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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on November 8th, 2012, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 13, Issue 35 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 35

Effort to recall school board member falls flat

Without enough signatures to recall Will Smith, activists turn their attention elsewhere

BY SUN STAFF

On Oct. 29, Will Smith, the embattled Santa Maria-Bonita School District board member, learned he will keep his seat on the board for two more years.

A recall effort initiated by the group Unity of Purpose for Our Kids failed to collect the 4,969 signatures needed to recall Smith from his post. Instead, the group, which is led by district parent and local teacher Glenn Goldin, ended up with a reported 4,384 signatures.

The required signatures represented 20 percent of the 24,842 registered voters in Santa Maria, and would have put Smith’s recall on the ballot for voters to decide in the Nov. 6 election.

“I think that ultimately it was an issue of just never having been involved in an organized recall before. … And we made some tactical errors,” Goldin said, regarding the recall’s failure. “We should have probably waited a month before we filed. A lot of the people who were very involved in this movement are educators, and we started in July. Basically we lost all of July.”

Since his election to the school board in 2010, Smith has been embroiled in a number of disputes with the district and other board members. Due to litigation that was in process at the time of Smith’s election, details of a settlement between him and his former employer, Arellanes Junior High School, became public after he was elected.

The school had moved to dismiss Smith after multiple unpaid disciplinary suspensions. In the settlement, Smith resigned from his post and received settlement payments. This revelation led the district to point out what it considered to be a conflict of interest, given that California Education Code does not allow a district employee to become an elected or appointed school board member. The district has subsequently halted its settlement payments to Smith, a move he has contested in court.

Just before Smith took his seat in 2010, the school board tightened its bylaws with additional references to the Roberts’ Rules of Order and other statutes, including limits on debating an issue excessively and requiring that principals be contacted before any school visits.

At the time, Smith called the move “an attempt to harass and intimidate me into not taking my position.”

In the last two years, the district has taken multiple steps to protect itself legally, accumulating approximately $864,000 in attorney fees. Smith believes the district is being overcharged by its legal representation, Tim Carey and Associates.

Additionally, the rest of the school board members voted to officially censure Smith for what they call his rude and obstructionist behavior at meetings and toward district staff. The board cited Smith’s transgressions in hundreds of pages of documents from the district and the courts.

As a result of impasses like these—and what Goldin’s group calls Smith’s “record as a frivolous litigator”—Unity of Purpose for Our Kids formed with the purpose of initiating Smith’s recall. During the May 16 school board meeting, Goldin served Smith with a notice of intent to recall.

Volunteers collected signatures well into October, but failed to get the issue on the ballot.

At a school board meeting earlier this year, Smith said he wasn’t concerned about the effort.

“I get a lot of calls from people who support me and people who want to support me but can’t because of ties to the district,” he said.

In an Oct. 31 press release, Smith disagreed with the $864,000 figure, for which, he said, “there was no written proof of this presented.” The Sun, however, was able to obtain a list of legal fees dating back to Smith’s election to the board.

He also said the participation of district spokeswoman Maggie White in the recall effort is a conflict of interest. White declined to comment on the recall, stating that the district has no involvement in it.

Smith ended his press release by expressing his concern for the safety of district school buildings. Smith previously questioned their safety due to problems with structures throughout the state also built by Turnkey Construction, a now out-of-business construction company. Bill Judge, the district’s architect, has assured the school board and the public of the buildings’ safety.

In a follow-up e-mail to the Sun, Smith shared his thoughts about the recall: “I wish to thank the many people who supported me during this time and refused to sign the petition. ... I believe the people of the community know that I am working to better the Santa Maria-Bonita School District for our children and community while being falsely accused of many things by people who don’t know me. People cannot legitimately be upset with me because I want answers to questions to make informed decisions for the people.”

When asked if attempts to recall Smith will continue, Goldin said, “If Michael Kon were to get elected to the board, then I think that there would be a much more important emphasis on trying to recall Will Smith.”

In the days before the election, Goldin said his group’s new focus was on Kon, a school board candidate, because of his alleged connections to Smith. Kon told the Sun in a previous interview that he has no connection with Smith.

“The danger of Michael Kon getting onboard is that now you’ve got somebody who can first and second, they can make motions, and then you’re in mud,” Goldin said. “They are just wasting time.”

Smith, Goldin, and Kon have all continually reiterated that their primary concern is improving educational opportunities for children.

Send comments to Managing Editor Amy Asman at aasman@santamariasun.com.