Navarro Citing LA County Case In His Claim He Can Hold Two Board Posts

San Bernardino County School Board Member Gil Navarro is citing a similar circumstance in Los Angeles County that was resolved more than seven years ago in propounding his argument that he can remain a member of the school board while simultaneously serving on the board of the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District.
Navarro has been on the county school board since 2006, and was convincingly reelected in 2010, when he defeated James Tate, Ron Coats and Corey Jackson, pulling in more than twice as many votes as his nearest competitor, Jackson, and more than all three of the others, combined.
In November, he outdistanced George Aguilar 11,643 votes or 56.21 percent to 9,070 votes or 43.79 percent  in the race for the water district board representing the district’s Division 2.
Navarro’s victory prompted county superintendent of schools Gary Thomas to seek a legal opinion from San Bernardino County’s in-house lawyers, known as county counsel, as to whether holding both positions would represent a conflict. Thomas, who is independently elected to his post and has had a few run-ins with Navarro over the last several years on issues pertaining to education, said he was prompted to obtain the opinion because of concerns expressed by members of the public about possible conflicts that might arise if Navarro is called to vote on specific matters over which both the county division of schools and the water district might have competing interests.
On December 7, head county counsel Jean-Rene Basle authored a letter in which he and his staff summarized what they said were published opinions from the California Attorney General’s Office which they said indicated Navarro’s circumstance entailed a potential conflict of interest.
The San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District has overarching authority with regard to water issues in the central portion of the county, dictating policy with regard to water availability and setting wholesale water rates for smaller water retailers and other public water agencies, including those that provide water to several school districts.
Such a circumstance creates a conflict under California law that might preclude Navarro from voting with regard to, on one hand, the water district making water available to school districts or determining the price of that water, or, on the other hand, the county’s schools and school districts purchasing that water. Basle said this would lead to a conflict that Navarro and both the water district and the county superintendent of schools office should avoid. An attorney general’s opinion from 2002 opines, Basle said, that “A significant clash of duties and loyalties may arise in such matters as the water district setting the wholesale water rate that will be passed on to the school district by the retail water agencies involved” and could further occur when the water board votes on “determining the need for restrictions on water usage during times of water shortage.”
Navarro, however, maintains that no such conflict exists at the present time and that he can sidestep any conflicts that do arise by abstaining if and when such conflicts materialize.
He said that Basle and the county’s lawyers were seeking to do Thomas’s political bidding by citing hypothetical examples of a conflict to maneuver him into resigning from the school board.  He has consulted with legal authorities to find case law to establish that he is not hemmed in by circumstance and the government code, and can in fact serve on both boards.
In any case, Navarro said, he cannot be prohibited from serving in both capacities simply upon the strength of Thomas’s objection or Basle’s legal opinion or interpretation. Instead, Navarro said, those wishing to have him removed must utilize a so-called quo warranto proceeding.
A quo warranto action is filed to remove a person from public office. The attorney general reviews quo warranto actions filed by private individuals, determining if they have merit and can proceed. According to the government code, a quo warranto action may be brought against any person who usurps, intrudes into, or unlawfully holds or exercises any public office or franchise.
After the attorney general determines that there are grounds to challenge the individual’s right to hold office, the matter proceeds to trial.
“In order to remove me from public office a private individual must obtain written permission from the State Attorney’s General Office,” Navarro told the Sentinel.
He then referenced the case involving  Blanca Estella Rubio, a board member with the Baldwin Park Unified School District, who in 2004 was challenged by another member of the Baldwin Park Unified School District Board, Anthony J. Bejarano, because he claimed Rubio’s school board position and that of board member or director of the Valley County Water District constituted the holding of “incompatible offices.”
Bejarano related the matter to the California Attorney General, who at that time was Bill Lockyer. The State Attorney General’s Office concluded that Bejarano’s question was a valid one requiring judicial resolution.
In Rubio’s case, she was a water district board member before she was elected to the school board and under the provisions of the case that Bejarano and the school district were allowed to bring to trial by the State Attorney General, Rubio would have been,  if the trial court had held against her,  removed as a water board member and to be allowed to retain the office to which she was most recently elected, that of school board member. The matter went to civil trial and in October 2005, a jury ruled in a 9-3 decision that Rubio could keep her seats on both the school board and the water board.
“After a jury trial, Blanca Rubio was not found to be in conflict and was able to maintain two elected positions,” Navarro said.
He indicated he would not back down on the issue and simply resign from the school board as he is being pressured to do.
On January 8, the school board is set to discuss what action it will take with regard to Navarro, including whether it will proceed to a quo warranto action or not. Such an action, if it results in the State Attorney General’s certification, could entail a cost of over $100,000.
Navarro has indicated he will insist that the district go to that expense if it proceeds against him. Such a court challenge would be a roll of the dice, as was demonstrated with the Rubio case. Navarro insists he has a right to hold both offices, given that the voters approved him for both roles.
Navarro has stood firm – or intransigent, depending on one’s perspective – with regard to previous legal challenges by the county education board. A professional educator and special needs student advocate, he has been advised repeatedly by district lawyers that he should not be working on behalf of students attending county schools. He has defied that counsel.
An outspoken Latino activist who has pushed for the political and professional empowerment of Hispanics, Navarro insists he has encountered opposition because of that activity.
Navarro’s opponents claim his political aims have often led him to promote suspect programs or unqualified individuals and that a significant clash of his duties in his dual elected capacities could result in an adverse effect on the county’s schools or water districts or both.

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