Err Jordan 

As Alameda County's schools endured record financial woes, Sheila Jordan seemed more interested in punishing employees who questioned her judgment or her alleged illegal behavior.

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The pressure proved to be too much for him. On May 26 of that year, Aweeka suffered a minor stroke and was hospitalized. Although he said he still suffers some effects from the stroke, such as occasional disorientation, he recovered quickly and felt ready to return to work after a few weeks. His wife, however, was concerned, and e-mailed Principal Karass requesting that Camp Sweeney officials accommodate her husband's new disability by calling 911 if he appeared to be suffering another stroke.

Karass forwarded the e-mail to human resources director Minnis, who swiftly replied refusing the request. As a result, Aweeka did not return for the last few weeks of that school year. When Minnis continued to refuse to honor the request when school resumed in the fall, Aweeka filed a complaint with the state, saying he had been forced to leave Camp Sweeney. The next summer he filed a whistleblower lawsuit against Minnis, Karass, Jordan, and the county Office of Education, alleging that everything that had happened to him stemmed from his original complaints that "federal and state funds for the computer academy were being misappropriated and/or not being spent on appropriate computer and technical equipment."

Aweeka's attorneys argued that the defendants clearly broke California law when they refused to accommodate his new disability. Last September, Judge Steven Brick agreed that there was no question as to whether the county had violated Aweeka's rights. But the judge stopped short of granting the teacher an immediate verdict, saying that he still had to answer the question of precisely how much money the county should pay him.

In January of this year, the 63-year-old decided to settle the case with the district's insurance carrier. The stress of litigation wasn't worth it, he said. He signed a nondisclosure agreement that prohibits him and the insurance carrier from revealing the amount of the settlement.

Minnis refused to comment on the case or the settlement. Karass, who Aweeka said wept during his deposition in the case, no longer works for the county and could not be reached. Jordan, when asked about it last month, maintained that a legal opinion from the county's attorneys also prohibited her from talking about it. But when it was subsequently pointed out that the opinion actually said the nondisclosure agreement does not apply to her, she blurted: "I have no idea what the settlement is." Asked whether she was curious, or felt responsible for keeping tabs on a potentially significant financial matter, Jordan added: "I'm not that curious; it doesn't impact my budget. I really have other things to do. I feel very comfortable not knowing."

Jordan correctly notes that Aweeka, Roth, Martin, and Abad are all disgruntled former employees resentful about being forced out of their jobs by her or her aides. The same can be said for Chaconas and Siegel, who saw their reputations tarnished after the state took over the Oakland schools. Chaconas lost his job and Siegel lost his political power base when the school board was stripped of its authority. Wiggins, meanwhile, lost his political influence when Jordan's candidate defeated him, and Fashokun lost his county job when Jordan eliminated his position. Jordan argued that Cobb and Scornaienchi are still sore about her beating Hightower in 1998.

But until now, most of these people have been reluctant to speak out against Jordan because of her reputation for exacting revenge. They've decided to go public, they said, because they simply can't stand the idea of her winning a third term on June 6.

Still, there's no denying that Jordan has accumulated plenty of supporters over the years. Her list of endorsers is a who's who of the East Bay's political elite. Besides Perata, the state's most powerful Democrat, Jordan's supporters include Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher, outgoing Assemblywoman Wilma Chan, current Assemblyman Alberto Torrico, and former Assemblymembers Dion Aroner and John Dutra.

The current majority of the county Board of Education also is in her corner. One of those boardmembers, her reliable supporter Ruby, bristles at the notion that the board is just a rubber stamp for Jordan. "I sometimes get along with Sheila and sometimes I don't," she said. "I do as long as she does things for the good of the students."

The past few years, however, have not been without political setbacks for Jordan. This is the first time she will appear on a ballot without Cooperman running her campaign. Earlier this year, she lost a major endorsement — the Metropolitan Greater Oakland Democratic Club. The club is one of the most sought-after supporters in Oakland because it represents influential voters in the Grand Lake area, North Oakland, and the Oakland Hills. This year it endorsed Jordan's opponent John Bernard, superintendent of Newark schools. "I think people thought that Sheila was definitely part of the problem for why the Oakland school district was taken over by the state," club member Pamela Drake explained.

Another endorsement Jordan will not receive, of course, is from Chaconas. He spars with her twice a month at county Board of Education meetings. He was elected to the board in 2004, easily defeating a Jordan-backed incumbent — but not before he had another run-in with her. Chaconas said Jordan called him before he announced his candidacy and warned him that if he ran, "things will get ugly," adding that she would see to it that there was a third fraud audit of Oakland schools. Sure enough, after he ran, the district was audited again — but no fraud was found.

Bernard, Jordan's June 6 opponent and a longtime friend of Chaconas, said Jordan has also played political hardball with him. The first time was when he announced his endorsement of Chaconas two years ago. He said Jordan threatened to block an early retirement program that Newark educators had sought.


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