Hours before the school board candidate forum on October 22, staff for Youth Council and Future Leaders of America began receiving emails from school board members notifying the groups that they would not be attending the forum. Among those candidates were running mates Kate Ford and Mark Alvarado, Jim Gribble, and Ricardo Sisto Cota.
According to Gribble, three of the eight candidates decided not to attend the Youth Council and Future Leaders of America (FLA) forum the night before the event while they attended the KEYT forum Sunday evening. Before going on air, Ford and Alvarado’s campaign manager, Wade Cowper, showed the candidates a CAUSE (Central Coast United for a Sustainable Economy) Action Fund flyer with endorsements for two of the eight candidates, Ismael Paredes Ulloa and Rose Munoz, said Gribble. CAUSE, legally a separate entity from the political Action Fund, was a sponsor and collaborator of the Youth Council and FLA forum.
“Clearly the forum isn’t neutral,” said Gribble who didn’t realize until after the event the forum was also put on by Youth Council and FLA. “We all agreed, if you won’t go, I won’t go,” said Gribble. “I forgot the other two were involved,” said Gribble, about Youth Council and FLA. “They were never part of the conversations. It was always CAUSE, CAUSE, CAUSE.”
CAUSE organizer Alejandra Melgoza emphasized that CAUSE and CAUSE Action Fund are different entities and clarified that CAUSE did not contribute questions to the forum. “This comes from a lack of knowledge on how nonprofits work,” said Melgoza. Because of its particular nonprofit status, CAUSE cannot endorse candidates and publicize its endorsements, unlike CAUSE Action Fund which is (c)4 nonprofit and is not barred from endorsing. “It’s sad that they’re questioning our integrity,” said Melgoza. CAUSE provided translation equipment and live translation for the forum. “We mostly helped with outreach,” said Melgoza.
Alvarado claims that the only difference between CAUSE and CAUSE Action Fund is “on paper.” Alvarado, past executive director of PUEBLO and PUEBLO Action Fund, a nonprofit subsumed by CAUSE in 2012, wrote in a statement, “the Action Fund provides the political work that the non profit cannot do, but fundamentally and theoretically they are the same in staff, support, and volunteers.”
The event took about a month and half to plan and prepare for, said Youth Council Chair Nathaniel Getachew. “It was in no way biased towards anyone,” said Getachew. The questions came from Youth Council and FLA, said Getachew, and audience members were also allotted time to ask questions. Getachew described the play of events as “very unfortunate, disappointing, and insulting in some ways.” The youth council will be discussing a course of action at their next meeting, said Getachew. The council plans on reaching out to candidates again.
Ricardo Sisto Cota decided to attend the event after discussing his concerns with Youth Council Staff Susan Young. Cota was one of three candidates who attended the forum. Paredes Ulloa and Munoz also attended the event. Jill Rivera originally declined to attend because of scheduling conflicts. “I wanted to respect the time and effort of the students that put on the event,” said Cota about why he ultimately decided to attend. “It was about respect for the raza and community,” he said calling the concerns about bias “irrelevant.” Cota described the event as “overall pretty fair.”
Mark Alvarado, who previously oversaw Youth Council as senior supervisor of neighborhood and outreach services, also decided not to attend the event. “It wasn’t an easy decision,” said Alvarado, who was concerned about the influence CAUSE may have had on students. “If CAUSE were not involved, it would’ve been no problem. Because CAUSE was involved, there was a problem,” said Alvarado, “it’s very black and white.”
Young described the event as a “good forum” despite only having three of the candidates present. About 60 community members attended and the students got to ask all of their questions, said Young who will use this as a teaching moment for students. “Sometimes things don’t go as planned,” said Young. Youth Council will hold a debrief session, said Young, and we’ll also reflect on our role and ask “did we not do our homework?”
Candidate Bonnie Raisin did not attend the event because she claims she was not invited.
Editor’s Note: This story was corrected November 1, 2018 to clarify candidate Mark Alvarado did not take part in any discussion at KEYT on whether or not to attend the forum. The story was updated with a written statement from Alvarado regarding his understanding of CAUSE and CAUSE Action Fund.