Madera’s modern mystery
Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Madera Unified Superintendent Ed Gonzalez, left, Madera County Office of Education Superintendent of Schools Cecelia Massetti and MUSD Board President Al Galvez, right, greet Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction, upon Torlakson’s arrival at Madera South High in March last year.
History is such a liberating force. It frees us from the blindness of the present and allows us to see things much more clearly.
I am glad, because a series of events is playing out right now within Madera Unified that are clouded in mystery — which simply means, I don’t understand them.
My guess is that it is going to take at least a decade or two before we can really come to grips with the disharmony that presently exists between the school board and Superintendent Ed Gonzalez. One can look back on the past couple of years and see that the relationship between the superintendent and the board has been rocky from time to time, but the events of the last week have risen to new heights and puzzle this writer.
On Monday evening I heard that Gonzalez had invited his staff to a meeting earlier that day in which he announced the school board is going to release him. He didn’t elaborate except to say his termination would be “without cause.” Like everyone else, I was stunned.
I immediately checked with Gonzalez to find out if this was true — it was. He told me that Board President Al Galvez had informed him on Friday, Feb. 3, that the board was going to release him and indicated a desire to negotiate the terms of his termination.
At that point, a certain mental fog set in. When did the board vote to release Gonzalez? I checked my notes from the most recent board meeting, Jan. 31, to see if it had taken place in closed session and reported out during the public session. It had not.
This left me wondering if the school board had violated the Brown Act. My thinking went something like this:
Galvez would not have told Gonzalez that he was on his way out unless he spoke for a majority of the board.
That presumed a decision by the board had to have been made in the executive session of Jan. 31 or in a subsequent serial meeting, which is illegal.
Then I spoke with Galvez, and he told me that “no reportable action” had taken place in the closed session of Jan. 31. I believe that, which only deepens the mystery.
How and when did the board majority decide that it was going to terminate Gonzalez? It must have made that decision, or Galvez would not have so informed Gonzalez.
Did they take a poll in closed session without calling it an official vote? Did board members communicate their sentiments on the matter with each other by phone, email, or in person outside of a board meeting?
This is a major part of the mystery. How did Galvez know the board was going to release Gonzalez? I can’t answer that, and Galvez, by law, can’t talk about it.
Leaving this conundrum, I began to wonder when the tension between the superintendent and the board reached this point? I knew the trustees had evaluated Gonzalez in closed session 15 times since January of last year. Did Gonzalez see this coming?
Most assuredly he did. A conversation with Barry Bennett, the lawyer Gonzalez has hired to represent him in this matter, told me that much.
On Wednesday, Bennett related to me an incident that occurred in November 2016.
One day after a board meeting, Gonzalez found a letter on his chair listing the board’s disenchantment with him. The letter was unsigned, so Gonzalez wrote the names of each trustee on the letter, and at the next executive session he presented it to them for signatures. According to Bennett, no one signed it.
So the mystery continued; why would anyone leave such a communication from the board on the superintendent’s chair unsigned?
Further, I am a bit puzzled at Gonzalez’ action. Why, after his Feb. 3 meeting with Galvez, did the superintendent choose to inform the employees in the district office that the board was going to fire him? According to Gonzalez, he had been given no date for his termination. It was not exactly a fait accompli.
Could it be that this was one way for Gonzalez to get the word out to the public? He had to have known that the news would spread like a wild fire through town. Was the superintendent attempting to gauge his standing in the community, and this brings me to the final chapter in Madera’s modern mystery.
What is the public sentiment regarding Gonzalez’ termination? I don’t have a clue. To be sure, there is a lot of talk, but I don’t know what that means. Will the public rise to Gonzalez’ defense and fill the boardroom as it did once before?
Only time will tell. In the meantime, I am going to take my place at the next meeting, which will be held Wednesday. Perhaps some of the fog that covers the political landscape will dissipate then.