On Wednesday August 15, Steve Nelson — a former Mountain View Whisman school board member — entered the Mountain View Los Altos school board elections after incumbent Joe Mitchner dropped out of the race on Friday August 10. Now, the MVLA school board elections on Tuesday November 6 are contested between Debbie Torok, Fiona Walter, Steve Nelson and Catherine Vonnegut, who are set to compete for the three open positions.
Nelson was a member of MVWSD from 2012 to 2015, but decided to not run for reelection in 2016. Many people, including previous MVWSD president Christopher Chiang and previous MVWSD member Bill Lambert, believed Nelson consistently acted impulsively and aggressively. Nelson also ran a campaign against Measure G in 2012, a bond that gave the district more funding.
Chiang resigned in June 2015, near the end of his term on the board. He believed that the community needed to be aware of the dysfunction on the board caused by Nelson and the district’s search for a new superintendent.
“Steven Nelson means well, and his ideas are frequently correct, but his approach sabotages his own best initiatives,” Chiang said. “In the end, many of his best ideas get lost in the chaos he brings to any meeting [and] it’s hard to focus on anything other than the aggressive delivery.”
Lambert, too, shared similar views.
“Steve Nelson’s personality was combative, confrontational, and insulting,” Lambert said. “I believe that during board meetings, he intentionally sought to provoke confrontation and orchestrated the delivery. The district cannot afford to have board members who are only interested in promoting their personal persona and fostering chaos.”
In response, Nelson argued that he was pushy on the board because he was aiming to accomplish what he said he would do when he was campaigning.
“I was a quite pushy legislator,” Nelson said. “But I think I was a quite effective legislator in getting done what I said I would do when I was running as a candidate in 2012.”
Although Nelson didn’t intend to run this year, he eventually decided to enter the MVLA school board race after his trip to Maui got canceled and Joe Mitchner dropped out of the race. He wanted to keep the election contested to give voters a choice on which candidate’s goals and opinions that they agree with.
“I’ve been on [a] school board before and one of the things I’d find is that it’s usually good for a public organization to have some discussions when they are going to add a new board member,” Nelson said. “There hadn’t been [an] election the last time the [MVLA] board came up.”
However, some of the other candidates running for the board had reservations on this ideology, including incumbent Fiona Walter. While Walter supports the community having political choices, she also believes a contested election can be problematic.
“I go back and forth on that,” Walter said. “It’s great for the community to see where their elected leaders stand on issues and what they want to get accomplished, [but] elections also cost the district both time and money because anybody who is trying to keep their seat is now campaigning. It [will] cost $105,000 to have [this] election.”
Lambert and Torok share similar views, arguing that they Nelson’s decision to run was impulsive and that he didn’t have a good reason to be on the board.
“As Steve Nelson basically said during an interview with the Voice, he decided to run for the MVLA School Board on a whim because of some change in travel plans,” Lambert said. “This is not a reason to run for public office.”
But, if elected, Nelson claims he will work to increase representation and funding for students north of El Camino, who haven’t had a trustee for almost two decades. With the growing student population north of El Camino, Nelson hopes to provide equal treatment from the district for those students.
“I definitely will be focusing on the areas that have been unrepresented by trustees over the last 20, which is the students north of El Camino Real,” Nelson said. “It also turns out in the high school district, two-fifths of the residents of the district live north of El Camino Real, and they haven’t had any trustee elected from that area since at least 2000.”
Steve Nelson declined to publish media for this article.