First one person got up and walked out of the room. Then another. And another. As tempers flared during the Feb. 23 meeting of the Latino Outreach Council, four people stood up and walked out.
Two members of the council have resigned in recent months. One member declined to be nominated, and others who were interested decided to avoid the council after attending recent meetings.
But it’s hard to make sense of these flare-ups from a group that has spent the last 18 years trying to help the county’s Latino residents. The organization runs on a budget of about $6,500 on a good year, with the lion’s share coming from the county: about $4,500. The council’s main focus is to connect Latinos with organizations throughout the county. It also runs a smattering of events each year, such as the Mexican Independence Day celebration in September.
But on Feb. 23, some of the council’s members seemed at a breaking point. LOC Interim Treasurer Jackie Garza looked across the room at SLO County Supervisor Paul Teixeira and said to him, “You ask what we want here? We want respect.”
Garza said Teixeira had overstepped his boundaries, that he’d tried to take control of the council, and that he owed them an apology. It wasn’t the first time the supervisor has been on the receiving end of such accusations.
In his defense, Teixeira said Garza and other members who are upset with him had refused his invitation to have a private meeting and sort out their issues. Overall, he seemed taken aback.
“I’ve got no secrets,” he said. “I have no hidden agenda.”
Others in the room argued back and forth. Some felt there was an ongoing lack of respect, some were mad at Teixeira, and some were mad at the people who were mad at Teixeira.
It all started over some pictures on Facebook.
The LOC’s former chair resigned from the position in late September. In an online fight, posted on the LOC’s Facebook page, the former chair and another member got into an argument over pictures taken at an LOC event. At its core, the problem was that the pictures were posted online after the photographer asked to keep them private so she could try to sell them first.
“WOW HOW DARE UCURSE AT ME!” reads one of the comments. “…I will delete ur damn pictures don’t ever fuckin talk to me again. … N I thought u had class n actually looked up to you.”
The comment thread was later removed from the group’s page, but in the months that followed, Teixeira stepped in to try and mitigate. So far, he’s failed.
The LOC has always had a liaison from the Board of Supervisors. Former supervisor Katcho Achadjian served on the LOC and generally stayed out of the way, LOC members told New Times. But when Teixeira took over the position in March 2011, members said he was too heavy-handed.
The situation exploded following an October 2011 meeting, when past chair Andrea Naremi-Vergne said Teixeira pulled her aside and scolded her.
“It was, ‘Do it this way and that’s it, because I’ve given you money and you owe me,’” Naremi-Vergne said of that confrontation.
She sent an e-mail to Teixeira following the incident, but said she hadn’t received a response as of press time.
“The tone used by you, was uncalled for, disrespectful, and humiliating,” she wrote on Oct. 28.
At the Feb. 23, 2012, meeting, Teixeira denied acting in such a manner. Before that meeting, Naremi-Vergne and Garza distributed a letter asking Teixeira to apologize and condemning a “special meeting” that took place a few weeks earlier.
After years in operation, many of the LOC’S members have termed out, but they remained in office. Because of the council’s casual nature, they had neglected to follow the bylaws that set term limits. When they went back through the rules, eight members had to step down because of the limits. However, doing so meant about three-quarters of the group would be brand new. So the LOC took a vote to extend their terms for one year while the new members adjusted.
But on Feb. 9, new LOC members held a special meeting and elected new board members, as well as new officers for the board. At the close of that meeting, Teixeira was made the LOC chair, and his legislative assistant, Deb Geaslen, was made secretary.
A supervisor had never been board chair before, and some members believe Teixeira shouldn’t be in the seat because he represents the county, which provides the LOC much of its funding. Some LOC members also believe the election shouldn’t have taken place in a special meeting, but rather during a regular public meeting of the entire LOC.
“Even if this election were considered legitimate, most LOC members should find it highly questionable to have two
out of the four LOC officers representing the office of the county Board of Supervisors,” Naremi-Vergne and Garza said in their letter.
Teixeira and Geaslen said at the Feb. 23 meeting that there was no conflict of interest, that they have no secret agenda to undermine the LOC, and that overall, they want to continue the good work the group does. But by the end of that meeting, after some of the members simply walked out, little had been accomplished to quell the lingering disputes. Members are still upset over the Facebook incident. Some believe the new board of directors and its officers were elected improperly. And some remain distrustful of Teixeira.
At one point, one of the members asked, “How do we move on?”
So they got to the business at hand: the Oceano Cinco De Mayo event, scheduling a board of directors retreat, and a raffle for a $25 gift certificate. ∆
News Editor Colin Rigley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.