Campaign contributions fuel debate in West Contra Costa schools race
- By Shelly Meron
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 10/29/2010 06:35:50 PM PDT
Updated: 10/30/2010 05:22:04 PM PDT
Construction and architecture firms, unions and local politicians are among those making campaign contributions to candidates for three seats in Tuesday's West Contra Costa school board race.
Financial disclosure forms filed with the Contra Costa County Elections Division, covering the period up to Oct. 16, showed incumbent Charles Ramsey led the group of six candidates with $101,650 in cash contributions this year.
Ramsey's contributors included several unions, such as the Sheet Metal Workers International Association Local 104 in San Ramon which gave $15,000, and the Electrical Workers Local 595 in Dublin which gave $10,000.
Current board President Madeline Kronenberg has raised $68,897 for her re-election bid. She received contributions from construction management company The Seville Group, which gave $15,000 and has done business with the district. She is also being backed by several Bay Area architecture firms that have worked with the district, and local unions like the Public Employees Union Local 1 in Martinez, Sprinkler Fitters and Apprentices Local 483 in Hayward, and the Sheet Metal Workers' Local Union No. 104 in San Ramon.
Incumbent Audrey Miles has received $11,924 this year, including a $600 loan she gave herself and $550 in non-monetary contributions. Funds came from local unions like UA Local 342 Plumbers and Steamfitters in Concord, and Teamsters Local Union 215 in Martinez; construction management company The Seville Group, Inc., which gave her $2,500; fellow school board members Kronenberg and Tony Thurmond; former board members Karen Fenton and Karen Pfeifer; and San Pablo Mayor Genoveva Calloway.
Some have criticized Ramsey, Kronenberg and Miles for accepting contributions from construction-related firms and unions, some of which work with the district, while overseeing a major school reconstruction program during their terms.
"I don't think you should have candidates or board members soliciting vendors that are doing business with the district, particularly when there's millions of dollars of district money in a construction program," said Anton Jungherr, a Hercules resident. "It's a bad practice, and I think it's a conflict of interest."
Jungherr has called for the school board to adopt stricter campaign finance rules, including a limit on individual contributions and restrictions on those who do business with the school district. He said the three challengers -- Charles Cowens, Jason Freeman and Elaine Merriweather -- support his call for reform, while incumbents Ramsey and Kronenberg do not, and Miles said she would think about it. Jungherr has also contributed to the three challengers.
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