WATSONVILLE—A candidate for Watsonville City Council is calling for Councilwoman Ari Parker to resign for abuse of power after she challenged his standing as a teacher on his candidate statement, and asked City officials to scrub his designation. But Parker is saying that she did nothing wrong and was simply doing her due diligence in investigating concerns brought forth by the community.
Jimmy Dutra, who is running for the District 6 seat in the Nov. 3 election, in his ballot designation wrote that he was a teacher. But Parker, in an Aug. 14 email to Watsonville City Clerk Beatriz Vazquez Flores, disputed that claim and asked that she immediately provide proof that Dutra was indeed employed by and allowed to teach in the Pajaro Valley Unified School District.
Parker said that because Dutra’s initial Short-Term Staff Permit, which allowed him to sub at Pajaro Middle School last school year, had expired on July 1 that he was not officially a teacher when he submitted his papers to run for City Council on July 16.
“At that point Dutra did not have a valid permit ANYWHERE (sic) and could not do his OCCUPATION (sic)…ANYWHERE (sic) in the state of California or the United States,” Parker, a teacher at Bradley Elementary School for more than 20 years, wrote to Vazquez Flores.
Included in that email was a forwarded email exchange between Vazquez Flores and Casey Clark, a Watsonville resident and former City Council candidate who a day prior had also challenged Dutra’s designation through a written petition. In that response Vazquez Flores told Clark that she would uphold Dutra’s designation after confirming with PVUSD that he was on staff at Pajaro Middle for the upcoming school year and that he had been employed by the district since late 2019.
The City also hired an attorney from Olson Remcho, a prominent political law firm based in Sacramento, as special counsel after Clark submitted his challenge to Dutra’s designation. Attorney Margaret R. Prinzing in a letter to Vazquez Flores said she did not see “any basis that would justify the rejection” of Dutra’s designation.
None of that, however, stopped Parker from conducting her own investigation. And it also did not stop Clark from filing a lawsuit against Vazquez Flores and the City of Watsonville on Aug. 17. Clark in the civil lawsuit claimed that Dutra was trying to “confuse, mislead, and deceive… voters and the public” by identifying himself as a teacher.
Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Timothy Volkmann tossed out the lawsuit on Aug. 28.
Dutra, who was previously on the council from 2014-18, called Clark’s lawsuit a pricey and “frivolous” affair. He also called Parker’s actions “bully-on-the-playground” behavior, and claimed that she was trying to influence the upcoming election.
“I think this is a huge abuse of power for not only the people who brought this forward but for the people who helped her behind the scenes,” he said. “This is not the time for political games, and this is what this is. She’s distracted from her duties and she needs to resign.”
But Parker in an email refuted any claims of wrongdoing, and said that she has a “responsibility to do my due diligence and investigate any issues brought forth by our constituents.”
She also said she played no role in Clark’s written petition or lawsuit. She did, however, meet with Clark the day before he submitted his petition. Parker said Clark showed up to her house unannounced to let her know he was going to challenge Dutra’s designation.
“He felt I should know about it as I was the last ‘real, credentialed teacher’ to run for City Council and indicated to me that he and quite a few others in our community were upset by Dutra’s inappropriate ballot designation,” Parker wrote.
She maintains that Dutra does not have the qualifications to identify himself as a teacher.
Mayor Rebecca J. Garcia, who has endorsed Dutra for council, in an email said she did not see anything wrong with Parker’s actions, as each council member has the right to investigate any issue that comes from the community.
City Attorney Alan J. Smith said that he did not know if Parker’s inquiry was typical behavior for sitting council members, but said he was not surprised that a council member would be interested in a candidate’s ballot designation.
Garcia said she did not know if Parker had any involvement in Clark’s lawsuit.
Smith said he was not aware of any law that would prevent a sitting council member from being involved in a lawsuit challenging a candidate’s ballot designation.
Garcia, a former teacher and principal for PVUSD, did say that in her opinion Dutra was a teacher.
“The fact that PVUSD rehired Jimmy as a teacher shows that he has good classroom management, and teaching and learning occurs in the classroom,” she said. “A person that can do that is a teacher with or without a credential.”
The definition of “teacher,” according to court documents, was the crux of Clark’s lawsuit. Dutra is currently teaching a social studies class at Pajaro Middle, and is doing so without a teaching credential, a practice that is not encouraged but used by many school districts.
Clark argued that because Dutra did not hold a credential, and instead is on staff via a Provisional Internship Permit (PIP), that he should not be allowed to identify himself as a teacher on his statement. Clark asked that Dutra’s candidate designation redefine his profession as “Substitute Teacher” or “Provisional Intern Teacher.”
Dutra, according to PVUSD documents, has been a full-time teacher since Oct. 14, 2019. He was brought back on a PIP for the 2020-21 school year—the Board of Trustees unanimously approved the move in July.
The footnotes of a letter from PVUSD Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Chona Killeen addressed to the board says Dutra “will be completing his [California Subject Examinations for Teachers] in order to receive his Preliminary Credential. He is an asset to our district and has shown his determination to set and hold students to high academic, behavioral and character standards.”