The Inside Scoop
NOVEMBER 9-15, 2018
Longtime SBCISD Public Relations Director, Celia Longoria did not resign from her post after 20 years of service to the district. Nor was she fired. She was pushed out. She was called, under a false pretense, to what she thought was a personnel meeting where she was ambushed by Superintendent, Dr. Nate Carman and a HR representative and given two options: resign or be fired. She was given the hard sell encouraging her to resign, for the sake of her career, of course. Blindsided, she asked for time to consider her options, but she was told leaving the meeting wouldn’t be possible and that a decision had to be made then and there. She chose to resign, believing resigning would be better than blemishing an otherwise admirable career. But here’s my advice, being that she already technically resigned, she needs to lawyer up, and it’s my understanding that she has, because she was under duress and by resigning, she waved her rights to certain benefits that are potentially owed to her.
Longoria had been the district’s PR director for two decades, outlasting a number of administrations and superintendents dating back to the Joe D. Gonzalez era. Longoria and we in the media, sat at opposite ends of the spectrum, meaning our job in the media was to acquire information and hers was that of the district’s gatekeeper, of sorts, but when the dust settled, I believe there was mutual respect and understanding, not just between this media outlet but many others from far and wide, and she has the awards and accolades to prove it. Just this weekend, I was sent an inquiry by a citizen regarding the district. I wasn’t sure of the answer and I referred the parent to Longoria, whom I’ve always considered to be a liaison between the community and the district. That citizen was reluctant, explaining that she didn’t trust the district. My response was to say, Longoria is neither friend nor foe, but she’s a professional and she’ll answer your question because she’s the consummate professional. That’s something the top levels of the district’s current administration, as well as certain members of the board, sorely lack these days.
Take, for instance, the behavior of board president Michael Vargas, whom engaged in a rather odd and amusing exchange on social media late last week which culminated in him saying that I lacked integrity when I noted the fact that he and certain members of the board and the administration have been less than transparent on a number of issues during Carman’s short, but already tumultuous tenure here. Suffice it to say, I was amazed that the board president wanted to get into a conversation about integrity given his and the district’s recent and past exploits. Seriously, would you want to talk about integrity when a loyal district employee of 20 years was forced to resign while someone there for less than year is sitting at home, maybe collecting a paycheck at the taxpayers’ expense as the district dodges questions about the matter? I replied by just saying that I’d put my integrity and reputation on the line against his and certain individuals at the administration building any day of the week.
Then came the morning after the bond election, the same morning that Longoria “resigned,” ironically enough, when Vargas posted, “Citizens of San Benito CISD have spoken loud and clear! Tough leadership means making tough decisions that are not popular to an apparent few; we have overcome that, and memories will not run short…”
Well, Mr. Vargas, I hate to toss a drink on your alternative facts, but considering that the district and the mysterious SPAC poured what will likely amount to tens of thousands of dollars in marketing to push the bond through, in the end, the bond passed by a mere 554 votes of the 6,438 ballots cast; that’s hardly considered a mandate from the people. The exchange birthed the hashtag #theapparentfew by one resident.
But possibly more curious was the last part of that statement, “…memories will not run short.” A number of people on social media replied to that portion of the statement, taking the comment as a threat or challenge. But I saw the remark as a small insight toward the overall attitude that we’re seeing from the district and on the board. These are not the words and actions of leaders but rather the words and actions of bullies who think less of others, including members of the community not connected to the district. Their lack of respect towards their own employees is and the taxpayer stems from fear and cowardice and you can smell the fear from a mile away, or at least I can. True leaders don’t refuse to answer questions. True leaders don’t have to earn staff loyalty by distributing $100 bills or curry favor with the public with the promise of free barbeque or threaten their employees and community members into submission.
The irony is that both Vargas and Carman pride themselves on being forward thinkers, progressives, for lack of a better term, but many of their attitudes, tactics and actions mirror the current administration in Washington, which they denounce. Which leads me to this, the exchange on social media between Vargas and myself referenced earlier concluded with me posing a challenge to the board president, and I’ll issue it again here. My proposition was simple: let’s debate the issues I’ve been raising in my columns on Vargas’ turf, the administration building’s board room. I’ll promote it, pack the room and pass the hat. The money collected will go toward a local charity of the board president’s choice. We’ll record the debate and post it on social media and our respective websites for all to see. If Vargas scores a decisive victory, I’ll cease from publishing these columns, or at least stop investigating the school district. But if I score a decisive victory, Vargas steps down and come May, the district can hold a special election to fill his seat on the board. Now that would be taxpayer money well spent.