires Henson to hire Caples, the district will be paying two former superintendents plus Caples. If Caples flames out like he has on his last three superintendent positions, they’ll have to hire a replacement and Gateway would be on the hook for four six-figure superintendent salaries.
“I know a lot of people who are in support of Bryan Caples claim to be conservative,” Spencer said. “I would like to ask anyone who is conservative what is conservative about spending four superintendent budgets on a position that’s rotating? That’s not conservative. In fact I would say that’s a very liberal position to say we can just throw away taxpayer money. … It is not conservative to waste money. That’s the opposite of conservative.”
Spencer predicted if Caples was hired, teachers and staff would flee to other districts, where there are plenty of openings.
And so it went on for hours, as teachers, retired teachers, staff members, parents, grandparents and former students took to the podium with a nearly unanimous message for the Gateway board: Do not hire Bryan Caples.
At long last the board adjourned and went into closed session. This was my third Gateway board meeting in a row, and I figured Clifford and the Haynes would continue doing what they’ve been doing, voting 3-2 against longtime trustees Lewis and Wallace on every motion. I fully expected Bryan Caples to magically appear when the board emerged from closed session.
But then the board didn’t return. A half-hour dragged by, then an hour.
A young teacher or perhaps a student was handing out free brownbag lunches, I wolfed down an Uncrustable and a tangerine. I walked out to the car and drank some water. I talked constitutional rights with newly elected Shasta County Board of Education member Authur Gorman. I made a small bet with a videographer that the MAGA board would hire Caples when it came out of closed session.
After two hours, the board finally returned, missing Lindsi Haynes. Clifford explained that Haynes had gone home to address a medical emergency with her daughter. A somber mood settled on the crowd as it recited the pledge of allegiance, which had been scheduled oddly at the end of the meeting.
After the pledge, Clifford reported that no action had been taken on the student discipline case in closed session. Next up was the issue everyone was waiting for. Was Caples in or out?
“Public employment, appointment superintendent pursuant to government code 54957 (b) (1) no reportable action,” Clifford read like an automaton.
The administrators, the teachers, the parents and the students had won. Bryan Caples’ employment at Gateway Unified School District has been shelved, at least temporarily.
It was after 11 p.m. There was no great eruption of emotion from those who remained in the audience, many of whom had arrived shortly after 4 p.m. In the public comment period after the closed session, there were a few people who still had enough energy to make passionate pleas for the board to work together with the Gateway community.
Jesse Lane, the self-proclaimed militia guy whose daughter attends a Gateway school, agreed with the board’s decision not to take action and recommended they follow Henson’s advice to use BP2120, the board’s policy to recruit and hire district superintendents, to conduct a proper job search, just like he does when he hires employees for his own business.
Well, what do you know. I had lost my bet; Caples did not get the job.
But common sense won the day.
How often does that happen?