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J. Gordon Kennedy was appointed to the Madera Unified School District Board to replace outgoing member Ricardo Arredondo.
Madera Unified School Trustees appointed former Madera County Supervisor J. Gordon Kennedy Tuesday evening to replace Ricardo Arredondo on the MUSD school board to represent trustee Area Six.
Arredondo resigned from the board last month.
Three candidates sought the position. They were Israel Cortez, Kennedy, and Karina G. Vasquez. Having reviewed each candidate’s application, trustees then interviewed them in public session at Tuesday’s board meeting.
The applicants were allowed three minutes to make an opening statement, which was followed by a question from each board member. At the conclusion of the interviews, the board began a debate that revealed two strongly held, divergent views on which of the candidates should be appointed.
Several issues divided the trustees — who would best serve an area that was 90 percent Latino — who would be most likely to run again in the 2020 election and thus preserve the continuity of the board — and whose experience really met the needs of Area Six.
Clerk Ruben Mendoza and trustees Brent Fernandes and Joetta Fleak cited Kennedy’s broad experience as a community leader in their support of his candidacy. Trustees Ed McIntyre and Lucy Salazar supported Cortez, and board president Ray Seibert, with some hesitancy, joined them.
The intensity of the debate increased after McIntyre made his case for supporting Cortez, contending that his experience, although of a different kind, matched Kennedy’s broader experience.
McIntyre contended that Cortez would most likely be “here for the long term” rather than simply be a “place-holder” until the 2020 election.
McIntyre also touched on demographics, suggesting that because Area Six was 90 percent Latino, Cortez would be better able to represent that part of the community.
McIntyre was quick to assert that he meant no disrespect for Kennedy. “I know he would do a very good job representing that community because I know him personally,” said McIntyre, “but Israel Cortez speaks the language, and he can interact with the community and the parents ... he is a parent.
At that point, Seibert, who was clearly uncomfortable at the prospects of having to choose between Kennedy and Cortez, entered the discussion. The board president expressed “great respect for Mr. Kennedy” whom he has “known for quite a while.” At the same time, he commended Cortez as an “outstanding candidate” who would run again, suggesting that Kennedy might not. “We need consistency on this board,” Seibert maintained, as he announced his support for Cortez.
There was also some discussion on whether Cortez would have the time to devote to his duties as a school board member, since he owned a business. It was quickly pointed out that five of the current board members were employed.
When the question was called, Mendoza moved to appoint Kennedy, and Fernandez seconded the motion. In the roll call vote, Mendoza, Fernandes, and Fleak voted yes, and McIntyre and Salazar voted no. Siebert then saved the motion from defeat by voting yes, notwithstanding his earlier support for Cortez. Acting Superintendent Brandon Schwartz then administered the oath of office to Kennedy.
The new trustee is a native of Oklahoma who came to California when he was in high school. He graduated from Arvin High School and went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He graduated from Cal Poly with two degrees — one in Ag Business and one in Animal Husbandry. He came to Madera to work in farm credit.
Kennedy eventually went into farming on his own and immersed himself in community service. He was president of the Madera County Farm Bureau for two years and became active in the Rotary Club where he was elected District Governor.
In 1978, he defeated long time Supervisor Jack Schmitz for his position on the Madera County Board of Supervisors. He served for two terms, retiring from the board in 1986.
Kennedy’s appointment to the school board runs through 2020 at which time he would have to stand for election in order to keep his seat.