Joe Messina, currently serving and running for re-election on the William S. Hart Union High School District board, sought to respond to opponent Kelly Trunkey’s claim, first reported in the Gazette two weeks ago, that Messina is not a friend of the LGBTQ community.
Messina discounted that as untrue, and referred to a Dec. 11, 2013 meeting in which Andrew Taban, then a Canyon High student, expressed concern that the district wasn’t doing enough to implement the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act. Informally known as the LGBT History Bill, the state law requires textbooks to include various contributions by people with disabilities and LGBTQ people.
“When Andrew Taban came forward and expressed concern we weren’t implementing the FAIR Act, I was president at the time, and I directed staff to make sure we were working within the law, and if not, what do we need to do,” Messina said. “We found out the law hadn’t taken effect yet.”
Reached to confirm Messina’s account, Taban instead said the only board member who showed support was Gloria Mercado-Fortine. Then he said, “I am not endorsing Joe Messina. My endorsement is going to Kelly Trunkey.”
Taban’s reasons were similar to Trunkey’s reasons for running: He does not believe Messina’s conservative views as a talk-show host have a place in school matters.
“I think it’s highly unprofessional to have his job,” Taban said. “It is intimidating as a student. How’s this person going to treat me without knowing me?”
Messina said he didn’t care who Taban endorses, and insisted that “the one place I can put my partisan politics aside is on the school board.”
“My politics never come up at the board level, and I never use my politics to bring people in,” he said. “Miss Trunkey was involved with her husband in Democratic politics. What’s the difference?”
Messina also asserted Taban was incorrect in saying Mercado-Fortine was the only supporter.
“I was the first to speak up at the meeting,” he said. Later, he produced a copy of the meeting minutes that clearly state he made the suggestion.
According to the minutes, Taban spoke during the time for public comment and “distributed a one-page information sheet about the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful Education Act law, and he asked how the law is being implemented in the Hart School District. Mr. Messina asked Mrs. Engbrecht (then deputy superintendent Vicki) to contact the student and inform the Board of the contact.”
That’s not what Mercado-Fortine remembers, however. She backed up Taban’s story and said it was she who suggested to Engbrecht that the matter be placed on a future agenda and that Engbrecht should meet with Taban, currently Vice President of Democratic Alliance for Action.
“My comments were, this is something we need to examine,” Mercado-Fortine said. “I supported that and moved it forward. I said something at the meeting: ‘Where are we with this? What are we using?’”
The minutes also say that student board member William Oh of Golden Valley High requested a report on the FAIR Act, and that Engbrecht would follow up with Taban by phone.
Deborah Dunn, Engbrecht’s executive assistant, left a message this week saying the superintendent is on vacation until Monday. An email to Engbrecht generated an automatic response saying she would be out of the office until Monday and has limited access to email.
In a phone call last week, Dunn said meetings aren’t video recorded. Messina said audio recordings are kept for three years.
Messina said he has never talked down to any LGBTQ student, and has met Taban several times for coffee and lunches since Taban graduated high school, something Taban confirms.
“I always encourage every student to work hard, try their best and not let anything get in their way,” Messina said. “All students deserve a safe environment, and all students deserve an equal opportunity to succeed. The LGBTQ community has lost nothing since I’ve been on the board.”