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The school board’s empty seat

Santa Fe school board member Rudy Garcia campaigns during a Fiesta parade in 2018. Garcia has missed half of the school board meetings this year, offering little or no excuse. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Rudy Garcia, appointed to a vacant Santa Fe school board position by board vote in 2017, matriculated to a seat on the Santa Fe County Commission in last year’s elections. But he also kept the school board seat. Holding two elected positions is OK under New Mexico law.

When running for election to the County Commission a year ago, Garcia told the Journal, “I’ll have to play it case by case and see if that happens,” when asked about potential scheduling conflicts between county commission and school board meetings.

It turns out Garcia’s case-by-case process, or something, has worked to the school board’s detriment. Garcia has missed half of the school board’s meetings in 2019. He has a good attendance record for County Commission meetings.

Garcia has made it to just one of four school board study sessions held this year. He’s attended 10 of 17 regular school board meetings. He missed the single special board meeting.

Garcia highlighted his chronic truancy on Tuesday night when he failed to show up for a meeting on an important and controversial issue – whether a trio of small schools in older neighborhoods should be closed. When the board voted on a motion to take closing of the three schools off the table – to essentially call a halt the long-running discussion of shuttering schools – the vote was an inconclusive 2-2 tie. The fifth board member, Rudy Garcia, was absent.

The argument in favor of closing the small schools is essentially that district resources are stretched thin and that keeping those old schools, which serve a heavy rate of students who transfer in, is a detriment to the larger neighborhood schools on the lower-income South Side. Garcia represents the South Side and should have an intense interest in this issue.

The board can and likely will have a do-over on the school-closing vote and maybe Garcia will show up next time. But it’s a disservice to constituents, the district as a whole and his fellow board members to miss a long discussion and then a vote on such an important issue without an explanation, at least as of this writing.

In response to Journal North reporter T.S. Last’s queries about why he missed the Tuesday meeting, Garcia sent a garbled text that translates as “Individuals have situations” and another that said “Personal life.”

He later added that he would respond to a series of emailed questions but never did, over two days, before Journal North published an article on his absenteeism.

Garcia has dodged accountability before. He managed to get his appointment to the school board without disclosing a checkered past. Between 1999 and 2008, Garcia was arrested at least seven times, four times for DWI and once for a warrant that a judge issued to have Garcia rounded up while one of the DWI cases played out. He was convicted of two of the DWIs. He served 16 days in jail after the second DWI conviction. When first asked by Journal reporter if he’d ever been in jail, Garcia said: “I don’t remember if I did or didn’t.”

He eventually took “full responsibility” for his past actions. As we’ve said before, the responsible thing to do would have been to come clean about his record to four Santa Fe school board members before they voted him into a vacant board position. He still could have made the case that he’s cleaned up his act, learned from the past and is worthy of the public’s trust.

Despite all those issues, Garcia won his County Commission District 3 seat last year, taking more than 60% of the vote against an independent candidate who had his own controversies to deal with.

Now, Garcia is on the ballot in the November elections, running for the first time as a school board candidate. He has no opponent.

Another school board member missed a lot of meetings in recent years while suffering an illness.

As long as Garcia can’t offer a legitimate reason for being a no-show, the best voters can do is to make a “none of the above” move and take a pass on casting ballots for Garcia next month. Longer term, the best case scenario is for Garcia to resign and make way for someone else who can be present and perform the important public service of being a school board member.

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