Rod Velez for Broward School Board, District 1 – Sun Sentinel

After 14 years on the Broward County School Board, Ann Murray is stepping down. That creates an open seat on the nine-member board in District 1, which includes much of south Broward.

Seeking to replace Murray are Murray’s daughter, Marie Murray Martin, a teacher and site coordinator for the school district; Rodney “Rod” Velez, a property manager with Continental Fidelity Corp./The Balogh Company; and Paul Wiggins, pastor of Greater Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Dania Beach.

All three could serve capably. We recommend Velez, 51, of Hollywood, for his business knowledge and his forceful advocacy for parents.

“One of the reasons I got involved was the lack of accountability and transparency in the district,” Velez told the Sun Sentinel editorial board in an endorsement interview. “It seems to be a common thing where things are done at the last minute. Decisions are made at the last minute as opposed to a month, two months ahead.”

All voters living in District 1 are eligible to cast ballots. The election is Aug. 23. The winner will serve a four-year term at a salary of $47,189 a year.

One oddity about Velez’s candidacy is that if he wins, he would be unable to volunteer at the very schools he represents because of a felony record.

Velez was convicted of aggravated battery in 1995. He said he acted in self-defense and took a plea deal out of a fear of a long sentence if convicted at trial. According to a police report, Velez struck a man with a handgun after an argument. Since that time, he has had no arrest record and has long been active as a leader in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.

In our view, one crime, committed decades ago, should not be cause to reject him, and we’re not alone.

Velez has received campaign contributions from several current and former elected officials in District 1 and has the endorsement of School Board member Debbie Hixon. She and Board member Lori Alhadeff both won seats after losing family members in the mass shooting in Parkland.

Since then, a grand jury probe of school district safety and financial operations has led a new crop of parents to run for School Board. Velez shows he can be a champion for accountability without politicizing “parental rights” by couching the term in baseless attacks against critical race theory or false accusations about teachers sexualizing children.

“It’s important to restore the culture of this district and the integrity of this board,” Velez said. “It’s why I’m running as a parent.”

Aside from being a parent of two children in the Broward Public Schools system, Velez could also be a useful presence on the Board as it navigates the slow, inept and at times wasteful spending of an $800 million bond for school building and repair approved by voters eight years ago.

Martin would also be a good addition, but the Board already has adequate teacher representation. Hixon, Alhadeff and Sarah Leonardi all taught before being elected.

As a community leader, Pastor Wiggins would speak for overlooked constituencies and would also add a voice for the Black community on an all-white Board that is noticeably lacking in racial and ethnic diversity.

But with a grand jury investigation hovering over the school district, Velez’s demands for transparency and accountability are what the Board needs most. The Sun Sentinel recommends Rodney “Rod” Velez for Broward School Board, District 1.

Coming tomorrow: Our endorsement in Broward County School Board District 4.

Editorials are the opinion of the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board and written by one of its staff members. The Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Steve Bousquet, Deputy Editorial Page Editor Dan Sweeney and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson.

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