There are more than a few lessons to go around from the 2014 Manteca Unified School Board election that saw two 20-somethings elected and then resign in disgrace leading to a former trustee pleading no contest to an election fraud felony this week.
First, there are no short cuts in life. Civilization requires people to play by the rules written to avoid society slipping into chaos over simple little things like who can vote in an election based on age, citizenship, and where they live. Just because an individual doesn’t like what they are required to do by law doesn’t justify ignoring the law to get what they want no matter how unfair on inconvenient they perceive the law to be.
Ashley Drain and Alexander Bronson were not residents of the Manteca Unified School District when they declared their candidacy or when they were elected. It’s as simple as that.
They were recruited to run. And in order to legally do so, they had to perjury themselves by claiming a false residence. That’s not exactly the right way to start a high principled career of public service that both Drain and Bronson made clear was their intent after they took the oath of office, again under false pretenses.
Sam Fant — the former trustee who pled no contest meaning he admitted to the facts presented by the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s office but wouldn’t admit to guilt for the crime charged — liked to brag that the election of Drain and Bronson was the result of a brilliant social media campaign he engineered.
Home Depot has a sale on shovels this week if you need to remove that massive pile.
The truth is Fant — regardless of his methods — was astutely aware of community sentiment. He didn’t buy into the sometimes too cozy and somewhat closed world of school board members and top administrators. It is easy to ignore warning signs when you don’t keep an arm’s length distance from the people you were elected to oversee. Granted, Fant wasn’t your usual Manteca Unified trustee. He had every intention of seeking higher office. The California Legislature and Congress now, as well as over the years, has a liberal sprinkling of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle that started their political careers as school board members.
Fant got that people were restless about the idea of Going Digital all at once given there were a a lot of unanswered questions. They were also less than pleased with the tactics used to secure support for a school bond that was being advanced concurrently.
The fact Don Scholl and Manuel Mederios had virtually the same number of votes cast against them in a districtwide election for two essentially unknown candidates — one with absolutely no community presence and another that worked in an after school program for a short period at Weston Ranch High — underscored the public’s frustration not with them as much as the school district.
Had Fant recruited like-minded people who were legal residents and invested a little time and effort beyond posting items on social media, he wouldn’t be destined to whack weeds, clean up litter, paint off graffiti, and teardown homeless encampments as part of the alternate work program to avoid spending a single day of his 120 day sentence in jail.
Shortcuts — just like trail switchbacks on a steep mountain side — eventually erode and fail with the fallout causing lasting damage. Even if Fant ultimately gets his record expunged, it won’t be too hard for future opponents in elections should he seek a return to public office assuming his record is cleared to Google his transgression and use it against him.
Some would also attach blame to voters, but let’s be blunt. There were two major issues being pushed — Going Digital and a bond measure — at the same time, yet no major effort was made to “educate” or explain either one to the general public that includes parents beyond the standard “open meetings after school” on campus.
In previous bond elections, trustees that supported increasing the district’s indebtedness for school construction typically attended community and other gatherings to speak about the need. The last time around they relied on a cynical election consultant hired by the committee formed to support the bond.
Instead of playing straight and narrow with the needs, the consultant had to manipulate the situation just like Fant has been accused by many of doing. It’s pretty rich given that the consultant and Fant thrive in the same world of politics with the only difference being that the consultant was doing the bidding of what essentially trustees said they wanted and receiving a paycheck for it.
None of this is meant to disparage long serving trustees, those elected in the aftermath of the Fant-Bronson-Alexander debacle or the district administration.
Complacency is not a good thing. The district and school board seems to have learned its lesson.
As for Bronson and Drain, the courts will deal with them. It doesn’t mean they have dark hearts or evil intentions. Laws are designed to create order to avoid the chaos of 320 million Americans making their own rules to govern the country or their day-to-day lives.
And not to dismiss the fact Fant’s methods crossed the line, but he certainly showed how people can easily be manipulated when someone plays “cards” to secure an outcome of a school board discussion or tries to hijack the election process.