Lamont voters have elected a man with a criminal record and a retired bus driver to the Lamont Elementary School District board, ousting two incumbents.
The bus driver, Evelyn Velasquez, led the polls with 22.2 percent, while Ernesto Garay, a youth soccer coach who insists everyone call him "Campeon," or "Champion" in English, trailed in second at 21.6 percent, edging out incumbent Miguel Sanchez, who had 20 percent.
Incumbent Gloria Romero, a retired school teacher, came in fourth at 16.7 percent.
The Lamont Elementary School District has played host to one of the most bizarre board races in Kern County this year. The candidates included Sanchez, an incumbent accused of public corruption, and his childhood pal, Garay, a youth soccer coach with a string of misdemeanor convictions.
Another four candidates filled out the ticket, including Grecia Jimenez, an out-of-work medical clerk, Evelyn Velasquez, a retired bus driver, and Manuela Castro De Ortega, a middle-aged homemaker who hung up on a reporter trying to interview her. Twice.
Those six candidates, vying for two spots, made Lamont’s race one of the most crowded countywide.
Sanchez, who lost his reelection bid, sits on the Lamont Public Utilities District board of directors and owns an auto repair shop in town. The Kern County grand jury accused him this year of using $240,000 in public funds to construct a water line to his business.
He also defended the district’s decision to hire Jose Cantu, a former assistant superintendent who held no administrative credentials — a violation of the state educational code. Cantu received a six-figure salary and automatic pay increases, despite being legally unqualified to hold his post.
Sanchez was critical of community outcry after The Californian broke the story in February, calling protesters “outsiders” who must be ousted.
Sanchez declined to speak to The Californian for previous campaign stories.
His childhood friend, Garay, who was polling second in early returns, is a small businessman. He has since 1989 run Video Campeon and Tax Service.
Garay said he shoots wedding videos for friends on the weekends.
Garay was charged with cruelty to animals this year when officers discovered his horses were living in unsanitary conditions and were malnourished. Before that, he racked up a stack of driving-related misdemeanors.
Garay would not address his criminal record with The Californian.
He did, say, however, that Lamont-area schools were better when he was a student because corporal punishment had not been outlawed.