A former school board trustee is under fire for leaving his elected position to pursue a paid position within the district he once served.
Barney Gordon resigned from his position on the Turlock Unified School District’s Board of Trustees on April 16, after representing Trustee Area 1 for nearly six years. On May 21, the Board approved the recommendation for Gordon to serve as the district’s new Assistant Superintendent of Business Services. In a complaint letter mailed out this week, an anonymous group of TUSD employees is calling the ethics of Gordon’s appointment into question.
In the letter, the group claims that the hiring of Gordon compromises the school district’s ethics, and describes his newly-held position as a “black eye” on the town. The employees cite the California Government Code and Fair Political Practices Commission formal and informal opinion letters, stating that local elected officials have a period of at least one year between the time they serve a district and when they can financially gain from said district.
Upon further review of the law, the Political Reform Act, administered by the FPPC, states that the one-year ban only applies if the former public employee or public official is paid by a third party to influence decisions being made by that public official’s former agency. This ban doesn’t apply to school board members who return as employees.
“On the contrary, if the Board chooses to employ Barney Gordon it will have met all ethical and legal requirements,” Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources David Lattig said. “Barney Gordon resigned his employment with no promise of future employment. The position was advertised and the interview process was completed after he had left the school board.”
According to Lattig, TUSD followed its normal hiring procedures and the interview panel ranked Gordon as their top candidate. The group of anonymous employees, however, allege Gordon learned about the demotion of the previous Assistant Superintendent of Business Services prior to his resignation from the Board, and that he colluded with Superintendent Dana Trevethan to obtain the position unethically.
Gordon’s former position on the Board, which approved budgets and salary increases for the Superintendent and additional hiring personnel, made for an “ethical lapse in judgment” by both the Board and the Superintendent in his hiring, the letter argues.
“The law is very clear when it comes to ‘revolving door’ policies for formerly elected officials; however, the law is the baseline when it comes to maintaining the public trust in elected institutions,” the letter reads. “Elected officials and public staff members need to remain well above reproach, both during elections and while holding office.”
According to Gordon, he learned of the Assistant Superintendent of Business Services’ departure when the former administrator informed the Board that he had requested to return to a teaching position. After conversing with his family, Gordon decided that he would compete for the open position and immediately resigned from the Board in order to ensure he had no “influence, privilege nor advantage in the hiring process.” He did so before the open position had been posted.
At the end of the letter, the group of “concerned” employees and teachers states they feel the need to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution from TUSD. They state that the complaint letter was also sent to the Grand Jury and FPPC, and call for Gordon to step down as to refrain from “profiting from his time as an elected official.”
“I am confident the entire process was completed in an ethical, lawful and professional manner,” Gordon responded. “I have no intention of stepping down and I look forward to starting this new position with TUSD on July 1.”