Sierra Unified School District trustees will consider taking the rare step of censuring one of their own on Monday when they review Trustee James Hoak Jr.’s role in the Capitol riot on Jan. 6 over the election of President Joe Biden.
The board is holding a special meeting to review social media video clips posted by Hoak that day that include him saying, “This is what it looks like when you storm the Capitol … and it’s not burning down yet.” The trustees will consider a variety of actions in response, including reprimands and censure.
Hoak has defended his actions in Washington, D.C., saying that he was not representing the Sierra foothills school district but was there as a private citizen and, he says, a member of the news media.
During a highly charged board meeting on Jan. 11 that included several hours of comments from community members calling for him to resign or be removed and others speaking in his support, Hoak said that he won’t resign “because elections matter.”
A change.org petition seeking Hoak’s removal had nearly 9,400 signatures by Friday afternoon. The School Board does not have the authority to remove Hoak, and any recall effort would need to wait. Under the California Constitution, a recall campaign against a local elected official may not begin until the official has been in office for more than 90 days.
Agenda Includes Hoak’s Livestreams
Among six videos included on the board agenda is a lengthy clip of rioters breaking windows as they try to gain entrance to the Capitol buildings and attacking police.
Over the screams and shouts of participants, Hoak points to a policeman being physically attacked and says, “I’m not saying we need to vandalize anything, but all I’m saying is, doing the right thing has got us nowhere. So I think these people are desperate, and they’re pissed off. And I think they’re rightfully pissed off.
“But is it that guy’s fault that they’re taking it out on? No. If I was him, I would leave. I’d be like, I didn’t sign up for this.”
One clip shows Hoak leaving an upper terrace next to the Capitol after he and others were tear-gassed and then descending through an enclosed stairway to the sidewalk level below. At the time, Hoak — who obtained media accreditation from the Secret Service to cover a rally held earlier that day by then-President Donald Trump near the White House — was wearing a black-and-white “prisoner’s” outfit and carrying a Joe Biden mask, symbolizing his belief that Biden belongs in jail.
Another clip includes comments from Hoak talking about the Proud Boys “being a really good group of guys.”
The FBI has labeled the Proud Boys an extremist group with ties to white nationalism.
The board also will consider a video clip in which Hoak talks about climbing ladders on scaffolding at the Capitol.
Possible Board Actions
The board will consider four action items, all of which note that Hoak was not representing himself as a School Board member at the riot and was not seen in any clips as engaging in acts of violence or vandalism.
The proposed actions range from acknowledging that Hoak was exercising his constitutional rights as an American by attending the protest-turned-riot, to finding that his involvement was inconsistent with board bylaws, particularly Board Bylaw 9005 that requires board members to hold themselves to the highest level of ethical conduct, and constituted a “very bad judgment call on his part.”
The trustees also will consider two proposed resolutions. One does not mention Hoak by name but reaffirms the need for all trustees to conduct themselves with decorum and professionalism, and references the many recent challenges faced by district residents: “WHEREAS, the Governing Board of the Sierra Unified School District and community at large have faced several very trying issues over the last several months, including the pandemic, catastrophic regional forest fires, the fracturing of social and political civility, a contentious election season, all of which have a cumulative effect on us as individuals and as a community; and
WHEREAS, over the last few weeks the District has had to deal directly with fall-out from a divisive presidential election and community concerns regarding Board member conduct …”
The proposed censure resolution finds that Hoak’s statements and social media posts represent “a failure on Member Hoak’s part to act in the interests of the public trust, setting the reputation of the Sierra Unified School District in a negative light, impacting community willingness to support the Sierra Unified School District, and interfering with the District’s responsibilities to properly serve its students, employees, and community.”
The censure resolution would require Hoak to abide by the board’s governance standards and refrain from public statements and social media posts that violate the board’s principles of decorum, professionalism, decency and good stewardship.
Hoak will have the opportunity to make a statement, and the board also is providing time for public comment at the meeting, which will start at 4:30 p.m. The Zoom meeting link is.: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88364760604?pwd=Z1ZuVFljZFRkY0tZbW5UMFpnZHIvZz09. Passcode: 188895