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In-fighting between members of Salt Lake City's school board has taken a turn for the theatrical.
For the past month, board member Michael Clara has attended meetings in a sombrero, fake mustache and "pistolero" T-shirt in protest of what he considers to be a police baby sitter assigned to him by the board's president, Heather Bennett. On Tuesday, Clara wore a sombrero and blue poncho.
And he has said he'll keep it up until he's no longer in office if his concerns are not addressed.
"If they'll move the cop, then I can go back to being a normal, elected member of the board," he said. "I want them to see their bigotry."
Near the end of the board's Feb. 17 meeting, Bennett distributed a letter stating that she had asked the district superintendent, McKell Withers, to move a school resource officer to the front of the room in response to "extreme" behavior directed at her by Clara during a recent phone call.
The letter said that Clara had become "overcome with anger" during the phone call, making threats and shouting profanities.
At the board's next meeting, March 3, Clara challenged the letter's allegations and the presence of the police officer before removing his shirt and donning the costume.
He suggested that he was being targeted for racial reasons and compared himself to the Frito Bandito, a cartoon mascot for Fritos corn chips that was criticized in the late 1960s as an offensive portrayal of Mexican stereotypes.
"I'm going to sit here like the Mexican criminal that you and [Withers] want me to be," Clara said during the meeting.
On Tuesday, Bennett said it is common for security personnel to attend board meetings and that she had asked the officer to "position himself in the place where he can best protect the integrity of our public meeting."
Bennett said she made several unsuccessful attempts to meet with Clara outside of board meetings and was unsure what, specifically, caused Clara's reaction.
"I don't know what his concerns are because it hasn't been clear to me at all," she said.
Clara did not make any comments regarding his demonstration during the board's meeting Tuesday.
Since his election in 2012, Clara has regularly sparred with his board colleagues, particularly on issues related to the education and fair treatment of minority students.
He has filed several complaints against the school district with the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights. In October, Clara sued his board colleagues over what he believed were violations of Utah's open meetings laws.
Recently, he has questioned the district's use of school resource officers, claiming there is a disproportionate police presence in Salt Lake City's west-side schools, which typically have more minority students.
Clara said Bennett's reaction to his phone call was an extension of an attitude in the school district that criminalizes people of color and puts students on a path of interacting with the police.
"Even if I offended her, that doesn't require a person who is authorized to use deadly force to sit and stare at me for the whole meeting," Clara said.
"I have to conclude that it's all about stigmatizing and marginalizing and branding, which is, unfortunately, what students of color go through."
Bennett said it is not her intent to minimize or criticize the concerns of individual board members and that she would prefer the board focuses on the work of providing students with a quality education.
"Michael is very skilled at claiming that he has been wronged and seems to be blind to the wrongs that he commits against other people," she said.