Judging from email exchanges between Mountain View Whisman School District trustee Steven Nelson and his colleagues on the board and members of district staff, frustration has been building over Nelson's behavior -- both in private and in public meetings -- since he took office late last year.
The emails, obtained by the Voice through a state Public Records Act request, and evidence compiled by Bill Lambert, one of Nelson's colleagues on the board, paint a picture of a trustee quick to make serious, and often inaccurate, accusations. They show a pattern of threatening and insulting district staff members and attempts by Nelson to use his position on the board to gain political leverage over Superintendent Craig Goldman.
As of the Voice's Oct. 2 press deadline, the school board was scheduled to vote to censure Nelson at its Oct. 3 meeting.
In his own defense, Nelson prepared a point-by-point response to the accusations compiled by Lambert, and emailed the response to the Voice in advance of the meeting. Though the trustee admitted that many of the accusations levied against him were true and problematic, he argued that some of the items listed under the "Evidence" section of the "Statement in Support of the Resolution to Censure of Trustee Steven Nelson" were either inaccurate or were not deserving of reprimand.
Nelson fully admits he crossed the line when it comes to the most egregious incident reported in Lambert's packet.
During a one-on-one meeting between Nelson and Goldman on March 28, Goldman wrote that Nelson "accused me of resisting a Bay Area News Group request for earnings information and falsely claimed responsibility for getting the District to provide the requested information. I both defended myself against these allegations and expressed my belief that he (Nelson) did not care about the students."
At this point in the conversation, Nelson reportedly yelled at the superintendent, "You are full of sh--," before leaving the room and proclaiming in a raised voice to a number of district employees, "If Craig Goldman says I don't care about kids, he is full of sh--."
Nelson told the Voice that when he shouted at Goldman, he was awaiting word on a cancer biopsy. "It was a very stressful time," he said, noting that the uncertainty may have contributed to the incident.
Nelson's profane outburst is merely one example of his bad behavior, according to Lambert's packet.
According to the supplemental materials attached to the board's Oct. 3 agenda, Nelson has threatened Goldman by saying he wouldn't support the superintendent's contract renewal unless he supported one of the trustee's "personal initiatives;" Nelson has violated board policy by sending emails directly to district staff instead of sending those communications through the superintendent; and in his emails to staff, Nelson has been "confrontational, threatening, insulting demeaning, and/or offensive."
In an email sent on Aug. 1, Nelson claimed that the board would be breaking the law if it went forward with a planed special meeting with multiple items on the agenda. "The law is pretty darn clear," Nelson wrote, "only one item may be on a special meeting agenda."
After Goldman responded, stating he had never heard of the rule, Nelson returned his email:
"Probably MY BAD," he wrote. "In a two minute search - I cannot find that limitation."
Later in the month, Goldman wrote an email to trustee Chris Chiang about Nelson overstepping lines and making false accusations, only to backpedal with an apology. "I believe that patterns of abuse are not rectified by repeated apologies," he wrote. Chiang responded with an email in which he intimated that he believed censuring Nelson might be in order.
Reflecting on many of the incidents outlined in Lambert's information packet, Nelson said he believes he should be censured.
However, in a conversation with the Voice, the trustee said there were a number of incidents described in the statement supporting his censure that are inaccurate or trivial.
He strongly denied that he used his position on the board to push pet projects or that he willfully fed "mischaracterizing information concerning the district to the media" two accusations made in Lambert's packet.
If those items were removed from the list of charges he is facing, he said he would gladly vote to censure himself. "I stepped over that line," he said.
A detailed list of alleged offenses can be found on the district website in informational materials that accompany the board's Oct. 3 agenda.