Groveland recall: Time for voters to decide

By Chris Bateman, The Union Democrat January 14, 2009 10:00 am

Nearly three months ago, in this very space, we urged that Grovelanders upset with their school board try communication and dialogue rather than go through with the planned recall of all five district trustees.

That was wishful thinking.

Our Oct. 22 editorial — which pointed out that recall campaigns are often divisive, destructive, expensive and can lead to board members with less-than-majority support taking office — provoked a quick and angry reaction from backers.

Their message: That previous attempts to communicate had been rebuffed by the board and superintendent, and that the aggrieved constituents were out of options.

The recall campaign was spurred by the dismissal of math teacher Ryan Dutton for allegedly plagiarizing a paper at California State University, Fresno. The state university system later cleared Dutton, but he remains on unpaid leave and recall backers have charged the board with a number of additional misdeeds — including holding secret meetings, unjustified spending of district bond funds, intimidation of employees and more.

What has happened since our editorial ran provides no evidence that the kind of communication we had hoped for is even possible. Instead of dialog, invective and personal attacks have been the order of the day. Accommodation and compromise seem to be words absent from the Big Oak Flat-Groveland School District vocabulary. Instead, a vicious turf war between the district’s Tioga and Don Pedro high schools has erupted.

While the backers of recall — including Tioga students, parents and teachers — have been vocal and vitriolic, trustees have said little to justify or explain their actions. Apologies and admissions of even minor mistakes have been nonexistent.

Instead, a group of Don Pedro-area board defenders has asked that the Tuolumne County Grand Jury look into a “criminal conspiracy” by the recall sponsors.

All this has convinced us that reasonable discussion is not possible and the election should go forward. County Clerk Debi Russell on Wednesday will present the BOFG Board with a “certificate of sufficiency” finding that backers collected enough signatures to force a vote.

We urge that the board call the election immediately rather than waiting two weeks for Russell, as required by law, to do it herself.

We also ask that trustees, whose fate will be in the hands of voters, state their cases clearly and concisely during the coming campaign. Although this may be difficult amid the political cacophony, it’s something most district residents — at least to date — have not heard.

Voters should also keep in mind that a single measure to oust the entire board will not be before them. Instead, one by one, they will decide the fates of Mary Kelly, Lillian Cravens, Dave Gookin, Chuck Day and Bryan Berger — five individual trustees with differing records and points of view.

Finally, there is matter of replacement candidates who, once the election is called, will have about two weeks to file papers. The top vote getters among these will replace any recalled candidates.

Recall backers will no doubt field their own slate of candidates, which will give district votes a choice between two highly polarized and emotionally charged extremes.

Welcome in this political mix would be candidates espousing moderation, accommodation and common sense.

The recall, as we predicted nearly three months ago, will likely be divisive. But at this point, after weeks of nonproductive sound and fury, it’s time to let the voters speak.