Voters in the southeastern stretches of San Diego elected Shelia Jackson to represent them on the school board, but documents and her activities raise questions about whether she actually lives in the area.
Jackson is registered to vote at a home in her district. However, she used another address from a residential apartment outside her district as both the owner address and the business address when she registered a new company, Action Forward Consulting, with the county in August of last year. She used that same Kearny Mesa address in an online listing with the California Disabled Veteran Business Alliance.
Four times in the last week, voiceofsandiego.org reporters viewed Jackson leaving that Kearny Mesa address in the morning or returning there after a long night at the school board. When a school board meeting ended late last Tuesday night, Jackson drove to the Mira Bella Apartments complex just before 11 p.m.
Jackson left the complex’s parking garage in her Hyundai on three different mornings, once around 6:30 a.m., once just after 7 a.m., and again just after 10 a.m. Monday, pulling out from Shelia Driveway onto Kearny Villa Road. In one other instance, a reporter visited the apartments in Kearny Mesa almost two weeks ago and did not see her coming or going.
When confronted at the apartments Monday morning, Jackson said the Kearny Mesa apartment belonged to her daughter Kendra and she only stays there once or twice a week.
“I don’t live here,” she said. She initially claimed she lived on Deaton Drive, where she lost a home to foreclosure in 2007.
But a few minutes later, Jackson abruptly changed her story after a reporter brought up the foreclosure and asked why she was registered to vote at a different address on Radio Drive in Valencia Park. “That’s where I do live. I’m sorry,” Jackson said, referring to the Radio Drive address.
San Diego Unified school board members must reside in the areas that they are elected to represent, according to the state law and the city charter. The state attorney general has opined that they must also remain a resident the whole time they are in office.
In a later telephone interview, Jackson said she splits her time between two addresses as she struggles financially, bunking with a school administrator in her area and her daughter in Kearny Mesa. She said she had been spending more nights than usual with her daughter because her nieces had been in town.
“I’m sure I’m not the only person that’s suffering in this financial crisis,” Jackson said. “I don’t want my case to be made such a big deal. I’m part of the working people. That’s part of what I will always be.”
The Radio Drive address falls squarely in the area she was elected to represent. Jackson began listing it on campaign forms last spring. She said she used her daughter’s address in Kearny Mesa for her business because she did not want to burden the school administrator who had allowed her to stay in her home.
The house on Radio Drive belongs to longtime San Diego educator Gwendolyn Kirkland and her husband. In an interview, Kirkland said Jackson has a room there and stays with them “probably three or four days a week.”
Kirkland was unsure exactly how long Jackson had lived there and refused to say whether she paid rent. “She needed help and we basically helped her out,” Kirkland said.
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Jackson said she had lived there for a couple of years and does not pay rent.
Kirkland has a lengthy history in San Diego Unified as a school administrator and was tapped to temporarily lead Fulton K-8 School in Bay Terraces last summer. School board members used to vote to approve the principals chosen for each school. When Kirkland was chosen for Fulton last summer, Jackson voted with the rest of the board to approve her.
Jackson said she had nothing to do with the selection process that led up to Kirkland being put up for a vote by the board. Kirkland, who didn’t get the permanent job, dismissed the idea that Jackson might be swayed to favor her.
“It’s not about, ‘You scratch my back and I scratch yours.’ A lot of that goes on in that district and it’s not her doing it,” Kirkland said.
Jackson did not report the free rent as a gift on her economic disclosure forms. In California, public officials are allowed to accept gifts, but they must publicly report what they get and who gives it to them. There are some exceptions: Politicians do not need to report gifts given to them by some family members or people they date. Jackson said she didn’t think she needed to report the free rent.
“I just viewed it as helping a friend in need,” Jackson said. Public officials are generally not allowed to accept more than $420 in gifts from one source, according to the Fair Political Practices Commission.
Jackson twice turned in campaign finance forms that listed the wrong street number on Radio Drive. Three nights in a row after midnight last weekend — Friday, Saturday and Sunday — her car was nowhere to be seen on the street outside the Radio Street address. Jackson said she was out of town.
VOSD also asked Jackson to provide any proof that she lived in her area, including utility bills or recent mail. She provided a paycheck with the Radio Drive address on it, but said she picked it up from the school district office and didn’t receive it at that address.
Jackson has had financial problems in the past: Four years ago her home on Deaton Drive was repossessed. She had refinanced it four times over four years. Jackson, who became a teacher after retiring from the Navy, said she had struggled to get by on her military pension and a stipend from the school board after California cut funding for a job she held with a math program.
After giving up the home on Deaton Drive to foreclosure, Jackson rented in Scripps Ranch, then Valencia Park, she told VOSD last year. Jackson changed her voter registration to Peter Pan Avenue, on the edge of Bay Terraces, three and a half years ago. Last spring she switched it to Radio Drive.
As a school board trustee, she’s one of five people overseeing the second-largest school district in California, which has a $1 billion operating budget. Jackson said her financial woes shouldn’t reflect on her ability to lead the district.
“I think that even though you may have problems in your personal side it doesn’t mean you can’t make the best decisions on behalf of the students or the populace,” she said.
The school board pays $18,000 a year. It is supposed to be a part-time job, but often consumes much more time in meetings, workshops and community events. Jackson has argued in the past that the paltry salary makes it difficult for working people to serve.
“I’ve already made it public that I’m not going to be running for the school board next year anyway because I know that I need to move myself to a better financial picture,” Jackson said.
VOSD began looking into where Jackson lives after noticing that the Registrar of Voters tried to send her a reminder about campaign forms, but it bounced back from her old address on Peter Pan Avenue.
In San Diego Unified, the school district is broken into five different areas. Candidates run in those smaller areas in the primary and then vie for votes from the entire school district in the general election. The Kearny Mesa address falls into Sub-District B, which is represented by math teacher Kevin Beiser. Jackson represents Sub-District E, which stretches from Paradise Hills through part of City Heights.
California has defined a residence as “the place where one remains when not called elsewhere for labor or other special or temporary purpose.” Politicians elsewhere in California have been prosecuted for perjury and voter fraud for falsely claiming an address.
The state attorney general looks at tax returns, vehicle registrations, phone listings and voter registrations, among other things, to see if an elected official has changed his or her residence. It also looks at whether the person intended to make their new place a permanent home or not.
Conversations over where politicians live sometimes crop up during campaigns. Political candidates are often accused of carpetbagging after moving into new areas to run for office. School board member Scott Barnett was criticized for moving from University City to Little Italy not long before launching his campaign.
Jackson said she originally moved to her district from Scripps Ranch to run for the seat. Elected officials are also supposed to keep living in their area once elected. The rules are meant to ensure lawmakers are tied to the areas they represent and every part of the school district has a voice.
Jackson was first elected to the school board in 2004 and re-elected in 2008. She is known for pressing the school district about how it serves its most disadvantaged students, long pushing to concentrate its federal funding for poor children in schools with the very highest poverty levels. She lost a bid for county supervisor last year.
Another San Diego Unified school board member was accused of living outside of his area in the past: Eight years ago, a group upset with the school policies of Superintendent Alan Bersin challenged whether board member Ron Ottinger lived in the school district at all, pointing to the fact that his second wife and her children lived in Coronado. It sought to remove him.
The attorney general denied their bid to oust Ottinger. In its opinion, the Attorney General’s Office found that while Ottinger spent more time at the Coronado house than his apartment in San Diego, he kept the apartment fully furnished, had been regularly seen there, got mail and was registered to vote there.