Visalia Unified School District board appoints COS political science professor Randy Villegas to Trustee Area 6 seat
VISALIA – Just six months after moving into the school district, Randy Villegas was selected to fill the last seat on the Visalia Unified school board after a surprise ending to an already odd political process.
The Visalia Unified School District board selected Villegas from a field of four candidates during a special meeting on Dec. 9 at the COS Theatre, a short walk from his office as a political science professor at the community college. The other candidates were Gwendolyn Schrank, Bob Ainley and former Area 6 Trustee Lucia Vazquez.
But Villegas wasn’t the board’s first choice, or its second. Following a forum-style question and answer, the school board decided to advance two candidates as finalists for the seat. Board Clerk Walta Gamoian and Trustee Joy Naylor liked attorney Ainley’s fresh perspective and analytical approach while Board President Juan Guerrero and trustees Megan Casebeer Soleno and Jacquie Gaebe favored the board experience and advocacy of educator Lucia Vazquez. The board was deadlocked at a 2-3 vote either way and it required a majority of the board, four votes, to make the provisional appointment to finish out the next year before the seat is up for its regular election in November 2022.
The missing sixth vote in the equation was the board’s newest trustee Catalina Blair, who recused herself from the process because Vazquez is her aunt. VUSD attorney Megan Macy said the recusal did not forego the need for a four-vote majority because Blair is still a sitting board member who was in attendance, even though she was unable to participate in the process.
Without either side willing to budge on the finalists, Guerrero called for a vote to hold a special election, which would have happened either way if the board did not appoint someone within 60 days of the vacancy. In an effort to avoid holding a costly election for someone to serve on the board less than a year, Casebeer Soleno made a surprise motion to appoint Villegas. The motion was seconded by Gaebe and passed on a 4-1 vote, with Naylor the lone dissenting vote.
Villegas was officially sworn in after the vote.
Look for the full story of the Dec. 9 special meeting of the VUSD board in the Dec. 15 issue of The Sun-Gazette.