By EDDIE CELAYA
Pima County Community College Board of Governors meetings are generally dull as dirt. It’s just short of a rule. Watching paint dry is a cinematic experience compared to your average board meeting. Which is why, at the Board of Governors first meeting on Jan. 11, I was so surprised to see a scene more befitting the living room of Vito Corleone on the day of his daughter’s wedding.
While all the big headlines in politics have gravitated towards the insatiable pull known as Trump Inc., the PCC Governing Board underwent quite the shake-up itself over the election season.
Gone are former TUSD counsel Martha Durkin and board mainstay Scott Stewart. In are Meredith Hay and Luis Gonzales.
Gonzales is not to be confused with the famed Arizona Diamondback outfielder that won the World Series with a bloop single. However, judging by the crowd and reception Gonzales received, you could understand the confusion.
POINT OF ORDER
The evening began with Board Chair Mark Hanna calling the meeting to order, preceded by the standard election of board officers for the next year. The roles are largely ceremonial, but play a part in who can represent and speak for the board at official events.
The process is usually a dry, bureaucratic, procedural vote. Board member Sylvia Lee nominated Hanna to continue as board chair. Board member Demion Clinco seconded. Then Gonzales spiced things up and interjected.
“Chairmen, a point of order,” Gonzales said. “The bylaws are pretty clear in regard to the nomination of elected officers for the term. It appears we are not going to be following the bylaw as written. The bylaw I see here in front of me says that board members shall rotate (positions).”
The other board members seemed befuddled; the audience perplexed.
After getting clarification from PCC attorney Jeff Silvyn, the board continued the vote. That is, after having made a motion to suspend the rotating officers bylaw.
Gonzales had been right.
The message was clear, even though Gonzales said he “had no objection to the process.”
In pointing out the parliamentary error, he made his presence known, signaling the rest of the board he would be a stickler for detail.
After the various board officers and committee representatives were decided, the public comment section began.
The first speaker was a man named Robert Sines, a retired schoolteacher. He also happened to have known Gonzales “since the 8th grade in junior high.”
Sines noted his support for Gonzales throughout his political career, and added that Gonzales’ presence on the board “was especially gratifying for us that we have a voice in the Hispanic community.” The conclusion of Sines’ speech met with applause.
Next was Cecilia Cruz, a member of the community group Coalition for Accountability, Integrity, Respect and Responsibility. She claimed to be there for “three reasons: my first is to congratulate Mr. Luis Gonzales on his election to the PCC Board of Governors.”
Cruz continued, hitting on a similar vein as Sines before her. “I, as well as many members of the El Rio Coalition who worked on his campaign, welcome the representation of Chicano and Native peoples that Mr. Gonzales will bring to the college.” Applause, again.
Message sent. Gonzales’ presence on the board stood as a victory to a constituency that up until now had felt ignored and disenfranchised, in a community they see as their own. Sound familiar? If you listen closely, the message is Make Pima Great Again. Too on the nose?
WHO’S THE BOSS
The theme of the night (kissing Gonzales’ ring and reminding the board new eyes are watching) went on for nearly an hour and a half. About a dozen speakers adhered to the theme. Reminding the board they served “the people.”
Local dignitaries ran the gamut, from former TUSD Board member Betts Putnam-Hidalgo to Tucson High sophomore class president Ysmael Ballesteros. Seriously.
Topics from where summer session would be held to the college’s recent HLC news were touched on, but all in the context that the board should have a listen to Gonzales.
“I swear, I have nothing to do with this,” Gonzales said more than once.
A HELPING HAND
But it was the last speaker that woke me from my snarky pessimism. Lenny Mark, the owner of local Chinese restaurant Bamboo Terrace, stepped to the podium. He began by recalling how long he had been a Tucson native and his relationship with Gonzales.
Mark, who was a child, recounted how Gonzales would scare him. “Every time I went to the neighborhood, I didn’t know him, and he always approached me and he would always ask me questions about how I was doing. He always showed concern for me.”
Years later, Mark had a problem. His wife, who had emigrated from China, was in need of help becoming a citizen. “We needed a strong support system. She had no system,” said Mark. “She had nobody. And Luis and Berta, they took us in.”
Mark’s wife is now a U.S citizen. “I love this man and I love this family,” Mark said. It didn’t end there. Mark went on about his experience at Pima. He recounted how he had bounced around from ASU, UA and eventually to Pima.
On his first day of class, an instructor left an impression on Mark. The instructor let the students speak about what they wanted and what was on their mind.
When it was Mark’s turn he said what was on his mind. “I basically didn’t feel a strong will to live, because I felt like a loser.”
The instructor approached the situation in a unique way. “Instead of engaging me emotionally, he gave me an existential approach. He later gave me a book to read called ‘Man’s Search for Meaning.’”
While he never graduated from Pima, Mark said he credited his success in taking over his family’s restaurant to that class. He even brings any employee interested in enrolling at Pima to a campus and helps them enroll.
I began to cry. Looking around, I saw plenty of others right there with me.
PIMA’S REAL MISSION
I have been on the Board of Governors beat for over a year now. That means I missed out on the contentious board hearings of the early 2010s. By far, this was the most engaging and enlightening board meeting I have attended.
The election of Luis Gonzales to the board signals a new era. While members of the community have always been concerned and fought for a healthy college, some constituencies (large and small) felt left out.
Their concerns are valid, and in Gonzales, the Mexican-American and Native communities have someone to champion their cause on the board. The celebration of Gonzales is legitimate and warranted.
Ultimately, Pima stands to gain from this transfusion of new blood and a possible contrarian voice on the Governing Board. Perhaps it may become even more representative of our diverse city and county.
“PCC is very representative of Tucson, maybe more so than the U of A because a lot of people get degrees and they move on to other cities where they can find ‘opportunities’ as they say. But PCC is Tucson, Arizona,” Mark said.