Annette Gonzalez-Buttner, who claims Calexico residency, is currently a member of the Imperial County Office is Education board but has apparently won a seat on the Imperial Valley College board. Although she won’t disclose whether she will step down from the ICOE board, she will apparently be forced to vacate her position. Meanwhile, her legal case over election fraud tied to her residency status, is ongoing. | COURTESY IMAGES
CALEXICO — With her apparent election win to the Imperial Community College District Board of Trustees, Annette Gonzalez-Buttner said she plans to continue advocating for students and the community, much like she has during her tenure on the Imperial County Office of Education board.
For starters, Gonzalez-Buttner, claims Calexico residency, said she would like to help Imperial Valley College grow international student enrollment, develop student and faculty housing, launch undergraduate degree programs and enhance dual enrollment for students who want to earn college credits while still in high school.
She would also like to see the seven-member IVC board schedule joint meetings with the boards of local K-12 school districts to discuss college readiness and how to reduce the need for remedial classes at IVC.
“My hope is that the returning board members will be open to ambitious and assertive growth plans,” Gonzalez-Buttner said in an email Monday, Nov. 16.
What the current Imperial County Office of Education trustee for the border region is less explicit about is her plans regarding her current ICOE board seat, whose term expires in December 2022.
Though Gonzalez-Buttner declined to disclose whether she had planned to hold both seats simultaneously or resign from the ICOE board prior to or upon assuming the IVC seat, it appears her ICOE trustee seat will be vacated upon her being seated to the college board next month.
As things stand, the Imperial Valley College Board of Trustees’ bylaws do not contain a provision explicitly prohibiting the holding of two public offices simultaneously, said Elizabeth Espinoza, IVC interim communications and governmental relations officer in a Nov. 9 email.
Nor is there any provision prohibiting an individual facing criminal charges or a convicted felon from holding the IVC trustee seat, she stated.
Currently, Gonzalez-Buttner is facing four felony charges in the Imperial County Superior Court stemming from allegations that in mid-2014 she had established her permanent residence, or “domicile,” in Santa Clara County and does not live within the boundaries of ICOE’s area 1, which she was elected in 2017 to represent.
Those charges include two counts of perjury that allege she falsified her 2017 candidate intention statement under penalty of perjury, and had submitted a California driver’s license application in 2017 listing her father’s Rockwood Avenue address in Calexico as her own.
The count of grand theft alleges Gonzalez-Buttner has illegally obtained ICOE board member stipends and health insurance under false pretenses, while the charge of filing a falsified candidacy declaration alleges that she provided a fraudulent address on the document, which is a form not signed under penalty of perjury.
Gonzalez-Buttner was initially charged with two felonies in February 2019, an additional two felonies in July 2019, and has denied all charges to date. Since her arraignment she has been represented by several defense attorneys who have either been dismissed by her or successfully petitioned the court to withdraw, citing conflicts of interests.
The Rockwood Avenue address in Calexico that Gonzalez-Buttner is alleged to have fraudulently used in her 2017 candidacy filings is the same address she used in her filings for the Nov. 3 election, according to public records available from the Registrar’s Office.
The Imperial County District Attorney’s Office declined to comment about whether Gonzalez-Buttner’s candidacy declaration for the Nov. 3 election could potentially subject her to additional charges, and solely stated that the prosecution is hopeful the trial will go forward as scheduled on Feb. 1.
“Issues or concerns arising from this current election regarding Ms. Gonzales-Buttner will not be commented on, at this time, in an effort to guarantee a fair and impartial trial for both sides,” said DA Gilbert Otero in a Nov. 13 email.
Though thousands of provisional and vote-by-mail ballots remained to be counted, Gonzalez-Buttner still held a substantial lead over incumbent IVC Trustee Louis Wong, the Imperial County Registrar of Voters reported.
As of Wednesday, Nov. 18, Gonzalez-Buttner received 61.3 percent of the ballots counted for the IVC Area 1 seat, compared to the 38.6 percent cast in favor of Wong, the Registrar’s Office unofficial election results stated. The agency announced that it is expected to certify the election results by Dec. 3.
Should Gonzalez-Buttner’s electoral lead stand, it would pave the way for her to assume the IVC trustee seat in December, in accordance with California Education Code, which states the term of a biennially-elected board member commences on the second Friday in December succeeding their election.
In the meantime, the Imperial County Office of Education Board of Trustees and administration are making plans to discuss the process of appointing a replacement at the board’s Dec. 14 meeting.
Though ICOE officials had initially been uncertain about Gonzalez-Buttner’s plans regarding her current trustee seat, the matter has since resolved itself, said ICOE Superintendent Todd Finnell in a Nov. 18 email.
Finnell said ICOE confirmed that IVC intends to administer the oath of office and seat their newly elected trustees at their regular meeting on Dec. 16, at which time Gonzalez-Buttner’s ICOE trustee seat will become vacated.
Similarly to the IVC board’s bylaws, the ICOE board’s bylaws also lack any provision explicitly prohibiting a board member from simultaneously holding more than one public office. However, they do outline 12 different scenarios in which an ICOE board vacancy would occur and how to fill such a vacancy, Finnell said.
Were ICOE to have determined that there was an incompatibility of public offices, it could’ve taken potential action, as outlined in California Government Code Section 1099.
That state law prohibits a public official from simultaneously holding two different public offices if the offices have overlapping and conflicting public duties.
“The consequence of finding an incompatibility of offices is that the first office held is automatically vacated upon the commencement of duties in the second office,” Finnell stated in a Nov. 9 email. “The first office is terminated as effectively as if the person had officially resigned.”
Gonzalez-Buttner was initially elected to the ICOE board in 2013 and again in 2017. Though the trustee seat is technically a four-year term, recent election law changes added a year to the four-year tenures of those elected in 2015 and 2017, said Lee Davis, ICOE executive administrative assistant in an Nov. 17 email.
With Gonzalez-Buttner’s tenure with the ICOE board appearing to soon come to an end, it caps a stint that she characterized as successful.
Specifically, she cited her fruitful initiative to have the board add a public comment session to all its meeting agendas, as well as allowing public comments on each agenda item.
She fared less successful with her push to have the ICOE board authorize audio and video recordings of its meetings, even though it would cost nothing to record current Zoom-based meetings, she said.
Despite that mixed record, Gonzalez-Buttner said she has hopes that elected and administrative officials can continue to collaborate for the betterment of the Valley’s students.
“I have faith that Imperial County can develop a national image of a high-academic community,” Gonzalez-Buttner stated. “As a daughter of Calexico, I want my hometown to lead the way so the Latino community expects that almost all our local kids will earn college and university degrees.”