Divided OC Board of Education Appoints Jorge Valdes To Fill Vacant Seat

By:Matthew Cunningham

The Orange County Board of Education appointed Tustin resident Jorge Valdes to fill a vacant board seat, after a long and awkward series of deadlocked votes that was unusual for the usually unified board members.

The vacancy was created by the July 1 resignation of Trustee Beckie Gomez, who was the target of a lawsuit alleging her serving simultaneously on the OCBE and the Tustin City Council violates state law against holding incompatible offices. Gomez disputed she was in violation, but resigned rather than shoulder what could have proved considerable legal expenses.

READ: Lawsuit Seeks To Force Tustin Councilmember Beckie Gomez Off The OC Board of Education

Gomez, a Democrat, often dissented from her four conservative, pro-school choice colleagues, especially when it came to approving charter school applications.

There were three applicants for the vacancy: Ceci Iglesias, a former member of the Santa Ana Unified School Board of Education and Santa Ana City Council; Jorge Valdes, an attorney who ran unsuccessfully for Tustin City Council in 2020; and Marlene Barba, a private citizen.

The views of all three candidates aligned with the conservative philosophy of the four OC Board of Education members, who strongly support charter schools, maximizing school choice, and opposing Critical Race Theory, gender ideology, pandemic school closures and mask mandates.

The appointment process itself was marked by nominations that failed to gain the necessary three votes for appointment.

Trustee Ken Williams nominated Iglesias, and seconds later Trustee Tim Shaw nominated Valdes. Neither nomination was seconded, and both died.

Thereupon Williams nominated Iglesias, but did not receive a second.

Shaw then nominated Valdes again, and received a second from Trustee Lisa Sparks. However, Williams and Trustee Mari Barke abstained (Barke said she would abstain because one of the applicants, Iglesias, works for the conservative California Policy Center, for which Barke is a consultant).

It went round and round like this, with each failed nomination punctuated by awkward silences.

Shaw voted in turn for Valdes and Iglesias each time they were nominated, in hopes the board would eventually muster three votes for one or the other. Failure to fill the vacancy would force the OCBE to spend as much as $1.2 million on a special election.

“I voted for Ceci and Jorge, what, five times now?” Shaw finally opined in frustration. “I don’t know what else I can do.”

The logjam was finally broken when Barke swtiched from abstaining and joined Shaw and Sparks in voting for Valdes.

Sparks administered the oath of office to Valdes, who then took his seat on the dais.


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