Rizzi: What launched initial investigation into former AJUSD superintendent

I wasn’t going to comment about the recent indictment of the former Apache Junction Unified School District Superintendent Chad Wilson; however, after reading comments being made about the school board, I have no option but to set the record straight. I do not speak for the other school board members; this is solely about my own accountability in the matter.

Christa Rizzi

As a twice-elected public servant — Apache Junction City Council and AJUSD Governing Board member — I took an oath to defend our Constitution and to uphold our laws. I take that oath and being an honest public servant very seriously.

As a former long-term employee, former parent of four graduated students and long-time resident of this awesome community, I felt that I could no longer sit back and watch our school district deteriorate, lose community trust and mass enrollment as a result of poor decisions being made by inexperienced school board members and the former superintendent. Because I had many years of experience serving on various city and county boards along with the City Council, I felt that I could bring experience, knowledge and value to the Governing Board to help turn things around as a team player.

In 2016 I ran for the AJUSD Governing Board, was elected that November then sworn in and seated in January 2017.

By that time the school board had already evaluated and renewed former Superintendent Chad Wilson’s contract. In December 2016 the same school-board members accepted his resignation and negotiated his severance package. Mr. Wilson cleverly resigned prior to the new school board members being seated as he knew his severance package would have had a vastly different outcome if negotiated with the new more-experienced board members.

I fought long and hard, including seeking legal counsel to be present in each of those executive sessions. The board continued to refuse my request. I took no part in Mr. Wilson’s last evaluation, his last contract renewal, his resignation or his severance pay and will not take accountability for those board members who did. In January 2017, the “new” school board consisted of three former board members and two newly elected, Cami Garcia and I.

Mr. Wilson was set to finish his contracted term in June 2017, receive his severance package and officially leave AJUSD.

After being seated in 2017 the school board’s first major task was to find a new, qualified and competent superintendent for our school district.

Newly hired Superintendent Dr. Krista Anderson was initially brought on as a consultant for a transition period until Mr. Wilson’s term was officially completed in June 2017. Dr. Anderson was to officially begin her contracted term as superintendent in July 2017.

People may remember in those few months several executive sessions and emergency board meetings were being held. This was a result of learning Mr. Wilson had mishandled funds. This is what gave the board the ability to renegotiate his ridiculously lavish severance package.

Once there was factual information that Mr. Wilson had mishandled funds and that a possible crime had been committed, I felt I had an obligation as a public servant to report it. I was met with much dissension and attempts to be stifled.

Mr. Wilson cleverly had a non-disparagement clause added to the final negotiated severance package, which included family members of staff and board members going all the way down to our children. Ridiculous and non-enforceable. This most likely could have brought lawsuits of First Amendment violations from family members who could have challenged the clause. For that and several other reasons I was the only dissenting vote on his renegotiated severance pay.

Again seeking legal counsel and seeking advice from colleagues outside the school district, I began reporting the activity starting at the county level and worked my way up through every state agency including the Governors Office. I then turned to Sen. Dave Farnsworth who assured me I was protected in the reporting process.

Sen. Farnsworth remained in close contact and shared that he was able to get new laws passed that require stricter reporting and accountability for organizations receiving public funds as a direct result of reporting this crime. Last year he came to a City Council meeting to share an update on his work along with the newly passed legislation.

As an elected public servant we often have very difficult decisions to make that will in some way affect the lives of others. Doing the right thing and reporting this activity was not an easy thing to do nor one that I took lightly. I took no pleasure or joy in knowing what could be possible outcomes. That being said, doing the right thing, being accountable to the people who entrust and elected me, I had no choice but to get this reported.

Reporting along with the diligence of Sen. Farnsworth is what launched the initial investigation into AJUSD and finally brought an indictment.

I have no ill will towards Mr. Wilson; in fact, he and I sat and talked many times before and after I was elected to the school board. I wish he had made better choices but put in the position that I was, having the knowledge I’d rather not have had, I had a very gut-wrenching decision to make. I could do nothing, keep quiet and not report it or do what I knew in my heart was the right thing to do and risk retaliation or backlash by reporting to the appropriate authorities. I had to stand by my own integrity and the people who entrust me to always do the right thing. I chose to do what was right over taking the easy way out.

I hope this brings better understanding of the background and of what was going on that could not be openly discussed at that time. This statement isn’t about glory, throwing anyone under the bus or taking credit. It is solely about ensuring that the public knows the truth about my own personal role and accountability as an elected official. I did what I had to do, I did what was right.

Christa Rizzi
Apache Junction

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment