By Jerome Rice
On May 29, the ballots were counted in the runoff election for president of the Fresno Teachers Association (FTA). Mai Summer Vue defeated Eva Ruiz by 51 votes (more than 5% of the vote).
On June 8, challenges to that runoff were received by the FTA’s Elections Committee. On June 19, the FTA’s Executive Board met to hear the Elections Committee’s ruling on those challenges. The rules governing challenges require the Executive Board to hear the Elections Committee report within 10 days of receiving the challenge, not 11. This rule violation was one of many to follow.
The Elections Committee ruled that the challenges to the runoff had no merit. There was a concerted effort to keep this ruling secret. The Executive Board, however, disregarded the Elections Committee’s ruling and accepted Ruiz’s challenge without citing any reason or justification for doing so. The Executive Board then called for a “re-do” of the runoff election.
Moreover, the legitimacy of the June 19 Executive Board meeting is disputed. The board members violated the most basic requirements to gain authority to make decisions on behalf the FTA membership. There was no agenda for the meeting, and the doors were to be locked, preventing any non-board members, or witnesses, from attending the meeting—denying FTA members their right to attend the meeting and making this meeting invalid. Decisions, even unanimous decisions, at invalid meetings are null and void according to Robert’s Rules of Order, which is a governing document of the FTA.
In a June 16 e-mail, three days before the meeting, the FTA president at the time, Greg Gadams, wrote, “Please be aware that this is not an open meeting where people come and give testimony. In order to enforce this we will not be allowing non-Elections or Non-Board members in. Our Office will already be observing summer hours, so the doors will be locked anyway.” However, the FTA Bylaws state that “Executive Board meetings (regular or specially called) will be open to the members of the Association.”
Gadams had campaigned for Ruiz, sending out endorsement flyers asking FTA members to vote for her. Arguably Ruiz’s biggest supporter, Gadams then played a pivotal role in overturning the Elections Committee ruling and accepting the Ruiz challenge that the Elections Committee had already deemed to be without merit. Gadams reportedly spoke for about two hours regarding the challenge at the June 19 meeting, wearing down the other board members and seemingly breathing new life into the campaign of Ruiz.
Upon learning of this invalid meeting and the resulting actions, several FTA members (including this author) questioned FTA board members seeking acknowledgement of the violations in procedure and a halt to the second runoff election. Those contacted at the FTA ignored or denied the violations prompting contact with the California Teachers Association (CTA) to seek corrective measures at the FTA.
On June 28, the CTA sent a letter to Gadams directing the FTA to halt the second runoff election until a CTA investigation could be concluded and a ruling made on those challenges stemming from the June 19 meeting. A June 29 letter from Gadams stated that the majority of the board had agreed to comply with the CTA directive to suspend the election.
On July 1, the newly elected board members’ terms began, including the new FTA president, Vue. Vue was in Washington, D.C., attending a National Education Association conference along with a dozen or so other FTA members. Vue returned to Fresno on July 8 and went into the FTA office the following day to get started with her new duties.
On July 10, some new board members met secretly (without contacting all board members and excluding the current FTA president) discussing and illegally acting to continue the halted second runoff election as previous planned at the invalid June 19 board meeting. Within days, without the usual supervision or participation of the Elections Committee or its chair, the ballots for the second runoff were sent out. The ballots sported the CTA logo despite the election being held in defiance of the CTA directive to halt that second runoff election.
On July 27, Ruiz, assisted by FTA staffers and some Executive Board members, took part in a coup of the FTA. Following the vote tally of an unauthorized, corrupted and invalid second runoff election, the locks were changed and the police were called to remove the legitimately elected FTA president, Vue, from the president’s office.
On Aug. 14, after demands to acknowledge the second runoff election as invalid and acknowledge Vue as FTA president went ignored, those then holding power at the FTA closed all avenues for correcting their errors and instead embraced the corrupt practices of the past Executive Board members’ meeting on June 19. At the Aug. 14 meeting, the Executive Board members rejected the challenges to the second runoff election and “validated” a Ruiz victory. Indications are that the Elections Committee was overturned a second time by the board’s actions. At this time, the Elections Committee ruling remains inexplicably secret.
Coming out of the same Aug. 14 meeting, the Elections Committee chair, Charles Pansarosa, was directed to draft a letter sharing the Executive Board members’ decisions regarding the second runoff election. On Aug. 17, such a memo was sent by Pansarosa. It seems an odd practice to have a memo from the Elections Committee chair, a stand-alone committee, reporting only the decisions of the Executive Board members and not reporting the ruling of the Elections Committee itself.
On Aug. 22, the CTA conducted a hearing to investigate the recent FTA elections. Some hope that the CTA will step in and restore proper democratic processes to the FTA and invalidate the corrupted election won by Ruiz.
As of this author’s deadline for publication, those holding power at FTA have done their best to legitimize the July 27 coup. The CTA could overrule the corrupt FTA practices, including the invalid election of Ruiz, as such an outcome is within its authority. This would make for some interesting civics lessons for the students as the new school year begins. Perhaps the best lesson is yet to come, as Fresno teachers unite, or not, to address the corruption of their union’s Board and elections.