An open mic and elected officials are never a good mix.
Now, some Clovis Unified school board members can join the list of saying things not meant to be heard, but picked up when the microphone remained hot.
The latest case happened at last week’s school board meeting, when the board voted, 7-0, to reject a charter school application of the One & Only Academy. A group of local Sikh-Americans hoped to start the school, in part to avoid bullying from traditional public schools.
The decision was not popular among most in the audience. Clovis City Councilman Vong Mouanoutoua was among those who spoke in favor of the school.
After the vote, the board waited a few minutes before hearing the next item. The video and audio recorded by the district picked up conversations on the board, including an exchange between board members Sandra Budd and Jim Van Volkinburg and Superintendent Eimear O’Farrell.
Budd said that she found Mouanoutoua’s presentation “obnoxious.”
Mouanoutoua, who joined the city council in March of last year after 10 years on the planning commission, said that he was not upset by the comments.
At the meeting, Mouanoutoua asked the board to scrutinize the One & Only charter the same way the board approved other schools. He said some of the assertions made in the staff report recommending denial were not based on fact.
The councilman concluded his three minutes by praising Sikh-Americans.
“If there is any group of Americans you should trust, to do a job that you would be proud of? It is the Sikh,” Mouanoutoua said. “Why would they fail you? Why would they not make you proud?”
Despite the board voting against the school he advocated for, Mouanoutoua said that the process was an example of democracy in action.
“Where else can people come from all corners of the world and be given the opportunity to live their dreams? Here, many gave their three-minute opinion in hopes of trying to garner support. However, decisions need to be made, and once made, we all move forward,” he said.
Mouanoutoua said that Budd’s open mic comments from the dais did not alter his respect for his fellow public servants.
“I am a parent with children in CUSD. One act will not change my outlook or respect for the board or the district,” he said. “I trust them. They have my full support.”
As the crowd cleared out, the microphones remained on, catching this exchange among Budd, Van Volkinburg and O’Farrell.
“Is that who that is?” Van Volkinburg asked Budd of Mouanoutoua. “Clovis City Council guy?”
“He is the new guy on Clovis City Council,” Budd answered.
“I wonder how he got elected?” Van Volkinburg asked.
O’Farrell then turned around to join the conversation.
“Vong from Clovis City Council,” Budd began telling O’Farrell. “That was so obnoxious. He was screaming at us, basically.”
“I’m very surprised,” O’Farrell said before turning off her microphone.
O’Farrell, through spokeswoman Kelly Avants, provided this statement, explaining the superintendent’s “surprise” comment:
“(Superintendent O’Farrell) expressed surprise that, given the open working relationship that our district has with Mr. Mouanoutoua, he had not previously contacted her or any member of the administration with questions about the staff report. She was additionally surprised that Mr. Mouanoutoua quoted inaccurate information about the district and one of our schools in his public presentation. Had he contacted her before making his public comments she would have been happy to provide him with any information he felt would help him to be better informed.”
Avants said O’Farrell plans to reach out to Mouanoutoua to speak directly to him.
Board Members Respond
Van Volkinburg said he did not know Mouanoutoua before the meeting.
“I didn’t mean anything negative about it,” Van Volkinburg told GV Wire about asking how he was elected. “I thought (his public comments) were a little over the top, but he can say what he wants.”
Budd said Mouanoutoua’s information “was full of inaccurate facts and figures about graduation rates and our online school in general.”
“We have a great collegial working relationship with the Clovis City Council. In fact, Vong has called me previously about our mutual interest in subjects. So, I was surprised he did not reach out to board members or the administration about the charter school prior to the board meeting. I was also disappointed that he presented publicly without first checking the facts,” Budd told GV Wire.