Election Controversy: PUSD Board of Education member accused of dishonest campaigning

Board members at the first PUSD Board of Education meeting with the new board. (Photo by Natalie Reyes)

In the fall, Poway Unified District Board of Education Member Kimberly Beatty was allegedly caught distributing flyers on door handles regarding her fellow board members prior to their re-elections in November. The flyers, which she and her husband allegedly were distributing was caught on video and reviled board members T.J. Zane and Michelle O’Connor-Ratcliff.

According to the flyer’s accusations, Zane and O’Connor-Ratcliff secretly colluded with criminally charged superintendent, used taxpayer money to fund legal defense,

repeatedly hired billion dollar board consultants, and shut down students from speaking at board meetings.

The claims on these flyers caused concern for a few reasons. First of all, the claims themselves do not appear to be substantiated with evidence. Additionally, the flyer claims that it was “Paid for By Citizens for Sound Governance at PUSD,” and it appears that this organization does not exist as it has never been registered with the California Fair Political Practice Commission, which regulates campaign financing, conflicts of interest, lobbying, and governmental ethics in California.

Also, Beatty was allegedly wearing a Poway Federation of Teachers shirt while distributing the flyers and as Beatty is not a teacher, it appears she may have misrepresented herself.

The other four board members have taken issue with Beatty’s alleged conduct, especially O’Connor-Ratcliff, a subject of one of the flyers.

“I think she has very effectively tossed away any trust that any of the board members had in her,” O’Connor-Ratcliff said. “If you can’t trust your board members, you can’t rely on them; you can’t have a conversation with them that you know is confidential; you just can’t be an effective team. I think it’s going to be hard, if not impossible, to come back from that.”

According to O’Connor-Ratcliff, it would not be as much of an issue if instead of secretly distributing misinformation, Beatty had just openly supported O’Connor-Ratcliff’s opponent. However, due to the way Beatty conducted herself, O’Connor-Ratcliff has concerns over the future of the Board.

“Trust is absolutely absent, so I don’t know how we’re going to work effectively.” O’Connor-Ratcliff said. “She did the same thing to Mr. Zane on his campaign, so I think it’s very understandable to think that neither of us trust her. I think the same can probably be said about the other two board members because they know what she did. It’s going to be hard for her to participate in a meaningful way.”

According to Zane, he is not worried that the functionality or professionalism of the board will be damaged at all.

“We’ll work through it,” Zane said. “I feel really good about 2019, and I feel like we’re moving in the right direction. I fully expect that now that a few members in the community have come to public comment to voice their concerns about how some tactics were executed in the last campaign that that’ll die down now, and we continue to focus on what we need to focus on.”

Zane hopes this issue dies down, so that the projects the board hopes to make progress on in 2019, such as in school safety, special ed services, and campus infrastructure can move forward.

“My preference would be we just move forward and leave it behind us,” Zane said. “That sort of thing is really for voters to hold individuals accountable for. Ultimately, people who are upset will see the wisdom in just letting it go because we have work to do.”

According to Zane, the voters of the next election will be the judge of whether or not Beatty should lose her position. O’Connor-Ratcliff seems to be more critical of Beatty.

“This is the kind of stuff you think about as stereotypical middle school garbage; adults aren’t supposed to behave this way,” O’Connor-Ratcliff said. “It feels like it’s drifting away, but at the same time I don’t necessarily want people to forget because I don’t think she should get a pass. If she does [run for reelection] I hope people remember what kind of board member she is.”

While Beatty’s motivation for distributing the flyers appears to be speculation until she explains herself, some board members have made suggestions as to why.While Board President Darshana Patel says that perhaps Beatty’s “unethical behavior” is a result of her not being heard on the board, O’Connor-Ratcliff disagrees.

“There’s always an opportunity to be heard,” O’Connor-Ratcliff  said. “If you’re not winning an argument, you can feel free to campaign in favor of somebody who might better support your point of view on things. But you don’t make up lies about them and disseminate it to the community anonymously. That’s not how you behave. If you’re not winning the argument make a better argument.”

Zane speculates that Beatty’s actions were primarily political because when votes are split on a decision, which he said does not happen too often, Beatty is usually on the opposite side of Zane and O’Connor-Ratcliff. Their opponent in the 2018 election, Charles Sellers, was often political allies with Beatty.

One of the main problems that both O’Connor-Ratcliff and Patel have with Beatty’s actions is the example it sets for the community. O’Connor-Ratcliff said that it sets a bad example for students if educational leaders engage in unethical behavior.

Zane speculates that as the Board continues to conduct business, relationships may improve among the five board members. However, other members appear to be doubtful of future agreements among all five.

“I’m trying to rise above and move forward,” O’Connor-Ratcliff said. “I feel like we have a very thoughtful four-person board.”

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