Conflict Ends With Navarro Booted From School Board

(January 9)  Gil Navarro has been removed from his position as a member of the San Bernardino County Board of Education based upon San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Michael A. Sachs’ determination that Navarro’s simultaneous incumbency on the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District Board constituted a conflict of interest.
The dilemma besetting Navarro grew out of his having outdistanced George Aguilar in the November 2012 race for a position on the San Bernardino Municipal Water District representing that entity’s  Division 2, with Navarro capturing  11,643 votes or 56.21 percent to Aguilar’s  9,070 votes or 43.79 percent. At that point, Navarro, who had been a member of the school board since 2006, still had two years remaining on his term as a school board member.
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,  2012, head county counsel Jean-Rene Basle authored a letter in which he and his staff summarized 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, maintained that no such conflict existed given that there was no squabbling over water rates and that he could sidestep any conflicts that did arise by abstaining if and when such conflicts materialized. He refused to surrender either position.
The matter was referred to the California Attorney General’s Office, which made a determination that there would be sufficient grounds for the board to undertake a lawsuit to seek Navarro’s removal from the county school board.
An outspoken Latino activist who has pushed for the political and professional empowerment of Hispanics, Navarro insisted he was encountering opposition because of that activity. In his effort to remain on the school board, he cited the legal precedent involved in the case of  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, to which Rubio had previously also been elected, constituted the holding of “incompatible offices.”
Bejarano and the school district took Rubio to court and in a civil trial held 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.
Legal  authorities, while conceding there were direct parallels between the Rubio and Navarro cases, claimed there is superseding law which undercuts Navarro’s position. In 2005, the California State Legislature acted to define incompatibility of office as applicable whenever there “is a possibility of a significant clash of duties or loyalties between the offices.”
Sachs, in a finding and accompanying order for Navarro’s removal issued last month, said Navarro is “not entitled to hold or exercise the office of San Bernardino County Board of Education Trustee as it is an incompatible office with his position as a San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District Board Member.”
The Board of Education voted on January 6, to replace Navarro on the board by an appointment process that will entail the acceptance of applications until January 16, interviews of candidates and a selection by the board as early as January 23.

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