Trustee’s questionable use of SUSD card stir his critics, fellow boardmembers
Stockton, CA / Bilingual Weekly
Stockton Unified School District (SUSD) Trustee Jose Morales has survived an election ballot recount and two recall-attempts in his 26-month tenure, but his demise may not come from outsiders, but from within.
According to public records obtained and published by the Stockton daily The Record, Morales charged $3,050.07 to his SUSD-issued credit card within the last 17 months. Most of the charges are for meals, coffee and gas, although some show payment to dry cleaners, sports and auto accessories stores. Morales has maintained —save a few exceptions— the expenses were mostly spent on SUSD’s business. Personal expense refunds to the SUSD never materialized because —according to an interview with The Record— the Trustee said he had misplaced the receipts.
The whole issue came to light recently when Morales —who had rescinded his credit card after his almost non-existing record-keeping came into question some time ago— requested it back.
Board President Colleen Boardman said she was surprised and upset by Morales disregard of procedures. Since then Morales paid back what he deemed to be personal expenses —around $450— but before yesterday’s (Tuesday, February 8, 2011) Board meeting, the trustee had refunded the district the full amount charged to the card during the questioned period.
This did not assuage the temper of public comment speakers who lined up to the microphone to berate Morales’ for his deed. Both speakers and cheering crowd were familiar faces of the 2009’s “recall Morales” campaigns. One admittedly worked for Morales’ predecessor, Anthony Silva, who lost his reelection to Morales for one single vote. Comments went from the mild to the outrageous, including South Stockton bail bondsman Ralph Lee White, who accused the Board of harboring “a thief in the house” and dared its members to impeach Morales several times.
According to SUSD legal counsel, Marie Nakamura, Trustees have no power to impeach or force the resignation of any member.
Nevertheless, boardmembers did speak of correctness and responsibility, condemning Morales’ act either implicitly or directly. Morales read a statement where he admitted carelessness and “a lapse of (good) judgment” and apologized twice. Trustees were not impressed and they voted on handling the case to the San Joaquin County District Attorney to decide if there are grounds for prosecution. The option was the least expensive of three possible actions: a recall election or a District-ordered investigation would draw much needed funds in a time of great financial hardship, whereas the DA would bear no expense to SUSD, indicated Nakamura.
A previous case of investigation of a boardmember’s alleged wrongdoing —living outside his representation’s area— cost thousands to the District and went nowhere. These investigations “are a waste of money” said Trustee Salvador Ramirez, target of the 2010 investigation, as he added his Yeah to the 6-to-one abstention vote for the matter to be handed to the District Attorney.