On Friday, TUSD Board member Kristel Foster admitted to violating Arizona’s Open Meeting laws when she and fellow Board member Adelita Grijalva managed to meet Board member Mark Stegeman at his own lawyer’s office. At the request of Superintendent H.T. Sanchez, Stegeman had only agreed to meet Sanchez at that office.
Instead, in their desperate attempt to grab back the power they lost this last election cycle, only Foster and Grijalva showed up and arranged to have the media with them at what turned into an ambush-style confrontation.
In response to an inquiry from the ADI, Board member Michael Hicks explained that on Thursday “afternoon Dr. Sanchez called me and said he would like to discuss the possibility of a mutual agreement regarding how to workout (sic) the differences between Dr. Stegeman and Ms. Sedgwick and him. I asked him if he wanted me to ask Dr. Stegeman to meet with him. Dr. Sanchez said yes. I told him i (sic) would contact Dr. Stegeman and ask him if he wanted to meet with Dr. Sanchez to discuss a mutual agreement. It was said by Dr. Sanchez that he didn’t want to put the district in turmoil if the board wanted him gone and that he wanted to go out without each party throwing stones.”
Hicks advised the ADI that he believed Sanchez’s request was sincere. Whether it was or not, Sanchez was a no show.
A video shows that Stegeman arrived at the attorney’s office and was greeted by Grijalva, Foster and a KOLD reporter and cameraman. While the audio quality is poor, it is clear that Grijalva is emotional as she confronts Stegeman. Grijalva asks Stegeman where he got the authority to negotiate with Sanchez referring to an agenda item scheduled for Tuesday’s Governing Board meeting.
Because three members, according to Foster, had formed a quorum, any discussion of an action item on an upcoming agenda would be a clear violation of Open Meeting laws. Although Foster admitted that the group had formed a quorum, she denied it was a meeting. This claim is remarkable given that the Board had just received training on Arizona’s Open Meeting law requirements.
Any time a quorum is formed, the public must be notified in advance. The District has notified the public when 2 or more Board members have attend various awards ceremonies and other public events. In light of past practices, and the fact that Grijalva and Foster knew they would be forming a quorum, it is not understandable why they failed to post a notice of their intent.
Perhaps what is most striking about the encounter is that both Grijalva and Foster meet with Sanchez in his “one-on-ones” on a weekly basis. Why Stegeman would be denied the same access that Foster and Grijalva have to Sanchez is unclear. What is clear is that Grijalva and Foster intended to deny him that same right.
The bizarre encounter was first exposed in an op-ed in the Arizona Daily Star. In that piece, Grijalva claimed that Stegeman was “without any board approval, is trying to negotiate terms of settlement. He doesn’t have any authority.”
Stegeman clearly told Grijalva that he knew he didn’t have the authority and was not trying to usurp it. Stegeman told the Star, “I’m not empowered to negotiate on behalf of the board. I’m just having a conversation.”
For her part, Board member Rachael Sedgwick has given up trying to work with Sanchez. She told the Star, “He’s made it very clear that he really does not want to work with me. He won’t entertain my questions, respond to my requests, that sort of thing.”
Foster told the ADI via email that she did not “communicate with Ms. Grijalva that this meeting was going to occur.”
Given that Stegeman and Sedgwick have had rocky relations with Sanchez, Grijalva, and Foster, it is unlikely that either of them informed Foster of the meeting. Given the fact that Hicks did not know when or where the meeting would occur, that leaves only Sanchez, as the source for Foster.
That sort of game playing is the hallmark of the Sanchez administration. Pitting his Board and Cabinet members against each other is Sanchez’s standard practice. By keeping everyone off balance, the District itself, which was unstable when he arrived, is even more so.
In a statement sent out to constituents on Sunday, Stegeman wrote, “I have never refused a superintendent’s request for a meeting and am unlikely to do so. I think it would be discourteous (and represent poor governance) to refuse such a request. I am disappointed that, in this case, my good faith response produced this outcome.”