Opponents of ABC Unified school board member Cecy Groom have publicized Groom’s private business troubles and legal problems in an effort to defeat her bid for reelection.
Copies of a lawsuit have appeared on doorsteps throughout the district and a number of residents said they received anonymous telephone calls citing Groom’s legal problems as a reason she should be voted out of office Nov. 5.
Groom, one of nine candidates vying for four board seats, said she has done nothing wrong and is the victim of a smear campaign.
Groom and her business, ARG Industries, Inc. of Pomona, face an investors’ lawsuit arising out of a business deal gone sour. The investors are suing her for breach of contract, fraud and racketeering, among other charges.
“This disgruntled group of investors is trying to use my board reelection as a means of getting a quick settlement,” said Groom, a board member since 1987. “The allegations are an outright lie.”
Attorney Joseph Davis, who filed the lawsuit, said he knows nothing about its circulation throughout the school district. Beginning in June, 1989, investors gave Groom at least $350,000 to open fast-food franchises in Contra Costa County, Davis said. The money was never returned nor accounted for, he said.
ARG Industries Inc. filed for protection under bankruptcy laws in March. Groom said investors filed suit in an attempt “to recover anything they can.”
She added that she also suspects her campaign opponents of distributing the lawsuit because they disagree with her views. Groom voted against a district plan for leasing property to developers to raise money for schools. Board incumbents Jim Weisenberger, Dixie Primosch and Robert Hughlett, who approved the plan, are also up for reelection.
Differences of opinion among board members have nothing to do with the anti-Groom efforts, board member Weisenberger said. He said he first learned of the lawsuit when a 58-page document was anonymously deposited at his door two weeks ago.
Political activist Joe Cabrera Zermeno said his group, Residents Against Corruption, has distributed some of the information about the lawsuit. Groom calls Zermeno a “disgruntled ex-employee.” Zermeno, a Hawaiian Gardens resident, said he used to work for Groom but quit after he was not paid for overtime. He insisted, however, that his effort against Groom is motivated purely by public interest.
Groom said her business problems have not hampered her as a board member. “It has not affected my commitment or my decision-making process,” she said. “My business skills have helped me make very competent decisions.
ABC Unified School District
Areas served: all of Artesia and Hawaiian Gardens, nearly all of Cerritos, parts of Norwalk, Lakewood, Santa Fe Springs, Long Beach and La Palma
On the ballot: nine candidates, including four incumbents and five challengers, for four seats
Board member since 1987
Remarks: “I oppose asset management all the way because I feel the board should stay in the business of education and not get into the commercial development business. The economic environment doesn’t justify another economic development in this area. We are a growing district. We are already crowded in certain parts of the district, particularly the southern end.” She favors electoral districts because “the students would be better served.” She said she frequently votes against the board majority because other board members are not making the quality of educational programs their highest priority.
Board member since 1987
Profession: administrator of disabled students program at Cerritos College
Remarks: “Asset management is a big issue, and the development of other sources of incomes for the district. I am a strong supporter of asset management, especially in ABC, because of our premise that no school be closed. I think it is better to use properties to bring in extra income for the schools rather than having properties just sit there. About electoral districts, I think they are appropriate in some instances . . . where a trustee can’t represent all students. In the ABC district, I do feel all children are represented equally. I support the notion that the local people should make the decision. . . .”
Board member since 1987
Profession: budget analyst for Southern California Assn. of Governments
Remarks: “The biggest issue all school districts are facing is limited funding from Sacramento. So we must look at alternative funding for the present and the future without raising taxes. Most districts have had to cut programs, but instead of doing that we want to look at ways of getting money from local sources.” She voted for the district’s asset management plan. “I consider myself to be a full-time board member, and I’m aware of what is going on in the community. I have never missed a board meeting. The qualities that assist me in handling the challenges facing the district are experience and availability.”
Board member since 1987
Profession: power company consultant and owner of lumber company
Remarks: “The biggest issue is asset management, to leverage our assets and develop sources of income for our schools. I am in favor of this. About electoral districts, I believe it is a local issue that should be decided by local constituents. . . . The accomplishments I’m most proud of are the restructuring of district management, the maintaining of a balanced budget, our drug and gang intervention programs and the review of curriculum. . . . Being successful in business for many years, I bring to the board a perspective as a businessman.”
Profession: administrative assistant for county Department of Public Works
Remarks: “I would support electoral districts. The biggest issues are asset management, improving the board’s response to inquiry, and citizen input into developing a curriculum and educational excellence. After close analysis, I think asset management is a good idea. I have a master’s degree in public administration, which included course work in budget balancing and asset management. I have a real desire to improve education. I volunteered as a religious educator for fifth-graders, teaching them manners and understanding the importance of homework, which is something I would like to see the board address.”
Residence: painting contractor
Remarks: “I am very much against asset management. It’s a waste of money that should be directed into the classroom. The amount of money spent on consultant fees is way out of line. We should not be in the business of property management and commercial development. Around the city, we (already) have lots of empty office space. . . . The issue of trustee elections should be voted on by the people in the district. . . . It’s outrageous that while we make cuts that affected kids in the classroom, the district administration is getting pay raises that amount to a lot of money.”
Noordeen Arooz Shariff
Age: would not give age
Remarks: “The board meetings are comical. They just drag it on for hours and discuss trivial, nonsensical matters. Around 10 o’clock, we’re exhausted and we leave, and then the board starts discussing more important things, when there is no audience.” He said board members have allowed themselves to be consumed with routine matters while not taking responsibility for vital concerns. He said he opposes asset management, saying administrators would love to have “an infusion of more money so they can have more frivolous expenditures. . . . Students in grades 10 through 12 are adults and should participate in decision-making at the board level.”
Martin Stringer Sr.
Profession: Army major, retiring at end of October
Remarks: “Partnerships need to be developed, that is, bringing the business environment into the school process. I am an experienced fund-raiser and think we can tap into these funds from businesses in our surrounding communities, and we could also tap into hospitals and libraries around here. . . .” Stringer said he has been an assistant professor of military science at a Florida college, and also has volunteered for ABC district advisory committees. He supports letting parents send children to their public school of choice. “We have some schools in some areas that do not come up to par . . . parents have the right to send their children to schools that are up to par.”
Remarks: “I want to help ABC Unified in balancing the budget because I have experience in doing so.” As a member of the Cerritos City Council, “I have personally participated in funding many projects to help out the district for the past 13 years,” for example, “the Gahr High School expansion and gym. I am the council liaison with the school board. I know about the budget and internal political problems between board members . . . SAT scores are at an all-time low. The school system is getting sick, so they should call a doctor, which is me. . . . I would like to help out with my experience on asset management.” He opposes electoral districts, because “a board member should serve the entire district.”