By MICHAEL RODRIGUEZ
After listening to Wednesday evening’s special meeting of the San Benito CISD Board of Trustees, the legacy of Board President Yliana González became immediately apparent… and unfortunate.
During a discussion about the district’s on-site health clinic administrator, Richard Garza of ISD Managed Care Services, and a $315,000 lien the Internal Revenue Service placed on SBCISD payments owed to him, González was unfathomably critical of the San Benito News stories that brought the situation to light.
Specifically, González said, “I know that sometimes misinformation is given over to the San Benito News or another media source without first going through administration, so it’s portrayed in a very negative manner.”
The “misinformation” González is referring to originated from an email that SBCISD attorney Tony Torres sent to the board. The email confirmed an IRS lien in excess of $315,000 that was placed on future payments the district owed to Garza. Simply put, the information in our stories exists in the realm of reality; otherwise, what was the board discussing Wednesday if not these very matters? Why unanimously agree to provide Garza with a 60-day written termination notice, as the board did on Wednesday, if what was exposed supposedly derived from misinformation? Unless, of course, Torres misinformed the board since it was his account that served to corroborate our report.
“Although the concern is there,” González continued at Wednesday’s meeting, “I just want to make the community very much aware that the services being rendered to the employees have not been negatively impacted, even though that has at some point been portrayed that way in the newspaper, because that’s what happens when misinformation is given over to the media again without first going through administration, who has a clear picture of what’s really going on in the district.”
For nearly a month, Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ismael Cantu did not return our calls requesting comment, so it’s rather convenient for González to task the same administration that has not been accessible in recent weeks to be responsible for transparency. Consider that our sole reliance on this administration for corroboration indicates that our stories would be held hostage by Cantu, who has already developed a reputation for attempting to prevent controversial stories from being “leaked” to the media. Of course, this could have always been the case since González admittedly perceives our stories as “negative.” As a matter of fact, I’m certain that González and Cantu would have liked nothing more than to avert any media coverage of the clinic administrator’s predicament.
In response to González’ claims that the lien situation was “portrayed in a very negative manner,” I find it absurd and even comical to entertain the alternative: that the placing of an IRS lien in the amount of hundreds of thousands of dollars on an administrator that provides on-site health services for the largest employer in the city would somehow be perceived as a positive occurrence. We reported the stories objectively, but if the district resultantly experienced besmirchment it’s due to the unflattering nature of the situation at hand.
“Information is given over to the media when it shouldn’t be, and I understand that and it’s usually misled and misrepresented,” González further remarked while addressing Garza at the meeting. She was referring to Garza’s reluctance in providing documentation validating his attempts at resolve with the IRS, reasoning that his personal affairs would consequently be disclosed to the media. At one point, González added, “It (lien) may not be impacting the service that we’re providing the employees and their families, but it’s reflecting in a negative way on the district. It being in the newspaper and it being maybe exaggerated to some extent… it’s a bad reflection on the board.”
By this point, I deduced that González may not have bothered reading our stories, especially since they contained Torres’ verbatim quotes from his email correspondence with the board. Stated plainly, to identify our coverage as “exaggerated” is to call into question the very manner in which González was informed of the lien.
More importantly, González’ belief that information should not be shared with the media remains chief among my concerns.
In the hands of any local government’s administration, information subject to public record is already filtered by the time it reaches the media. When administrators are approached by a reporter requesting comment on a potentially controversial story, they usually opt to submit a prepared statement, in which names are omitted, originating circumstances are withheld and matters of concern that one would think warrant transparency and sincerity are vague in presentation. Judging by his previous attempts to control what we print, Cantu, I fear, may have gone a step further – such as claiming ignorance or expressing outright denial – if I wasn’t already armed with substantiating information in the lien story. In fact, his response was to not respond.
It then stands to reason that what González may actually intend to occur when preferring for administration to release information requested by the media is to withhold the data in question, which ultimately keeps our readers (a.k.a. the public) uninformed.
Still, do not mistake our insistence on reporting these types of stories for a bloodthirsty bias hellbent on the total destruction of the school district, or any government entity for that matter. I understand the propensity to uphold confidentiality in the midst of sensitive affairs. I also understand why it’s imperative for public servants to portray an image of success when faced with failure, of control when plagued by chaos in order to protect the institution they’re entrusted to serve. Such actions, however, must be conducted within reason. Being a leader, after all, is about more than exhibiting strength for the sake of strength; it’s conceding today what could be a victory tomorrow. For instance, if Cantu and González had responded to our calls and represented the district well during a time of peril, their plight would have been afforded equal coverage. The alternative, in González’ case, was to remain silent until the next meeting, where she complained about the sharing of the same “misinformation” that ironically allowed her to use sound judgment when holding Garza accountable for his business practices and the negative stigma the district has incurred as a result.
Bottom line: We at the News serve only to inform the public while González advocates for an environment that suppresses information and stifles public knowledge and awareness. Limiting the sources of our information to a singular administration reeks of police state tactics in which the press is controlled by an iron-fisted government. This is the legacy González has built during her tenure as board president – leadership that has created a toxic environment where teachers and non-teaching professionals refrain from publicly agreeing with me for fear of retaliation, where the administration favors clandestinity in lieu of veracity, and where there’s no room for freedom of the press.
I’m sorry to disappoint you, Ms. González, but it’s the News that decides how and when we run our stories. This is one group of people you cannot control.