The Final Straw

Members of a California community college's Board of Trustees face potential recall election after a string of controversies.
July 3, 2007

MiraCosta College's self-described "collegial atmosphere" has had to endure some bumps over the past few years. After surviving the "Palmgate" scandal involving, of all things, the fraudulent sale of campus palm trees, its president faced an overwhelming vote of no confidence and was recently forced to resign -- but not before collecting a controversial severance package valued upwards of $1 million.

Meetings of the Board of Trustees have reportedly devolved into name calling, shouting and accusations -- with the body's president at one point accusing opposition leaders of spreading "hate-filled propaganda."

And that was before the movement to force a recall election to oust two members of the board, including its president.

The maneuver, which would take advantage of California election statutes allowing a recall if enough signatures are collected, was announced on Saturday by the political action committee formed in April to defeat certain trustee candidates.

The drive, according to the Restore MiraCosta PAC, is "due to the Board majority's willful and wasteful spending of millions of taxpayer dollars, persistent abuse of and disregard for official college policies and procedures, explicit physical threats made against MiraCosta employees, and the gross violation of community trust."

"They've tried everything within the board, and we've tried everything that the faculty, the classified staff and the public can do to try to get them to see things differently," said Susan Herrmann, an English instructor at MiraCosta and the head of the committee. "People have talked privately with some of the majority members, and it's been to no avail.

"This is really the last resort."

Herrmann said that, per California law, a notice of intent to recall was to have been delivered to the trustees they are aiming at -- the board's president, Charles Adams Sr. and Gregory M. Post, both in the majority -- either Monday or, if not then, today.

The two-year college has a multi-tiered governance system, with a seven-member board, an academic senate consisting of faculty members and a classified senate whose members are non-teaching staff. Unlike most community colleges in California, MiraCosta's staff is not unionized, but its leadership has depended on what it terms "a mutual trust and respect between the staff and administration."

In recent weeks, that trust appears to have broken down. Adams accused the presidents of both the academic and classified senates of writing the letters "KKK" on his house with Silly String last month. The just-resigned president, Victoria Munoz Richart, and the trustees received an overwhelming vote of no confidence from the faculty in December -- a vote that carried no official weight and that the board effectively ignored. Richart's selection as president and the board's evaluation process have also come under fire from critics.

While college leaders declined comment on the recall effort, and Adams, who per the board's rules speaks for all members, could not be reached, the Restore MiraCosta PAC has cited a litany of actions by Richart and the board in galvanizing the movement to oust some of its members.

The disputes go back to Palmgate, although that's not at the center of the current movement. Richart originally hired an outside firm to investigate the matter, which involved MiraCosta employees who apparently managed an underground horticulture business, illegally selling palm trees donated to the college.

Critics contend that the investigation of a lost $305.33 unnecessarily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars -- although Richart has publicly said that many more palm trees were saved in the process.

Herrmann also cited what she called a "gag rule on any minority opinion" at the board. "How are elected officials supposed to let people know what they think if they can't talk about it?"

The group will still have to rely on volunteers for the work of collecting and verifying signatures -- more than 18,300, the required 10 percent of the registered voters of North County, Calif. If the group is successful, a special election would be called unless the petition is completed in time for the Feb. 5 California primary.

"It's just going to take a lot of work," Herrmann said.


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