By MICHAEL RODRIGUEZ
When faced with potentially controversial matters, it’s incumbent upon public servants and elected officials to get in front of whatever scandal has them terrified. Otherwise, a veritable minefield awaits those who practice secrecy. Denials can so easily turn to lies, and lies lead only to public distrust, which spells disaster on a level far more staggering than any controversy.
Enter Rio Hondo city and school district leaders.
Now we’ve had our share of concerns with regard to this community’s leaders, granted. But they’ve also shown promise recently. Our public information requests have been satisfied in a timely manner, and our inquiries have not been dismissed – occurrences which have not always been the case in such instances.
Still, this week has proven that old habits die hard. Although officials from both Rio Hondo ISD and the City of Rio Hondo have not necessarily been avoiding the press, they haven’t exactly been upfront with us either.
Understand first that my intentions are not necessarily to chastise these officials but to offer some friendly advice that could benefit all involved. So without any further ado, please take the following into consideration when calamity is sure to befall the entities and local governments you represent.
Let’s begin with the Rio Hondo High School teacher being investigated for an alleged inappropriate relationship with a student. This is a story we first learned about on Monday but did not confirm until Tuesday, when RHISD representatives issued a statement acknowledging the situation and announcing that the teacher had been placed on administrative leave pending investigation. Offering only a canned “this is a personnel matter” explanation and the “ongoing investigative nature of this case,” the district offered no further comment and did not identify the teacher in question. Fair enough.
However, we’ve received numerous phone calls from sources identifying the teacher since publishing the story on Wednesday. It’s information we’re obligated to followup with – at the very least – phone calls to the superintendent and the high school. RHISD Superintendent Ismael Garcia directed our reporter to contact Human Resources Director Veronica Puente, who was polite but wouldn’t divulge any information.
When we called the high school, we asked for the teacher who sources identified as the person under investigation. It was at this point that we were told he was in class, which meant one of two things: 1.) The teacher being investigated had returned to work; or 2.) Our sources were wrong, which although rare wouldn’t be the first time.
Determined, our reporter made a phone call to Chief Weldon Matlock of the Rio Hondo Police Department, which we considered may also be investigating the case in a criminal aspect. The only problem was that RHPD Sergeant Victor Tamayo answered the call and informed us that Matlock was no longer the chief.
Wow. Apparently this was news that the public would have largely been unaware of if it wasn’t for us calling on another matter.
Going back to the teacher situation, we didn’t feel comfortable revealing the person’s name at this time despite being quite confident about his identity. This is only because there remains much that requires an explanation from district officials, such as why the gentleman is back at work. Has he been cleared? If so, let us know and we’ll report it – thus easing the minds of parents, students and district officials.
In short, while our efforts to crack Rio Hondo’s hardened shell yielded significant results, there are still so many questions that are left unanswered. What occurs in the meantime is speculation among the public, which is what you – city and school district leaders – do not want. People have a funny way of believing rumors in the absence of clarity – clarity that must come from you as leaders. Get out in front of these cases and be the people responsible for unearthing the details rather than burying them. Of these methods, which do you believe your constituents will prefer?