Comments by LWVO President Viola Gonzales re Filling of Board of Education Vacancy for District 5
AT OUSD BOARD MEETING
[Background: The District 5 seat became vacant after Mike Hutchinson resigned to be sworn into his new District 4 position. Hutchinson chose to run for District 4 last year because of a redistricting change. He won, but because of an error by the Alameda County Registrar’s office that initially gave more votes to another candidate, Hutchinson had to win a court case before he could be sworn in. See The Oaklandside, March 23, 2023, “Oakland school board deadlocked on how to fill District 5 vacancy”.]
Good evening. I am Viola Gonzales, President of the League of Women Voters of Oakland.
In principle and consistent with our values, letting voters decide is the most ideal. The League at national, state and local levels believes in having the electorate decide. However, decisions cannot be made in a vacuum. We acknowledge that there are important competing considerations that divide our community.
We see several important factors:
1) Length of time: in an elective process as laid out by counsel, the length of time for someone to be elected is lengthy (November—is about 8 months from now) while an appointive process could be within 2 months. In the meantime, OUSD needs to make decisions now, decisions that impact our children--decisions that affect staffing and facility needs—during which time there will be no representation for District 5.
2) Historically, there is low turnout in these types of special elections—where relatively fewvoters help make an informed decision. This suggests that appointment by an elected body (such as this board) can serve democracy, so long as the selection process is transparent.
These two factors would argue against an election and for an appointive process.
3) However, we can add a third--the cost to be borne--which may negatively impact a cash strapped community, such as ours. Estimated costs for voting by mail for a standalone special election (can run up to $280,000) or with voting centers--over half a million dollars. This comes at a challenging time for the City of Oakland, struggling to balance its own budget. Moreover, it isn’t just about cost in dollars but also in terms of diversion of scarce governmental resources. The Registrar was recently quoted as saying he was already two months behind given his recent tabulation error …and “To do any other activities ….would mean “taking away the talent (he needs) in preparation of the 2024 election..."
The appointive route also raises important concerns.
· By what criteria will someone be appointed?
· Does the process attempt to apply best practices and checks and balances for conflicts of interest or other issues of accountability?
· Will the process be transparent to one and all? The League is very mindful of the importance of transparency and the School Board should too. If the selection process is perceived as insufficiently transparent the voters could still petition for an election. Let there be no concerns regarding conflicts of interest, or issues of integrity and accountability to the public and the community served.
We urge you to make a decision this evening and not wait for the Alameda County Superintendent to make the decision for you.
Good governance is not about making decisions that come easy but about making decisions in the best interests of the community you serve.
Thank you for your attention.