By Steven Tavares.
When Greg Jones, then Hayward’s city manager, was secretly dating a sitting councilmember, the City Council and entire city government enabled the illicit and very troubling potential violation of the Brown Act. Everybody at City Hall, it seemed in 2011, knew about the affair between Jones and then-Councilmember Anna May, but nobody felt emboldened to do something about it despite the very real possibility the two may have been illegally trading conversations—pillow talk—about the city’s closed session business. Instead of confronting the issue head-on, Hayward officials at the time simply locked May out of meetings.
Hayward’s inability to deal with its dirty laundry was also present earlier that same year when two members of the school board were participating in their own extramarital affair. The same dynamic existed. Like Jones and May, the dalliances between Jesus Armas, also a former Hayward city manager, and Maribel Heredia was not about love or morality, but a lack of government transparency. In this case, it was worse since Heredia was quoted in a deposition saying she relied on another school board member to explain agenda items to her and presumably direct her on how to vote. Later, there were indications votes were reversed to rehire a recently fired principal.
When Hayward Fire Chief Garrett Contreras was found to be drinking on the job, the fact that he was even being investigated was learned by the public as an afterthought. Mind you Contreras, as the commander one night, failed to promptly send help to a fire in Hayward because he was too drunk. Yet, he kept his job. Some howled, but nobody at City Hall paid much attention.In both cases, Hayward officials and city leaders looked away despite the erosion of their government. Meanwhile, Jones and May invited people to a Christmas party at his home and Armas and Heredia were often seen canoodling around town. Hayward, it seems, is trained to look the other way even as they were being taunted by both sets of individuals.
So, there’s nothing particularly unique to Hayward City Hall’s decision to withhold the reasons behind Police Chief Diane Stuart’s sudden placement on administrative leave on Monday. It’s a city that consistently and quietly attempts to hide its dirty laundry and, worse, never attempts to remedy the underlining problem.
The Hayward Unified School District, long one of the most underperforming in the East Bay, is similar in its inability to right its own ship. When Hayward Superintendent Stan “Data” Dobbs launched into an angry, verbal attack on two board members in closed session last year leading to each filing police reports, special interests in Hayward, did not distance themselves from Dobbs, but inexplicably taunted the two school board members during one meeting last fall. Somehow, said many public speakers that night, the board members deserved the verbal assault, especially school board member Luis Reynoso, who is the only Hayward public official who has for years railed against the city’s inherent corruption. He was right about Armas. He was right about Dobbs. Unsurprisingly, Hayward’s business community, teachers’ union and even City Council members are frantically attempting to unseat him this November. Curiously, mobilizing against Reynoso is the only time City Hall and other leaders have taken the time to act on an issue.
In all these cases, Hayward city officials did nothing, said nothing, even acted like nothing happened. Furthermore, two black men were found dead while in custody of Hayward police. The city is being sued. With eight murders in recent months in Hayward, crime is unquestionably an issue. Yet, the mayor and city council makes no mention of this reality.
However, if you merely watched the Hayward City Council’s inauguration of new and re-elected members in July, you would have been easily persuaded into thinking none of these serious and repeatedly ignored issues ever existed. Councilmember Al Mendall, who won re-election in June, crowed, “This election is an affirmation of the direction the city is moving in.” Councilmember Elisa Marquez, a Hayward native, added without irony, “I’m a product of this environment.”
In the meantime, Hayward’s future appears aimless while its neighbors retool from an industrial base of yesteryear and more broadly embrace 21st Century manufacturing. Its schools struggle mightily. Voter apathy continues to rise and the marketplace of ideas, like its downtown storefronts, are bare.