Passions run high at Fairfax School District town hall

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Passions ran high Thursday evening as the Fairfax School District Board held a town hall inside the Fairfax Junior High School Gym.

Roughly 50 people attended in person and another 103 tuned in via Zoom. Trustee Jose Luis Tapia was not present in person or on Zoom, spurring some to express frustration.

“Mr. Tapia [is] the coward who is not sitting here,” said community member Maria Hernandez as she spoke in front of the board of trustees.

The town hall came amid this grand jury report released last month calling the Fairfax School District Board “Divided and Dysfunctional.” One of the 12 recommendations in the report called on the board to hold the town hall to allow members of the community to ask questions.

Many of the questions were posed to Board President Palmer Moland. The grand jury report recommended Moland be removed as president in light of allegations of harassment and bullying.

When asked if he would step down by July 30, he said “if it comes down to the point if the board is selecting to nominate a new board president, then we will make that decision at that time, but as of this time, I have no answer to that question.”

Community members also asked Moland and Trustee Alma Rios if they will personally donate money to the district if the financial audit launched by Kern County Superintendent of Schools Mary Barlow finds evidence of mismanagement of funds. Rios and Moland were singled out by attendees for not being transparent in their votes last month to fire the district’s council and hire a new one with district funds.

“I’m not sure if I can answer that, but I am here for the students. I will donate and help if there is a shortage,” Moland said.

When it was time for Trustee Alma Rios to answer, she turned to Fairfax temporary counsel Elana Rivkin-Haas before answering with a “no comment,” garnering anger from those in attendance.

“I feel disrespected,” said one man. “I will personally do anything in my power to not get you elected,” said another man as he addressed Rios and Moland.

“I thought this was a community meeting. Not a lawyer meeting,” Hernandez said. “[Rivkin-Haas] is answering all of the questions. What the hell? I’m getting very upset … If you can’t handle it get out. So easy.”

In total, there were 21 questions asked at the town hall, spanning all topics from whether board members have to take drug tests before serving to asking Rios if she regretted voting to throw out a censure resolution against Moland.

“I’m doing the best I can,” she said.

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