At the 11th hour, Liliana Gomez offered a concession.

A motion was on the table Monday night that would have immediately appointed her to the Hermiston School Board, a position she has been seeking since running unsuccessfully for election in 2021. The board was deadlocked over the appointment, the result of weeks of disagreement. It seemed there was no way forward, and that’s when Gomez unexpectedly approached the audience, urging caution.

“I didn’t expect the motion to name me,” she said. “I think (the) integrity of the board is very fragmented, especially for the public.”

Gomez suggested the board reopen the position. She said she would reapply and start the nomination process again, along with anyone else who applied for the seat.

But Gomez’s request went unheeded. When the board held a vote on the motion, a key vote was reversed and the board nominated her with a simple 4-2 majority.

A disputed vote

Monday night’s nomination came after a week-long dispute sparked when council member Bryan Medelez, the only Latino council member in a 58% Latino district, resigned in August.

On Sept. 26, when the school board interviewed the three candidates who ran for the Medelez seat — Gomez, Teri Vander Stelt and Kristin Connell — a second seat had opened up due to the sudden resignation of board chairman Josh Goller. .

Following the interviews, the board quickly reached consensus on the appointment of Vander Stelt to replace Medelez, according to Eastern Oregonian and a video recording of the meeting. Vander Stelt was immediately sworn in.

A subsequent motion to appoint Gomez to the open seat of Goller was met with more opposition. Board members Dain Gardner and Sally Hansell argued that the board and the public needed more time to consider Goller’s replacement process since his seat had only been open for a few days.

Both Gardner and Hansell were elected in 2021, with the former beating Gomez to win his seat. The pair were joined by their new colleague Vander Stelt in rejecting Gomez’s nomination.

Gardner and Hansell contradicted each other minutes later when they seconded a motion to appoint Connell to the vacant seat. The pair were again joined by Vander Stelt, but the rest of the board voted against it, leading to another 3-3 stalemate. The board ended the meeting before filling the seat.

Public interest was high ahead of Monday’s meeting. In addition to a healthy in-person audience, more than 60 people watched online at the height of the live broadcast.

During the public comment section of the meeting, several participants took issue with the lack of diversity on the board. In a district with a predominantly Latino student body, the board risked creating a governing body that would be 100% white.

‘Do better. Be better.’

Gomez did not mention his Hispanic identity during the September interviews, choosing instead to focus on his volunteer work and his role on the district budget committee.

But it was a point that Gomez supporters were ready to affirm out loud.

Janeth Macias, a graduation coach at Hermiston High School, was one of many Latino District staffers who spoke out against the board’s actions. Macias told the board his school was working with a group to coordinate a Dia de Los Muertos event in Hermiston.

“The goal is for all members of the community to feel welcome in our schools,” she said. “And I was discouraged by the behavior of our board members at the last meeting. I haven’t come back and I’ve done all the work we do to take a huge step back. So what I say to you all is: do better. Be better.”

Delfino Osorio Garcia, an educational coach, recalled his fifth grade when his teacher wouldn’t allow him to hand out new calculators to his classmates. When another student, “someone whose parents owned the fields my parents worked in,” made the same request, the teacher accepted.

“Now imagine running for a board position and being told no,” he said. “And then five seconds later, someone who looks completely different from you gets to say yes. This is our life.

Karen Sherman, who voted for Gomez’s seat at the September meeting, used Osorio Garcia’s story to make her point.

“I think that’s what Lili Gomez was told,” she said. “We told him, ‘You can attend as many board meetings as you want. You can sit on our budget committee, you can ask those tough questions. But damn it, you’re not going to sit on this council. You are not good enough to hold a computer or a calculator.

The recently resigned Goller, who returned to the boardroom as a member of the public to say the board “seemed really dysfunctional” at its last meeting, berated some of his former colleagues. Without naming names, he said the community is “perhaps now encouraged and emboldened to remember those board members who continue to use their positions to stand out rather than do the job of promoting the student success.

After the criticism finally died down, the board members who voted against Gomez’s nomination said they had no ill will towards her. Although they returned to criticism of the nomination process, it also became clear that the dispute extended beyond the filling of the vacant seat.

The debates and deliberations sometimes referred to a dress code controversy at Hermiston High School or the board’s feelings about Superintendent Tricia Mooney.

“This board has had a reputation in the past as a rubber stamp for the superintendent,” Gardner said. “That’s one thing a lot of people came to me when I decided to run for this job. That’s a problem.”

When it came time to vote, Hansell reversed his vote to support Gomez’s nomination while Gardner and Vander Stelt voted against.

After Gomez was sworn in, she sat next to Gardner for a few minutes while the council completed its business.

If Gomez hopes to retain the seat long-term, she will have to run again in May. She could not be reached for comment.