by David Safier
An article in today's Star has new background on the hiring of Adelita Grijalva's mother-in-law, Olga Gómez, as the new principal of TUSD's Myers/Ganoung Elementary School, and it doesn't look good. Gómez herself comes out fine. Based on her experience, she may have been a good pick for the school. But Superintendent H.T. Sanchez should have used better judgement and, as important, he should have been more forthcoming when he was questioned about hiring details. And board member Grijalva should have disclosed her close family ties to Gómez earlier in the process.
I'm going on the assumption that the Star article is accurate. It sounds well researched to me. According to the article, Gómez got the lowest marks of the three candidates for the principal's job. However, since one of the higher ranked candidates was given another job in the district, it really came down to two choices, Gómez and someone from out of state. Sanchez said the need for the other candidate to be re-certified in Arizona was part of his decision to recommend Gómez. Maybe, maybe not. But if he was thinking of the consequences of his decision, if he weighed his concern that a well qualified candidate didn't have an Arizona credential against the suspicion of impropriety that certainly would follow his choice of Grijalva's mother-in-law, it shouldn't have been a contest. He should have gone with the other candidate.
Sanchez made matters worse by saying he didn't know Gómez was related to Grijalva until the interview. As the Star article makes clear, the two met at the March Cesar Chavez rally, and in an April email to Sanchez, Gómez reminded him of their meeting and referred to her connection with Grijalva, writing, "Please know I do not want nor do I expect any special considerations.” Sanchez has moved from making a bad decision to making things worse by trying to cover his tracks.
I like Sanchez, a lot. I like him personally, I like his energy. I like his vision for TUSD. I want him to stick around for a number of years. But he screwed up here. It's another "rookie error," not the first he's made since he got the job. The problem with this one is, his rookie year is over. He can no longer use lack of experience as an excuse.
Sanchez is a young man who appears to suffer from "Smartest guy in the room" syndrome. It's true, he's usually among the smartest guys in the room, and among the quickest witted. I'm sure that's helped him move up the ladder so quickly. He's beaten the odds, becoming superintendent of a large district very early in his career. Along the way, I imagine he's gotten away with a few things here and there, talking and charming his way out of some tough situations. But now he's one of the most visible people in Tucson and subject to constant scrutiny by the public and the media. Living as he does in the TUSD superintendent's fishbowl, his every move is watched. Every detail is scrutinized. He really can't get away with anything. He needs to understand that.
Even if Sanchez thought Gómez would make the better principal, he could have, and should have, chosen the other candidate to avoid the appearance of impropriety. No one would have faulted the decision since the other candidate was ranked higher in earlier interviews. When he was alone after he made the decision, Sanchez could have pounded his fist on the table, banged his head against the wall and bemoaned the need to make so many compromises so he can live to fight another day for what's best for TUSD. A little bit of fist pounding and head banging comes with the job. It's part of the real world of being TUSD superintendent.