A Sierra Unified School District board trustee who was at the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday refused calls for him to step down during a Monday night board meeting.
James Hoak listened to two hours of public comments that were split in support of and against him keeping his seat on the board. More than 400 people attended the virtual meeting. He responded directly when asked if he would resign.
“I can answer that real quick for you. I will be here until 2024, and I’ll see you at the polls,” he said.
Hoak spoke to the Fresno Bee last week, saying he was at the Capitol to attend the rally in support of Trump, but did not participate in breaching the Capitol building. He posted videos of himself on his social media, but has since deleted the videos.
Many speakers referenced the videos that showed Hoak on the grounds of the Capitol, surrounded by rioters. In one of the videos, he said on camera, “This is what it looks like when you storm the Capitol and it is not burning down yet.”
Letty Peters was one of the speakers who said the video concerned her.
“What exactly did that mean, you know, it left me thinking -- did he know something we didn’t know? Is he part of something that we’re not privy to? Where does this ‘burning down yet’ come from? So that left me a little bit distraught and knowing that he’s on the board of trustees, it just kind of left a bad impression on me,” she said.
Jason Gardner, a parent with two children who attend a school in the district, said Hoak was no longer fit to serve on the board.
“What has he violated as a trustee? The code of conduct. Trustees cannot have willful or criminal misconduct, which is a higher tier than that of a private citizen and that’s what I’m speaking to,” he said.
Other comments pushed back on accusations that Hoak violated the law by going past police barricades. Jason Phillips was at the Capitol with Hoak and said they were there to peacefully protest.
“The notion that he did anything illegal or improper is absolutely false as someone who was at the Capitol with him,” he said. Phillips, Hoak’s longtime friend, who is black, denied statements that accused Hoak of being racist or a white supremacist.
Other close family and friends of Hoak spoke in defense of his character. Jim Hoak became emotional when addressing community accusations against his son.
“It’s hard for me to believe people say that about my son. It hurts me,” he said before breaking into tears. “Anyway, he’s a good man. Anybody has a problem with him, please come up to talk to him. He’ll talk with you. He’ll explain himself. He’s in no way a white supremist, whatever else these people call him,” he said.
Hoak was just elected to the board in November and sworn into office in mid-December.
Board member Connie Schlaefer read a statement from the Sierra Unified School District, acknowledging the numerous emails and phone calls it’s received about the trustee.
“In addition to listening carefully to your comments, we will consult with legal counsel on how we may address the community’s concerns consistent with our obligations under the law.”
An online petition calling for Hoak’s removal from the board received more than 3,500 signatures as of Tuesday morning.