“Send lawyers, guns and money/ Dad, get me out of this!”
Most of the time the citizens of our community do not really know what’s going on at Southwestern College. Our island of self-importance ends at Otay Lakes Road and East H Street. Ask someone at Ralph’s, MJ’s Fusion Grill or I Sushi about labor negotiations, the Student Success Task Force or our dynastic cross-country athletes and you will likely get a shrug or blank stare. (Unless, of course, they read The Sun.)
What people in Chula Vista, National City, IB, Bonita and San Ysidro do know about is our loony gun-slinger police chief Michael Cash and our admitted-criminal EOPS director Arlie Ricasa. When staff members of The Sun conducted a random survey of the community we learned that an astonishing percentage of our community is well-informed about the Ricasa case. Of the 125 citizens interviewed, 111 said they knew about Ricasa’s plea bargain and her survival at SWC. Of those 111, 91 said Ricasa should go (82 percent). Only five said Ricasa should stay (4.5 percent) and 15 had no opinion (13.5 percent).
Luckily for Ricasa, the citizens of the district cannot vote her off the island. That job belongs to our college president Dr. Melinda Nish. It would be an exaggeration to say that Ricasa got away with murder, but she seems to be getting away with other crimes. Only her brilliant lawyer and a hugely lucky break – District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis suddenly facing her own possible corruption problems – allowed Ricasa to avoid hard prison time on 33 corruption counts (16 of which were felonies).
One would think Ricasa would thank her lucky stars that she is still a free woman, eat a little humble pie and ask for forgiveness. Instead, she has brought her dog-and-pony show from the Chula Vista Courthouse to the SWC Boardroom. A former high school cheerleader, Ricasa seems to think that cheering sycophants, hand-lettered signs, clapping young children and swaying balloons are the way to win friends and influence people. Her lack of self-awareness, as much as her shady behavior, has made her the Clown Princess of the South Bay and a deep scarlet embarrassment to our college.
But woe be unto any student journalist who dares to report on this story. Ricasa’s posse turned goon squad at the February 12 governing board meeting. Her brother, Tony Ricasa, behaved like a gang banger. First he was rude to the governing board, then he aggressively harassed a female reporter from The Sun by trying to tell her she had to leave the sidewalk area outside the boardroom. When that did not work he held his camera inches from her face and fired off a series of flashes, temporarily blinding the reporter. (Save yourself the time and energy denying it, Mr. Ricasa, The Sun has it all on video.) When the reporter’s vision returned, she was nearly surrounded by cross-armed, mad dogging young men from the Ricasa posse.
Team Ricasa also played the normally-savvy California State Senator Marty Block, who appears to have signed a letter to Nish and the governing board supporting Ricasa. The letter does not mention, however, that Joyce Temporal-Ricasa (Arlie’s sister-in-law) is Block’s Lemon Grove office manager. Or that Temporal-Ricasa’s husband, the flash happy Tony Ricasa, is a former Block staffer.
Our administrators and campus police chief are supposed to be role models for students on this campus. God help us! Here is what students have learned so far from Michael Cash:
• It is okay to fire a gun at Southwestern College.
• It is okay to hide behind the Police Officers’ Bill of Rights – legislation written to protect brave and honorable officers – to cover up an investigation into firing a gun and having a nervous breakdown in police headquarters.
• It is okay for campus police to promise escort service to threatened teenage female students, then blow them off and leave them unprotected.
• It is okay to bully and insult faculty because he has a gun and a badge.
From Arlie Ricasa we have learned:
• It is okay to solicit bribes from your office during work hours. (In fact, you will be rewarded with a six-month paid vacation worth $60,000.)
• It is okay for administrators to commit crimes because there is apparently no district policy that says they can’t.
• It is okay for members of your family to use their government employee positions to get special favors from elected officials.
• It is okay for the brothers of administrators to harass and bully students on college grounds who are engaged in an academic assignment.
• It is okay for ASO candidates to cheat during their campaigns (though, thankfully, most choose to be honest).
Ricasa’s camp would like us to believe that her crime is no more serious than a traffic ticket and that life should go on. This is a pivotal moment in SWC’s history. Our president and our board need to send a clear message to the community and to future would-be criminals that the pay-for-play era is over. They need to send a clear message to renegade employees that they are not above the law (even if they think they are the law). They need to show us that they are not afraid of lawyers, guns and money.