The preseason campaign games are upon the Sweetwater Union High School District. As early as June 4, “John McCann for School Board” signs dotted the roads that led to graduation ceremonies. Not to be outdone, former trustee Jaime Mercado planted a huge sign across the street from district offices — and that’s where the games turned ugly.
Mercado served as a Sweetwater board member from 2004–2008. Many people who have been reading through the San Diego County Grand Jury transcripts that detail the level of corruption in the district have commented that Mercado never let contractors buy him a cup of coffee, never went out to dinner on a vendor’s dime, never had lobster butter dribble down his chin.
One grand juror asked Sweetwater’s former Proposition O program manager, Henry Amigable, about ”a particular individual who refused to accept dinner invitations across the board from anybody.”
Amigable answered, “The only time I interacted with Jaime Mercado was at events, fundraising events that he would attend or a board meeting. I would stop by, you know, to try to get five minutes of his time….” Amigable said Mercado’s refusal was rare in all the districts Amigable has worked in.
Mercado was a principal in the Sweetwater district and then a board member during Ed Brand’s first stint as superintendent (1995–2004). When the U-T published Brand’s grand-jury transcripts on May 30, the paper included this excerpt:
“I made the conscious decision that I did not believe that I could work with that gentleman [Mercado], nor did I want to, so I sought employment elsewhere,” Brand testified. “He made it pretty well known publicly and otherwise he was going to do everything in his power to make my life miserable. It’s never been my interest to be where I’m not wanted.”
Fast forward to June 2013 and Mercado has decided to run for the board again — with Brand as superintendent.
Recently, Mercado secured permission to put a large campaign sign (approximately 4´x6´) in the front yard of the owner of the house that sits directly across the street from the school-district headquarters.
Leery about campaign-sign security because many from his last campaign were destroyed, Mercado reached an agreement with the owners of the Fourth Avenue home; the Zanders were paid $20 to allow Mercado to put up his sign in their yard every morning at 6:30 for five days.
On the morning of June 7, Mercado put up the sign at 6:30. A special board meeting had been called for 7:45 a.m. and several people on their way to the meeting witnessed a Sweetwater economics teacher, Thomas Hassey, trying to take the sign down. Finally, he only succeeded in breaking the sign.
In 2008, Hassey and Brand were both part of a failed attempt to start a bank. (In an interview earlier this year, Hassey told the Reader they tried to start Ventana bank just when the economy turned bad.)
After the special board meeting, Rick Zander told the Reader that he believes in letting anyone have signs in his yard. “It’s the American way,” he said.
Mercado has filed a report with the Chula Vista police; in the report, Hassey is accused of damaging his sign.
(updated 6/10, 3:30pm)