The Investigators

Feb 19, 2014 12:45 AM by Matthew Schwartz

N4T Investigators: All in the Family?

TUCSON - There's a controversy over who's got a new job in a local school district. People are saying some employees of that district have good reason to be worried.

Sunnyside Recall Group Chairman Richard Hernandez blasted the school board's majority and Superintendent Dr.Manuel Isquerdo during last week's board meeting. "We tired of corruption, nepotism, favoritism, bullying, threats, intimidation," Hernandez said during the board's public comment session.

Minutes later, the board approved hiring member Louie Gonzales' daughter to work in the district's Human Resources office.

Dr. Isquerdo, after agreeing to an interview with the News 4 Tucson Investigators, changed his mind, said "No comment," and hurried into another room. Board member Bobby Garcia, who along with Gonzales is facing recall, shut the door.

Garcia said, "You can't come back here." We replied, "I know. Ok."

We wanted to ask Isquerdo about the appropriateness of Gonzales' daughter, Michelle Morita, working as the new Program Assistant in HR, with access to employees personal records. The district's job posting states: "Responsible for maintaining a sensitive, high level of confidential administrative support..."

The move to HR follows a public comment Gonzales made last fall about those who want him out.

Asked about that comment, Gonzales told the News 4 Tucson Investigators, "I said I'd like to see who's signed the (recall) petition so that I can find out who's shaking my hand and then stabbing me in the back."

Dr. Robert Hendricks spent 50 years in education, including 13 as Flowing Wells School Superintendent. He taught Human Resource Management at UA, before becoming the department head of Educational Policy Studies and Practice.

Hendricks told us, "The problem with her being in that office is she will have access, she will have the opportunity to access personal material. You're just setting up an arrangement where there's a perception of possible favoritism or wrongdoing and why set yourself up for that situation? It's a very precarious situation. It's not a good place to be."

The News 4 Tucson Investigators asked Gonzales, "What do you say to people who say that you placed your daughter in that job to get dirt on people?" He replied, "I tell them it's not true."

And there's more: The job posting says all candidates must have at least three years of HR experience. The News 4 Tucson Investigators have learned that Gonzales' daughter started working in the Sunnyside School District as a bus driver in 2009, then was a secretary in the curriculum office. Before joining SUSD, she worked at Desert Diamond Casino.

The following exchange occurred between the News 4 Tucson Investigators and Mr. Gonzales:

News 4: "When was your daughter's experience in human resources?"
Mr.Gonzales: "I don't know that, I know you're making an issue of that."
News 4: "No, I'm not, sir. Sir, your job posting, your district's job posting, says, it's the main requirement: three years experience in HR. I'm asking you a fair question, does your daughter..."
Mr.Gonzales: "Can I see the posting?"
News 4: Sure, here's the job posting right here. When did she work in human resources for three years?"
Mr.Gonzales: "When she worked for Professional Development and Curriculum. That's part, all of that is part of human resources.
News 4: "Really?"
Mr. Gonzales: "Yes."

Dr. Hendricks, when asked about Mr. Gonzales' assertion that Professional Development and Curriculum is part of Human Resources, said, "Those are two very distinct, very different functions and responsibilities."

Hiring relatives in Sunnyside is not only allowed, it's common. Two district employees are related to board President Eva Dong, another two are relatives of Isquerdo, including his brother-in-law, a convicted felon. At least seven are related to Gonzales.

The News 4 Tucson Investigators asked Mr. Gonzales, "Don't you see the perception you're creating by putting your daughter in an office with the most sensitive records in the district?" He replied, "I think she can be trusted."

KVOA-TV received a letter of complaint Monday afternoon from the Sunnyside School District. It said , "Mr. Schwartz will no longer be granted interviews with any district staff due to his aggressive nature and overt tactics that are perceived as an intentional (sic) and threatening to district staff."

Remember, if you have a story you'd like us to investigate, email us at, or call our tip line, (520) 955-4444.


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