SAN BENITO — The school board likely won’t reorganize its officers until at least May.
The board’s majority voted this past week to change the district’s policy governing reorganization amid a push to remove Trustee Michael Vargas as president.
Last month, board members Angel Mendez and Mary Lou Garcia called on trustees to reorganize the board as part of a plan to remove Vargas as president as a result of his arrest on a drunken driving charge in July. In response, the board’s majority voted to keep Vargas as president, Orlando Lopez as vice president and Janie Silva as secretary. At the time, the policy allowed board members to reorganize the board upon members’ consensus.
Now, the new policy limits reorganization to the board’s regular May meeting. “The board shall elect officers annually at the regular May board meeting and shall only reorganize at any other time if a board officer resigns from office or is otherwise no longer a trustee,” the new policy states.
During Thursday night’s special meeting, Superintendent Nate Carman said Vargas requested the board consider the proposal.
Vargas said the board’s majority had already voted against reorganizing the board.
“The will of the board has spoken,” he said.
“For me as a board president and elected body, it is our due diligence to protect the integrity of the government process and governing system, and so, for me, when we’ve had attempts to reorganize this board within the last two or three months and with hypotheticals of reorganizing the board again, that just makes a mockery of the governing system and governing process,” Vargas said before the audience.
“When I quantify the word mockery, I want to quantify that with the level of politics and personal vendettas that have been inserted into this equation. As so, for me, when we walk into this door and sit on this desk, the politics should be left outside.”
Sparking fiery debate, Mendez accused Vargas of trying to stop the push to remove him as president. “Our governing board begins to put a gag on the freedom of speech,” Mendez told Vargas. “We create a mockery of the system when we begin to believe that we are untouchable
and nobody can do anything to stop us.” Then Garcia accused Vargas abusing his power as president. “Michael, you are nothing but a dictator,” Garcia said. “And that’s what you’re trying to do — dictate to us.” After the meeting, board member Victor Rosas said he voted to change policy to stop repeated attempts to reorganize the board.
“That was my concern,” Rosas said in an interview. “I didn’t want every month to realign the board.” Meanwhile, Mendez accused Vargas of changing district policy to serve the board’s self interests.
“The approach is to undermine and change policy,” Mendez said after the meeting. “Those are just traits of self interest.”
Mendez said he called for Vargas’ removal as president after his arrest because Vargas serves as the board’s leader and district spokesman.
“Here we are preaching student safety and we’re not looking at ourselves as the moral compass of the community,” Mendez said in an interview.
Mendez said parents and students are concerned about Vargas’ arrest.
“I’m getting approached by students. Parents are concerned. They’re looking at us as community leaders,” he said. “‘Why aren’t you doing anything? He had a mistake and he must be held accountable.’” In a statement, Vargas accused Mendez of politicizing his arrest.
“As school board officials elected to office by the people, we need to respect the democratic process. By attempting to reorganize the board multiple times in just a few months, Mr. Mendez is making a mockery of our governing process and system,” Vargas wrote.
“Mr. Mendez has been using a very personal issue of mine to try to portray me in a bad light and embarrass me in the court of public opinion. His personal, political interests need to be left outside — on the street. There is no place for petty politics in this board room and we simply will not put up with it.”
“It’s no secret that I have been through a personal issue, and I will continue to deal with it in a personal manner like anyone else. Until then though, I will not let Mr. Mendez continue to make a mockery out of our school board meetings in an attempt to slander me and try to further his political agenda. My fellow board members agreed that we are above this, as they twice-voted to keep me as board president for a third consecutive year.”
Other board members could not be reached for comment.
At about 2 a.m. July 5, a Harlingen police officer found Vargas, 32, sleeping behind the wheel of his car outside a Taco Bell restaurant at 1518 N. Ed Carey Drive, a police report states.
According to the report, the officer arrested Vargas after he refused to perform a field sobriety test. Later that day, Vargas was released from the city jail after posting $2,000 bail. Vargas, who was elected to the school board’s Place 1 seat in May 2015, has served as the board’s president since May 2017. Last year, he won re-election to the term expiring in 2021.