Editor, Manteca Bulletin,
Unlike Karen Pearsall (letter of Sept. 15) I agree with Dennis Wyatt’s column (Sept. 14) concerning Manteca Unified School District’s photo gallery of those who have served our community as board trustees. From my perspective Wyatt is correct to place the missing pictures in the context “It’s history”. For as stated by the philosopher George Santayana “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (Popularly paraphrased in many different forms – another fact of history).
Wyatt’s ending question of “… what message does it send students that it is OK to cleanse history …?” is countered by Purcell’s ending question of ‘’Should trustees who betray the public’s trust, use underhanded methods, or violate the law, enjoy the privilege of a public display of their photos on a gallery wall meant to honor trustee service?” Perhaps how other governmental entities approach galleries can provide criteria for selecting the better answer.
California has a gallery for all who have served as governor. Our first governor is included despite his leadership of what Professor Madley (UCLA) calls the genocide of the original inhabitants of California. “… a war of extermination will continue to be waged ... until the Indian race becomes extinct.” (Governor Burnett, 1851). Someday our current governor’s portrait will “rub shoulders” (in Purcell’s well-expressed view) with his portrait. His recent comments provide an example of how we can learn by remembering the past. “California history tells us much about the gold rush and the mass migration it inspired, but very little of the mass destruction of its native peoples. … the actual genocide of a vibrant civilization thousands of years in the making.” (Governor Brown, 2017)
The National Portrait Gallery has a gallery for all who have served as president. Included are presidents who owned slaves, presidents who ordered Native American removals and President Nixon who required a presidential pardon to avoid prosecution for betraying the public’s trust, using underhanded methods and violating the law.
The US Senate has a gallery for all who served as vice-president. Included is Aaron Burr who killed Alexander Hamilton in an illegal duel where everyone present, including a judge, were instructed to look away so that they could honestly state that they saw nothing.
I can cite many other examples of galleries inclusive of fallen elected officials including the National Governor Association which maintains the photos of even those currently serving felony time such as Illinois Democrat Governor Blagojevich and Connecticut Republican Governor Rowland. The latter facts of imprisonment do not negate the former facts of election.
Manteca Unified states that the superintendent maintains its photo gallery. MUSD’s archives reveal that the first removal by a superintendent was of Larry Elliot’s portrait. Trustee Elliot served from December 1994 to April1997. Brock Elliot School is named after his younger brother for the historical fact that he gave all in Vietnam. Trustee Elliot paid his debt to society. By Wyatt, state and national criteria Trustee Elliot’s portrait belongs in the place he earned by being elected and giving his best to the public good.
Similarly, Trustee Fant served from December 2012 to November 2016. This historical fact is sufficient justification for his portrait to no longer be subject to going down and up. Janet Dyk, herself an elected official, recently publicly called for the removal of his photo again by referencing the Character Counts program in MUSD. She stated that Trustee Fant came up short in the pillar that includes following the rules. Perhaps consideration can be given to all of the program’s six pillars including forgiving and caring. After all Trustee Fant is especially known for his care for the underserved community of Weston Ranch and we all need forgiveness at times.
Finally, I would like to address the gallery photos of Trustee Bronson, who served from December 2014 to May 2015, and Trustee Drain, who served from December 2014 to August 2015. Their pictures should be returned to the gallery wall of MUSD. Their elections by 15.8% and 12.5% majorities respectively are historical facts. The choices of the voters to replace an incumbent board president with 4 years of experience and an incumbent with 16 years of experience respectively were certified by the Registrar of Voters 30 days after their elections.
It is also historically accurate that no one acted to seek to overturn this certification, that recall petitions were filed after the 90-day filing period and that both trustees chose to resign. Some view the resignations as final acts of public service through ending the controversies and allowing the opportunity for a new board. It is also an historical fact that even though one incumbent applied, the board decided to embrace the will of the voters and appointed someone else. All of these historical facts are part of the ‘thousand words’ each missing gallery photo can be heard saying if we listen with Santayana’s attitude of remembrance.
In addition, Trustee Bronson’s photo adds the first Millennial and Trustee Drain’s photo adds the first black female trustee. The facts that Trustee Bronson plead guilty to a misdemeanor and cooperated with the prosecution while Trustee Drain is seeking a new trial after being convicted of multiple felonies by an unusually contentious jury process does not change the facts of the service of the trustees.
In my opinion, our superintendent needs to not take us back to the 90s. He has the opportunity to demonstrate 21st century inclusive leadership by stating that all elected trustees will be represented in MUSD’s historical gallery. Then he can demonstrate 21st century collaboration by creating a process for creating a trustee honor roll through public input.
Perhaps Pearsell and Dyk might join me in this compromise to have both a gallery recognizing historical service and recognition of those seen by our community as the most “dedicated trustees.” Together the historical gallery and the honor roll would provide a clearer, not cleansed, message to students of MUSD’s history of both the bad and the good.