"Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards." - Robert A. Heinlein

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Letter to District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis: You Thanked the Wrong Folks

On December 20, 2010, San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis sent members of the SDPD and her own office (along with some Union-Tribune reporters who were somehow invited along) to the homes of numerous officials of the Sweetwater Union High School District and the Southwestern College District.

They brought search warrants. They were finally looking into the corruption scandals at the two schools – many of which I have written about on this blog.

Three of those individuals were former Vice President of Business and Affairs Nicholas C.A. Alioto, who can be found on about eight-seven posts here; John Wilson, the former facilities director at SWC; and Henry Amigable, the former Seville Construction Services manager who oversaw construction contracts at SWC.

On January 4, 2011, Ms. Dumanis threw a press conference by standing with a veritable Justice League of District Attorneys and made it clear that folks were going down. This first round of indictments including numerous folks from Sweetwater and Seville’s Henry Amigable.

I can find no one who doesn’t believe that we’ll see a round including Alioto, Wilson, and probably a few others.

Just before she signed off, DA Dumanis made a big deal about thanking some of the press for the hard work they did in uncovering the corruption.

Who did she thank?

The Union-Tribune.

This is a copy of the letter I sent to Ms. Dumanis, the U-T, the San Diego Reader, the Southwestern College Sun, and the “Save Our SWC” blog.

January 8, 2012

Ms. Dumanis:

It was with delight that I watched you stand tall with four other members of your department and announce a series of indictments against members of the Sweetwater Union High School District. Knowing that I would soon see the five of you stand together and announce indictments against members of the Southwestern College District community made me even happier.

Imagine my surprise when you went out of your way to thank the Union-Tribune for all their help in reporting these events, and specifically mentioned the Watchdog section for its work.

Not to ameliorate the credit given to the Watchdog section – particularly the wonderful Tanya Sierra, whom I believe now works in your office as Public Affairs Officer – but to thank the Union-Tribune for their hard work while ignoring those who actually went out of their way to originally write about the mess that was both SWC and SUHSD is short-sighted and questionably honest at best.

 Months before the Union-Tribune even got involved, the San Diego Reader’s brilliant Susan Luzzaro wrote about pay-for-play corruption at both school districts – and was sourced by everyone who wrote about it later.

SWC’s own award-winning Southwestern College Sun got into the act, questioning the timing and bids of Nicholas Alioto’s Napa Valley trip – also long before the U-T got involved. After Sun articles which question Alioto’s actions were printed, the former Vice President of Business and Financial Affairs attempted to shut down the newspaper by forcibly ceasing printing, stripping the faculty advisor of the reassign time he received for his work (though he continued to work without receiving it), and threatening the arrest of numerous student journalists. Following this, the Sun editorial board opted to seek funding from outside the school and continue printing without Alioto’s permission. It was this action against a hostile administration that earned them the 2011 College Press Freedom Award, given out by the Associated Collegiate Press and the Student Press Law Center.

There were also three blogs active in the South Bay which continually disseminated information and opinion to the residents of the district. The first, “Save Our SWC,” uncovered and reported numerous problems with the school administration and did so in a tight, professional manner.

Two of my own blogs, “The Writer’s Washroom” and “SWC Board Must Go!” took a less-neutral stance. I used my own sites to try and affect change, and did so by focusing frequently on the dishonest actions – including pay-for-play ones – of Nick Alioto.

I am willing to have my websites be ignored, but I am less willing to let Susan Luzzaro and the Reader, the editorial board and staff of the Southwestern College Sun, and the anonymous blogger behind “Save Our SWC” go unnoticed.

These people deserve most of the credit you believe the Union-Tribune earned. Every voter in the district with any knowledge of this is aware of these facts.

Allow me to point out that the U-T’s editorial board not only ignored the issues at Southwestern College, but instead of hearing the complaints of students and faculty, they chose to interview Dr. Raj K. Chopra, the superintendent/president at the time, and write about what a fine job he was doing. Of course, all this was going on while Henry Amigable was involved in nearly-constant pay-for-play actions on the campus.

In fact, when a group of faculty, students, campus employees, and citizens (of which I was a proud member) chose to unify and organize in order to vote out the members of the board – some of whom are already mentioned in your documents – who continued to support John Wilson, Henry Amigable, Nick Alioto, and Raj Chopra, the U-T strongly endorsed those same incumbents. When the election was over, and the voters had sent Yolanda Salcido and Jorge Dominguez packing, the U-T’s editorial board wrote a lengthy screed about what a terrible thing the voters of the district had done.

These are hardly good reasons to thank the Union-Tribune for helping uncover these terrible things that happened on these campuses. Ms. Sierra, on the other hand, should still be commended for her stories, but I must again point out that what she wrote, she wrote after many others had already blazed the trail.

Lastly, though you did mention the “public,” as tipping your office about this, I must strongly state that the “public” is the reason investigations were done – at least on the campus of SWC. Were it not for the students of SWC who held rallies and demonstrations to attract attention and the faculty and classified employees that risked their jobs to get involved, the blogs, the Sun, and the Reader would never have researched and written about these criminal actions. Without that, conscientious politicians like Congressman Bob Filner wouldn’t have taken a stance against the corrupt administration. And without all the noise that this created, the Union-Tribune would never have gotten involved.

Please remember that the next time you thank someone for all the hard work that they’ve done.


Nickolas Furr

(Copies of this letter have been sent to the San Diego Reader, San Diego Union-Tribune, Southwestern College Sun, and the “Save Our SWC” blog.)