Newcomer unseats longtime Santa Rosa School Board member
When all the Election Day votes finally were counted Monday, the Santa Rosa School Board was in for a big surprise.
Longtime school board member Frank Pugh didn’t win reelection. Pugh, 63, who has served for 28 years on the board, lost his seat to newcomer Omar Medina, 39, program coordinator for fire-relief organization UndocuFund.
Medina’s upset victory means for the first time there will be two Latino representatives on the school board.
“It’s a surprise because it’s a big swing in the trend, and it just doesn’t happen very often,” said Jenni Klose, the school board president. “But it was close, so we knew it was possible.”
Klose said as the vote tallies trickled in last month following the Nov. 6 election, the trend indicated Pugh would come out on top.
But when the final results were released Monday afternoon, Medina had beaten Pugh by 318 votes. The final tally was 52 percent to 47.5 percent, with Medina winning 3,706 votes to Pugh’s 3,388.
This election was the first test of the school board’s new system of picking school board members by geographic area. The previous at-large system allowed voters across the city to vote on each school board position.
That system had been heavily criticized by advocates who argued it disenfranchised Latino voters.
Malibu attorney Kevin Shenkman had threatened to sue both the school district and the City of Santa Rosa over their at-large elections, and both switched to district-based systems to ward off legal action. Shenkman has sent the Town of Windsor a letter about the same issue.
Medina won the Area 4 board seat to represent south-central Santa Rosa.
Medina expressed his support for the new system, which he said leads to fairer representation of the various communities in Santa Rosa.
“I think it’s just a reflection of the impact district elections can have. And two, I think it’s a more accurate representation of the demographics of the district,” he said.
The new district-voting system led to Santa Rosa electing two Latino school board members, Medina and Stephanie Manieri, who ran unopposed. Medina said having two Latinos on the board “gives a lot of those Spanish-speaking, Latino parents someone on the board that they can communicate with in their first language.”
Perhaps surprisingly, Pugh, a counselor and instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College, is also a strong proponent of the district-voting system, even though it cost him his position on the board.
“What I’ve been working on for the last few years, to have our school district go to district elections to increase the diversity on our board has really worked, and it wasn’t to my advantage,” he said. “But more diversity on the board is a good thing. … In the past, board members tended to live in the same areas, but now we have full representation through all areas of our district.”
Medina, the community organizer, said he’s relieved to finally have all the votes counted.
“I’m glad to have the wait be over. It’s been quite a wait,” he said.
The lengthy process of Sonoma County officials counting all the votes, and the fact that the election remained contested through the end of November, meant Medina has missed some of the orientation process for new school board members.