Greg Opinski has far too many problems right now to be worried about remaining a thoughtful, contributing member of the Merced Union High School District Board of Trustees. He should resign. Right now. Immediately.
How can someone put their full attention on helping educate some 10,000 students in nine schools when they’re dealing with skepticism over whether or not he even lives in the district he represents? Or the details of all those lawsuits concerning his construction company. Or explaining why his name is on the ballot for the 21st Assembly District when he’s not really running. Or that messy divorce.
Oh, and his arrest on charges of bribing Los Banos Unified School District board members to approve a $6 million contract to expand Mercy Springs Elementary School. Especially that.
Opinski is facing five criminal charges stemming from alleged efforts to bribe a board member or aid in his conflict of interest. That means arraignment, lawyers, bail, mug shots, the whole law-and-order mess.
Tommy Jones, former mayor of Los Banos, is the Los Banos Unified School District board member that Opinski allegedly bribed.
Jones should resign, too, since he is going to be far too engrossed with his own criminal defense to devote any attention to the children of Los Banos. In fact, he missed a golden opportunity Wednesday afternoon during the meeting in which he had to recuse himself when most of the rest of the board voted to terminate the district’s construction contracts with his pal Opinski – the very contracts Opinski is accused of seeking to influence.
Opinski ignored an identical golden moment Wednesday night. If he had attended the high school district board’s emergency meeting to talk about his arrest and the problems it might bring to the district, he could have resigned. But he wasn’t there.
We know, neither Opinski nor Jones has been proven guilty. Opinski has gone silent; Jones claims innocence.
But the counts brought by Merced District Attorney Larry Morse II are serious. Too serious for voters to maintain even a morsel of trust in any of the decisions either Opinski or Jones will be asked to make if they remain on their respective boards.
Opinski, in particular, should know how much energy and time trials can consume. His unsuccessful lawsuit against the city of Oakdale in Stanislaus County took years to adjudicate. When it was over, he was out $113,000. When he was sued over a subcontractor who failed to pay prevailing wages on a school project in Patterson, it cost him $28,000. He had to pay another $19,000 after a lawsuit in Fresno County. Heck, he’s been involved in 13 lawsuits – including one he brought against the district he now serves.
Our favorite was the case against Los Banos Unified – the very district he now stands accused of trying to bribe. Back in 2008, he sued the district over the building of Pacheco High. He tried to get a contract voided by saying it was given to someone else through “an inside job.” That’s rich.
Despite all the lawsuits and at least seven tax liens, these are the first criminal charges against Opinski.
If either Jones or Opinski is judged innocent, they can always run again to reclaim their board seats. If not, they’ve got bigger problems.
The next few months are going to be incredibly demanding and difficult for Opinski and Jones. The school boards they sit on shouldn’t have to share those burdens. Both should quit now and save voters the trouble of recalling them.