There were plenty of things said during the discussion about whether Manteca Unified School Board Trustee Sam Fant should face censure for his behavior surrounding a set of personal Facebook pictures of a district employee that took the air out of the room Thursday night.
But the tense back-and-forth was ratcheted up to a new level when board meeting perennial Leo Bennett-Cauchon raised a length of knotted rope over his head – a short version of what appeared to be a hangman’s noose – as he declared that Fant was being singled out for nothing more than a political lynching.
The move disturbed most in the audience who shouted at him from their seats, and prompted School Board President Deborah Romero to denounce the stunt, especially when it was done in front of kids.
But emotion aside, it wasn’t enough to stop the remainder of the board from voting 4-2 – with Fant and Ashley Drain dissenting – to form a committee that will meet before the board meets next month to determine whether to move forward with the resolution of censure. That committee will be comprised of trustees Nancy Teicheira and Ashley Drain as well as Romero.
Not everybody on the board, however, thought that censure – the harshest step that the board as a whole can take against one of their own members – was right given all of the facts of this case.
As embattled trustee Drain saw it, Fant is going to possibly be censured over his reaction to some questionable photos that were raised from a Facebook page made public by a woman who chose to post on her own page – something that she never invited or sought. And once the questionable material – which was later determined to be pictures from a grandchild’s “Dukes of Hazard”-themed birthday party and a photo of President Barack Obama with a fly on his forehead – made it back to Fant, it was what he did with it that he was being vilified for.
“I’m sure that we can find some stuff that we could use to censure Sam on – I’m sure that we if we did deep enough. But this isn’t it,” Drain said. “This is sad. It’s so sad. It’s racist.”
And Fant, when given the chance, didn’t do anything to help his cause.
When Donna M. Matties, the independent legal investigator that led the inquiry into the matter stepped up to the lectern to answer questions, he hammered her about how she could possibly substantiate any of the claims being that he never had a chance to provide a rebuttal.
Matties reminded him that he essentially refused to cooperate – according to the report he read a prepared statement that said that complaint was speculative, opinionated and unfounded and that he didn’t wish to meet in person and waste attorney time or the district’s money on a baseless claim – and that she went off of the other witnesses that were provided.
Fant snapped back viciously at the end of a sentence, “if you can provide that then I’ll shut the hell up.”
Board President Deborah Romero gaveled him down and called for a five minute recess. He didn’t speak on the matter for the rest of the proceedings other than to vote against the formation of the committee to determine whether censure is essential.
And there were opinions in the crowd about the matter as well.
Ken Johnson, the leader of the Manteca Educators Association who had just been voted to represent the 6,000 teachers of San Joaquin County took no prisoner when recounting the events of that January night when Fant slipped out of the board meeting to talk to a reporter, and how Ralph Lee White – a longtime Stockton activist – declared the photos as some of the most racist things that he’d ever seen.
Fant and Johnson had already traded barbs earlier in the night, and Johnson made sure that his second one stuck.
“Ralph Lee White was convicted of voter fraud and I that it was interesting that he was up there casting aspersions towards somebody else,” he said. “I might be disgusting Mr. Fant, but tonight I was elected President of the 6,000 teachers of San Joaquin County and I’d rather have the 6,000 teachers of San Joaquin County standing behind me than Ralph Lee White.”