Patterson mayor’s work issues distract from council work


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Patterson Mayor Dennis McCord

Patterson Mayor Dennis McCord is set to step down and stop leading city council until a school inquiry determines whether he should be penalized for inappropriate behavior towards a 15-year-old girl and possibly others students.

McCord’s job as a math teacher at Patterson High School and his post at Town Hall are separate. But his conduct in both places must be flawless for him to be effective in the latter, the highest elected office in Patterson.

Two investigations are also separate, one conducted by the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department, which provides policing services to the city, and the other by the Patterson Unified School District, which oversees the high school. The former concluded without criminal charges against McCord, but the latter is pending and discipline for violating district policy remains a possibility.

The scarce information released so far looks bad for the mayor, who has been on paid administrative leave since October. Responding ‘nicely’ and ‘wish I was there’ when the girl sent her a bikini photo on Snapchat doesn’t reflect a healthy and proper relationship between a 58-year-old teacher and a teenage student.

The blocking of his social media contacts may have prevented McCord from responding in criminal court. But the tribunal of public opinion to which all elected officials are held to account is another matter.

Several speakers during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s city council meeting denounced McCord, with some calling for his resignation. More than 450 people have signed a petition demanding his departure, Kristin Lam of The Modesto Bee reported. No further evidence is needed to conclude that McCord’s problem with his day job has spilled over to his night job. It has become an unwelcome distraction, and no denying wrongdoing can change that.

The people of Patterson deserve the best representation available. Their leaders should be able to focus on employment and housing issues, for example, without salty distractions. People deserve to know that trust in their elected officials is not misplaced.

If the school district imposes discipline, McCord must resign as mayor.

If he is cleared, McCord will be able to resume his duties as mayor.

A reasonable interim solution

Since teachers have due process rights – especially strong rights, in California – we may not know for some time whether McCord will face discipline. School district administrators should proceed as quickly as the law allows.

If he is at fault, he must leave. But that’s another story if he’s innocent. Recall that McCord was selected in November 2020 by 52.6% of Patterson voters with nearly double the votes received by finalist Mark Miles, who obtained 26.6% (David Keller obtained 20.8%).

Resignation is an honorable option. Recognizing that the greater good is more important than individual pride and political ambition would require humility and courage, and may preserve some respect, for the time being.

Withdrawing temporarily – pending the school district’s decision – is the least McCord can do. If his conscience is clear, he should have no problem with this interim solution.

To continue to run council meetings by pretending all is well, as the mayor has done so far, is selfish and arrogant.

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This story was originally published 9 December 2021 10:15 a.m.

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