By J. NOEL ESPINOZA
San Benito News
In an unexpected turn of events, SBCISD Board Vice-President Angel Mendez caught the board of trustees and school administrators off guard after appealing to be more open to public scrutiny and media access to information.
Mendez, who usually is more accessible to talk to the media than the rest of the board, spoke during a curriculum committee meeting where members raise their concerns regarding items discussed by the board.
Before Mendez expressed his concerns, SBCISD Board-President Michael Vargas interjected saying that it wasn’t pertaining to the discussion on school curriculum and to wait till the board handle the financial matters.
“One of the things that really bother me is that I get calls from Channel 4, Channel 5, and (other media),” Mendez said. “And the common denominator that comes out is that they inquire to our school district for information, but we don’t provide the information.”
As a result, Mendez said the media try to reach board members for information. Without conceding legal and privacy matters, Mendez said he tries to answer questions from the media.
“I try to be politically correct,” Mendez said. “I try to provide information but not to compromise our executive sessions. Nonetheless, I think, as a public entity we also need to provide some form of information to (relay) the message as to what we’re doing.”
Mendez added that the district talks about transparency, but when they (media) ask the tough questions, “We shut down.”
“Don’t speak for everybody,” board member Orlando Lopez interjected, adding that the media can file freedom of information requests.
Mendez restated that he was speaking for himself.
“At the end of the day, we’re all going to be criticized whether we like it or not,” he said. “We are in a position where in reality our constituents are going to be asking the tough questions.”
From his standpoint, Mendez said he would rather have the administration school officials to provide the information.
“If they are asking public information, give them the information in a timely manner,” Mendez said. “If not, at least answer back.”
Vargas and Superintendent Nate Carman rebutted, adding again about filing public information requests.
Carman, who says he’s been often “hugely misquoted,” said every single request is scrutinized by the school attorney and sometimes they may ask for extensions to provide the information.
“It goes both ways,” Vargas said. “If we as a public entity have an obligation to withhold information because of personnel or legal reason then we would do so. But please, don’t confuse that with being not transparent and being anti-media.”
Rosalinda Garcia, a local resident who usually attend the board meetings, said she’s not satisfied the way the district handles public information requests.
“I’ve put in some (financial) requests for information and I’m getting extensions from the district,” Garcia, who says she’s been waiting several months for the information, said. “I think I have like five that are out there. I know other people are going through the same thing.”