Tuesday, November 24, 2020

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Williams Unified trustee responds to allegations, vows to continue in role

The Williams Unified School Board trustee accused of a number of election code violations and perjury will not be resigning her post, she said at last week’s school board meeting. 

Rosa Elia Orozco Lopez, 62,  said that she was “devastated and insulted” by the allegation she lied about her residency on her election filing. Despite facing four felony charges – she is being charged with two counts of perjury, as well as filing false nomination papers or declaration of candidacy, and voter registration fraud – Orozco Lopez participated and voted in Thursday’s regularly scheduled school board meeting. 

“I choose not to make any comments at this point,” Orozco Lopez said. “I would rather wait until the District Attorney and their staff interview me. I’m not going to leave our families and students in this community of Williams I represented. So therefore, I intend to do the job I was elected to do.”

As Orozco Lopez’s May 1 arraignment draws closer, the Williams Unified School District will begin conducting its own investigation. During a 10 PM special meeting on Thursday night, the school board – absent Orozco Lopez, who recused herself from the agenda item – voted unanimously to hire Paradox Technology, a private investigations firm based out of Sacramento, to “conduct investigations as needed, including alleged ethics and governance violations by (a) board trustee.”

“Because this is about me, I’m going to leave the room,” Orozco Lopez said prior to exiting. “I just want the board members to know that I will not be hurt or offended if you move this item. To the contrary, I thank you and I welcome an investigation.”

Orozco Lopez received support from Williams Unified staff, including paraeducator Meghan Miller – one of the 12 paraeductors who will be losing their jobs amid board-approved cutbacks.

“Ignore the blue shirt – I’m speaking as a parent and a community member,” Miller said, claiming it would be a mismanagement of funds for the district to independently investigate the claims against Orozco Lopez, which should be left to the district attorney’s office. Orozco Lopez, Miller said, was innocent until proven guilty.

“It’s the legal system’s job to prove her guilty, not our district’s,” Miller said. “Until (the district attorney’s office) prove(s) she has done anything wrong or unethical, then we do not need to worry – or should we be worried – about dealing with that, or moving for actions against her. She is a board member, she was elected by the community, and she has a right to be here and to speak on behalf of her opinion for our students and our district.”

Miller’s comments drew applause from the group of Williams Unified staff gathered for the special meeting. 

Kindergarten teacher Angela Stephens echoed Miller’s comments, saying that Orozco Lopez was innocent until proven guilty. 

Superintendent Edgar Lampkin said that the district had an obligation to conduct their own investigation into the allegations against Orozco Lopez.

“The District Attorney believes that trustee Orozco may have lied about where she lives,” Lampkin said, justifying his recommendation that the board approve the contract with the outside, independent investigator. “While I know the D.A. will complete a thorough criminal investigation, I also understand that the process can take one to three years. We have a separate duty and a separate process to do our own due diligence, and we have a responsibility to the families of Williams to find out promptly whether our board’s rules concerning board member qualifications and ethics have been violated. With all we have facing us right now, we need to get to the bottom of this as soon as possible… We need to move forward with confidence, and make sure to protect our students and our families, as well as our investment in the district.”

Lampkin added that anything learned in the investigation would be shared with the district attorney’s office. He noted that the investigator has experience investigating school board residency and ethics issues, and came highly recommended. He also said that the investigator would be paid for by district funds.

“This is just like any other investigation we would be doing,” Lampkin said. “We want to get to the bottom of it, and we want to find out, and we have a fiduciary duty to do that for our community, our families, and for our district.” ■

Brian Pearson
Brian Pearson
Brian Pearson is the former Managing Editor & Reporter for the Williams Pioneer Review. Brian joined the Williams Pioneer Review in June 2016 and is committed to bringing hyperlocal news to its readers. A few of his projects included reporting local government and the sports page.

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