Sep 11, 2013 1:15 AM by Matthew Schwartz
TUCSON - Lifelong Sunnyside resident Becky Quintero says she was stunned when she watched a recent News 4 Tucson investigation into school board member Bobby Garcia. The report focused on Garcia's problems during his 25 years as a Tucson police officer.
Quintero says she voted for Garcia in last November's election. She was far from alone. Garcia got the most votes of all four candidates in the Sunnyside race. But after seeing our investigation, Quintero thinks Garcia should resign.
"After reading the article and seeing it, my whole perception of him was like,'oh my gosh, this guy is bad news,'" Quintero told us.
As the News 4 Tucson Investigators first reported two weeks ago, Garcia's official police record shows he was suspended twice for department violations, the kind of which might seem especially outrageous for someone now on a school board. He was suspended in 1997 for 20 days without pay for having, according to the report, "a personal relationship with a teen-aged girl, which began when she was 15 or 16," and he was 13 years older.
Garcia told us, "I signed a paper saying I would accept my 20-day suspension. I never signed anything saying that I committed or made a criminal act."
Garcia's police file also states that on one occasion, apparently after the girl turned 18, he arranged a sexual liaison between her and another person.
He says, "I was in the area, but I never was involved in any of that. That was between those two people."
The police said Garcia violated department regulations. But he was never charged with breaking any laws. When he ran for Sunnyside School Board, he apparently didn't disclose his T-P-D problems. And he didn't have to. Because school board candidates do not undergo background checks. In fact, they have to meet minimal criteria. All that's required is for candidates to live in the district for at least a year before the election, be a U.S. citizen, a registered voter, and at least 18 years old.
Ricky Hernandez of the Pima County School Superintendent's office says if you want to find out anything about a candidate's background, you practically have to be an investigative reporter yourself.
Hernandez says, "We are not required to do any kind of verification on the information that's contained in the documents that they provide. It really would be up to the citizen to do their own kind of sleuthing."
Often, the only way the public finds out about a candidate's background is when an opponent uncovers something negative. State Sen. Linda Lopez, a former Sunnyside school board member,saw our report and wants the legislature to consider changes. She thinks just like teachers and other school employees, board members' backgrounds need to be checked.
Lopez says, "I have grandchildren who are in schools and I want to make sure that not only the staff members that are working with them are vetted and their background is checked, but also any other persons who have access to those kids."
Lopez says she plans to meet with various groups related to education to discuss the possibility of changing the statute regarding school board candidates, when the legislative session begins in January.
Remember, if you have a story you'd like us to investigate, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.