A Bend-La Pine School Board member violated two parts of the board’s code of conduct for incendiary comments she made during an abortion rights protest earlier this month.
But the only disciplinary action taken against Janet Sarai Llerandi Gonzalez was a private conversation with the board chair.
“So I am not here to bring you a message on unity and solidarity. I am telling you to go to the streets and Fu** Sh** Up!” she said during the July 1 protest, according to a Central Oregon Daily News report.
The comments from Llerandi Gonzalez, who was elected to the board in 2021, prompted another round of complaints about her advocacy for issues facing marginalized people and was discussed in a public meeting Tuesday.
Previous complaints prompted an investigation last summer by the Oregon Government Ethics Commission, and she is now negotiating a settlement, according to the state’s compliance and education coordinator.
Llerandi Gonzalez declined to comment for this article. But she shared her feelings at Tuesday’s meeting.
“What I’ve learned from both experiences is that this magnifying glass in which we’re under as public servants increases in intensity when you are a fierce and loud advocate for those identities that fall outside of the white, dominant Christian culture,” she said.
Before Llerandi Gonzalez spoke at the pro-choice rally on July 1, an event organizer introduced her as a board member. Llerandi Gonzalez did not say that she was commenting on personal opinions as a member of the public and not
representing the board’s opinion, according to board Chair Melissa Barnes Dholakia.
Barnes Dholakia said the district has received “between 20 to 30” complaints around Llerandi Gonzalez’s comments.
Barnes Dholakia confirmed that Llerandi Gonzalez’s comments violated the board’s code of conduct that states “individual opinions should be clearly stated as such.”
By not specifying that she was not representing the board, Llerandi Gonzalez then opened herself up to violating a second code that states “the board commits itself to ethical businesslike and lawful conduct, including proper use of authority and appropriate decorum when acting as board members,” Barnes Dholakia said.
These violations leave the board with three possible remedies, Barnes Dholakia said.
• Board members can privately discuss the issue with the offending board member.
• The board could remove the offending board member from a committee or other board-designated responsibilities.
• The board member could be publicly censured.
Barnes Dholakia said she spoke with Llerandi Gonzalez prior to Tuesday’s meeting and noted that, in Tuesday’s meeting, “the board did not act to access either of those remedies … No board members requested any additional action, so last night’s actions complete this cycle.”
An impassioned advocate for marginalized groups, Llerandi Gonzalez, who identifies herself as queer, Indigenous and a person of color, spoke in the meeting about the pressures she has faced as a board member. In a speech that touched on white nationalism, gun violence, reproductive rights and more, she said that she has been harassed repeatedly since she became an elected board member and said she and her children have been failed by what she describes as systems of oppression.
“The reason why I stand so strongly in my convictions of those truths is because I know that it’s not just me being affected,” she said. “And I hear it consistently and with regularity from families that they’re thankful that there is a voice on the board such as mine and that some of their children look up to me for the strength and courage that I have displayed.”
Two board members — Barnes Dholakia and Shimiko Montgomery — said that although they did not agree with Llerandi Gonzalez’s choice of words at the protest, they supported her message and her values.
Llerandi Gonzalez also spoke Tuesday about other instances when her conduct as a board member was questioned. This included a complaint last summer about her fundraising efforts in support of a transgender person who she said was being evicted from their home “for simply living their truth.”
That complaint prompted an investigation by the state ethics commission, according to documents obtained by The Bulletin.
The commission investigated whether Llerandi Gonzalez potentially violated a state statute that prohibits the use of a public position for financial gain, according to the commission’s preliminary review on Sept. 28.
And it investigated whether she violated a statute that says public officials “may not solicit or receive, directly or indirectly, any gift or gifts with an aggregate value in excess of $50 from any single source that could reasonably be known to have a legislative or administrative interest.”
The review also stated that a GoFundMe with the name “Janet Llerandi,” which was linked through Llerandi Gonzalez’s personal Facebook page, raised more than $1,535 for a “Displaced Trans Queer (person of color) Youth.”
According to the commission’s review, Llerandi Gonzalez stated in a letter that all the social media posts were from personal accounts and were never shared through official school board Facebook pages. She also stated that the funds for the transgender youth never went into her personal bank account but were transferred into the bank account of a nonprofit organization called Mecca Bend, a local Latino advocacy group that she started in 2019.
“This makes the nonprofit the bearer of the funds, to which they are then redistributed to the anonymous recipient,” she said in the letter. She added: “Never have I solicited monies or ‘gifts’ from community members for personal benefit or for the nonprofit, that fall outside of the guidelines for me as an elected official.”
Susan Myers, compliance and education coordinator for the state ethics commission, said Wednesday the state is in the process of negotiating a settlement with Llerandi Gonzalez. Myers said penalties for such violations can be up to $5,000, but she added that cases like Llerandi Gonzalez’s typically land on the low end of penalties, involving either a letter of education specifying what rules might be broken or financial penalties that can range between $50 to $1,000.