By MICHAEL RODRIGUEZ
Thursday night’s community forum for San Benito CISD School Board candidates was supposed to be where six political hopefuls were going to introduce themselves to voters in a formal setting at the John F. Barron Administration Building. It’s also where they were scheduled to address concerns from the community as well as those they represent – from teachers, administrators and staff to the students, parents and taxpayers.
The only problem is that not one of the candidates showed up, leaving the 20 or so citizens who attended disappointed, dejected, and disillusioned.
Of course, there were extenuating circumstances for some. Place 1 incumbent Bob Tumberlinson was reportedly ill, and Pl. 3 trustee and School Board President Yliana G. Rodriguez was involved in a fender bender.
So what happened to Pl. 1 challenger Fatima Huerta, Pl. 2 hopefuls Anna Cruz and Anna Llanes, and Pl. 3 candidate Wilma Garza Smetter? Well, I can only speculate that they simply had prior engagements. It’s important to note that members of the Texas State Teachers Association, the local nonprofit group that organized the forum, made every attempt to confirm candidates’ attendance up to a week in advance.
But more frustrating was when 6:30 p.m. – 30 minutes past the scheduled start of the forum – came and went. That’s when those in the audience shook their heads in disapproval of six no-shows. At that moment, and speaking not only as the moderator of the forum but as a lifelong citizen of San Benito, I felt embarrassed to associate myself with this community.
Consider that this is very difficult to admit, especially since I’ve long been proud of my hometown, a place I’ve dubbed a city of passion and of the arts – not that silly “city of lights” slogan officials attempted to adopt years ago. I’d rather take solace that while this town may be passionate to a fault, we’re passionate nonetheless.
What restored my pride in San Benito was June Aguilera. The 19-year-old San Benito CISD School Board member, whose opponents have dubbed “inexperienced,” represented the district and the board well at Thursday’s forum, and she wasn’t even scheduled to be there since her seat is not up for election this year.
This isn’t the first time that June was one of few to brave a forum-type environment, however. Last year, as a candidate, June was one of two hopefuls who attended the San Benito News Meet the Candidates community forum out of a field of six.
Sure, June was in the building anyway following a committee meeting, but she was the only sitting trustee Thursday who walked into the board room and greeted all those in attendance. She even went as far as to apologize on behalf of the candidates who couldn’t make it and encouraged the public – without injecting her opinion – to exercise their right to vote.
It’s the second time in her fledgling career as a public servant that all June had to do to gain respect was show up, and in doing so she succeeded where those twice her elder have failed in the past.
Whatever experience her critics believe she lacks, June makes up for in integrity and class. Displaying a genuine propensity to uphold values that these days are rare, such as punctuality and respect, the future seems brighter if June is any indication of San Benito schools and the students they produce.