EL CENTRO — A dispute over the incoming president’s social media content has made the annual leadership transition for the Imperial County Office of Education’s board of trustees more dramatic than usual.
A motion on the floor to name Mark Ramirez the board’s new president at its regular meeting Monday was interrupted when trustee Annette Gonzalez-Buttner objected, citing content she had found on his Facebook pages she found offensive.
Witnesses say it was at this point Gonzalez-Buttner’s male partner, Chris Stampolis, arose in the audience to participate in the discussion. However, because the time for public comment during the meeting had passed, Stampolis was declared out of order and confronted by a Sheriff’s deputy, who attempted to escort him from the room.
The Facebook posts to which Gonzalez-Buttner objected included a photo of an explicit drawing about prostitution and a second one a photo showing the chest of a woman in a revealing t-shirt with the caption, “Don’t trust words, trust actions.”
Ramirez said in an interview Thursday, he intended the posts to provoke discussion about a range of subjects, including sexual assault, homosexuality and women’s rights and added he was surprised by Gonzalez-Buttner’s strong negative comments she made online. He said he has since deleted the posts.
“How I envisioned the exercise was to ask, what about this image makes this image uncomfortable to you? What about this image makes you anxious? What about this image makes you angry? And explore what those things are,” he said regarding the image of the woman’s chest area.
Gonzalez-Buttner argued the posts reflect that Ramirez is unfit to be board president.
Ramirez said it was very upsetting to him Gonzalez-Buttner mischaracterized his posts as child pornography and that she described them during a public meeting in which he had family members in attendance.
With one exception, all of the posts in question were published in 2014 or before, Ramirez said, adding Gonzalez-Buttner never approached him or the board to talk about how she felt regarding those images.
“And that is why in the end I took it down, because it was something that was too much for people to understand, and it was highly sensitive and is something that should be discussed live and not over an internet platform,” Ramirez said.
The older posts he said are in line with the issues he believes are important as an openly gay man, and the people who know him can understand the context of the images.
Material like this would be expected of me, and I’m not going to apologize for it,” he said referring to his older posts, but he acknowledged the more recent post (the woman in the t-shirt) could be seen differently. “This, I do apologize for because I didn’t intend to offend anybody.”
ICOE Board President Susan Manger didn’t immediately return a request for comment regarding whether the board took Gonzalez-Buttner’s objections to Ramirez under consideration during the vote.
The drama that began with Gonzalez-Buttner’s protest veered into the absurd when Stampolis attempted to take part in the discussion as a member of the public.
A video showing part of the altercation is available at www.ivpressonline.com
According to ICOE officials, Stampolis was told by Superintendent Todd Finnell the time for public comments on the matter had ended since the board had already begun deliberating the board’s reorganization.
Director of Development and Community Relations for ICOE Todd Evangelist said Stampolis, after being prevented from addressing the board “became belligerent and disruptive during the meeting and was declared to be out of order by the board president, Susan Manger,” resulting in Manger asking the ICSO deputy to escort Stampolis out.
Gonzalez-Buttner disputes that statement. She said in an email, “Any allegation that the board president ever stated that the time for public comment on this publicly agendized item had closed … is a complete fabrication.”
As he is asked to leave the room by the deputy, Stampolis threw himself to the ground and shouted, “I’m requesting to speak” as Gonzalez-Buttner began recording the interaction with her cell phone.
After the unsuccessful attempts to escort Stampolis out, the board called for a stay of proceedings until order could be restored. Four of the board members retreated to designated areas.
After a few minutes of engaging in discussions with the board’s counsel and others in attendance, Stampolis eventually left the room accompanied by Gonzalez-Buttner and another person who was recording the incident.
Once Stampolis left the room, the board resumed the meeting without Gonzalez-Buttner and voted 4-0 to approve the reorganization of the board, Evangelist said.
Later, ICSO deputies spoke with Stampolis outside of the ICOE building. No charges were made, and he was allowed to return to the meeting where he was allowed to speak on other agenda items with no further incident.
Stampolis alleges the board simply didn’t want him to speak during the reorganization.
“The Board let me speak on agenda items later in the meeting,” he said. “(Superintendent Todd) Finnell and Manger simply did not want to allow comments regarding the election of the new Board officers, so they broke the law, and by violating Board-adopted procedure, they created lots of drama,” he said.
In addition to being the partner of Gonzalez-Buttner, Stampolis is a former trustee for the Santa Clara Unified School District, where he resides.
His recent involvement has been scrutinized, but he said he became interested in ICOE affairs because Gonzalez-Buttner asked him to be.
“(She) asked me to assist her with her efforts to improve student proficiency and college readiness in Calexico and throughout Imperial County,” he said via email. “As Annette says, ‘It is not enough just to graduate kids, because students deserve to be educated and prepared to succeed after 12th grade.”
Tensions between the couple and ICOE began to grow around August. Stampolis was critical of the board for not allowing public comment to take place during individual agenda items. The ICOE board voted in November to update its policy regarding public comment to include a period before board discussion of any individual agenda item.
Stampolis said he attempted to have Finnell arrested in a meeting in August for restricting public comment to the beginning of the meeting. ICOE confirmed Stampolis did call the Sheriff’s office and a deputy did arrive. No arrest was made, however.
As a result, ICOE has contracted a deputy to be present at its last four board meetings.
“The ICSO has assigned a deputy to attend ICOE board meetings starting in September, at the request of ICOE, after safety concerns were raised,” Evangelist said.
This is not the first time Stampolis has had a run-in with a school board. According to the San Jose Mercury News, during his term at the Santa Clara Unified, he was involved in a conflict with a school principal, culminating in a restraining order against Stampolis.
Stampolis’ fellow board members eventually censured him and forbid him from representing the school district at events, the report said.