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About Lee Barnathan

  • Member Since: February 11, 2016

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Lee Barnathan has been a writer and editor since 1990. His articles have been published in newspapers, magazines and online. His new book "If You Experience Death, Please Call and Other Fatal Mistakes We Make With Language," a humorous look at the ways people misuse English, is available on Amazon or at his website, www.leebarnathan.com. He is hired by people all over the country to help them refine the message or story they wish to share with their target audience or demographic.

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Lancaster Republican Seeks Scott Wilk’s Disqualification

| News | 14 hours ago

Three years ago, a Lancaster Republican filed a civil complaint alleging then-Assemblyman Scott Wilk was ineligible to run for the state Senate because he had been a lobbyist who had not sat out a year before seeking another elective office.

That case remains on the books, with a hearing scheduled May 31. Star Moffatt said she had Wilk served a week ago. She continues to seek Wilk’s disqualification, albeit retroactively.

Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) defeated Democrat Johnathan Ervin 53 percent to 47 percent to win the 21st Senate district seat in 2016. Moffatt had run in the primary but got just 8 percent.

Moffatt expressed surprise when the Gazette contacted her because she thought the matter had been resolved. She had petitioned the county registrar-recorder’s office to join her suit and had received a response on Aug. 5, 2016 saying that while the office doesn’t usually do that, “(O)ur office has not taken a definitive position on the disqualification that is sought in your civil complaint. We have consulted with our County Counsel and will take a look at this again at a future time…”

At issue is Wilk’s lobbying career. He told the Gazette in 2016 that he had worked for Anchor Consulting, located in Alexandria, Va., from 2007-11 doing public affairs work for then-Congressman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon. He said he received his last payment from Anchor in 2012.

“I did not lobby,” he said.

Moffatt contends that doesn’t matter because Wilk never unregistered as a federal lobbyist. “He was still licensed to do federal lobbyist work,” she said, and her original 2016 complaint showed Wilk listed as a current Anchor employee.

An Anchor employee who answered the phone last week said his company’s records showed Wilk stopped actively lobbying in 2011 before he ran for the Assembly.

California’s Government Code Sec. 87406(b) says, “No Member of the Legislature, for a period of one year after leaving office, shall, for compensation, act as agent … by making any formal or informal appearance, or by making any oral or written communication, before the Legislature, any committee or subcommittee thereof, any present Member of the Legislature, or any officer or employee thereof, if the appearance or communication is made for the purpose of influencing legislative action.”

“Just like you and I, a politician is required to uphold both Federal and State laws,” Moffat emailed. “When politicians intentionally do not uphold our laws, it is up to the sovereign people (taxpayers) to hold a politician accountable for lacking transparency when they break law(s).”

Moffatt’s chances are unknown. There’s no indication anyone has ever been disqualified based on past lobbying. For those who have lobbied and then run, a 2014 Washington Post article found some win and some lose. It is more common for elected officials to turn to lobbying after they leave office.

“Society is taking a closer look at candidates and politicians who are not forthright. I think the chances in this case are very good,” she said, “and the thing is, even though he’s served almost half his time, if a person commits a crime and they’re later found that they committed it, should they be exonerated for it? No. You commit a crime, you do your time.”

And if Moffatt loses, she said she’d file in federal court, citing Title 18 of the U.S. Code, Section 207. It governs restrictions on former elected officials of the executive and legislative branches. It mostly deals with federal positions but mentions certain areas under which state lawmakers might be governed.

Legality of Measure E Support in Question

| News | May 17, 2019

College of the Canyons may have broken the law when it signed a lease to use space in Valencia Town Center in support of Measure E, a critic of bond measures believes.

Richard Michael, who runs the website Big Bad Bonds, said that because the school and not the pro-measure committee handled the lease, it violates the state Education Code.

“The agreement is made with the College of the Canyons, so the College of the Canyons is using its nonprofit status and its resources to get an advantage for a committee that’s going to benefit them politically,” said Michael.

COC spokesman Eric Harnish wrote in an email that without seeing the documents, the school couldn’t comment.

At issue is an event agreement between the school and Westfield, which owns the Valencia Town Center, to lease space in the mall between March 25-June 25, 2016 as a campaign headquarters.

The event description lists a college phone number, the college’s Rockwell Canyon Road address and Claudia Dunn, then the special assistant to Chancellor Dianne Van Hook, as the contact. The lease was for no money.

Contrast that with a state form that lists the Committee For College of the Canyons – Yes on Measure E as having a Woodland Hills address and contact name of Robert McCarty, who was one of the seven committee co-chairs.

Board member Joan MacGregor said she recalled being told about the lease at a meeting, but it was not voted on. “I believe it was donated,” she said, “a donation of an empty space.” Board president Michael Berger didn’t return calls for comment.

In fact, a confidential document received via public-records request and given to the Gazette said that when COC entered into the lease, “the prior tenant had abruptly breached the lease by vacating the space three years before the expiration of the term and Westfield was left without a tenant.”

Richard said the school violated section 7054 of the state’s Education Code, which prohibits community college districts from using funds, services, supplies, or equipment for urging the support or defeat of any ballot measure; and Government Code Sec. 8314, which prohibits an employee from using public resources for a campaign activity. “Public resources” is defined as “any property or asset owned by the state or any local agency, including, but not limited to, land, buildings, facilities, funds, equipment, supplies, telephones, computers, vehicles, travel, and state-compensated time.”

“Here, we have a setup,” Michael said. “They’re using the assistant who’s getting paid a whole boatload of money for her time and energy to put the deal together.”

It’s not known whether the event agreement was signed before, during or after regular business hours. Zach Eichman, Westfield’s senior vice president of communications and public affairs, didn’t return a phone call.

Nor is it known whether the phones, tables and other furniture used in the mall came from COC, the Yes on E committee or outside sources.

Board member Edel Alonso, who wasn’t yet elected to the board when the measure passed, said the possibility that the college broke the law concerns her.

“I would have liked to see what the cost would be, who was making the arrangements, who was responsible for the arrangements (and) was the college staff involved in any way, because that would not be legal,” she said.

Michael believes COC engaged in a common practice he calls “advocacy paid for by the public.” It’s when an entity puts out what is purported to be information about an issue but is really a pitch to approve or defeat it. His latest example is Measure EE, a proposed parcel tax on the June ballot that would benefit the Los Angeles Unified School District to the tune of $500,000,000 a year for 12 years.

There’s a Yes on EE committee website but also an LAUSD-sponsored site that lists the advantages of the measure without any opposing views.

Another point Michael finds suspicious: A state form to the Secretary of State Political Reform Office, the Citizens for College of the Canyons-Yes on Measure E Committee became active April 4, 2016, 10 days after the event agreement began. Additionally, the state form that lists McCarty as the committee contact shows the state qualified it as a committee on March 22, three days before the lease took effect.

Payroll records from the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which handles COC’s payroll, show that Dunn, who now works for UCLA Health under her married name of Claudia Dunn-Martinez and did not return phone calls, made exactly the same pay before and after the lease dates.

A 20-minute video on the KHTS website from April 27, 2016, shows Van Hook, who interviewer Carl Goldman identified as “our chancellor of College of the Canyons,” talking about all the good things she expected to come from the measure if it passed. She never corrected Goldman by insisting she was a private citizen or an individual with no ties to the college.

Less than a month and a half later, the $230 million bond measure passed, 58 percent to 42 percent.

The district attorney has until next year to determine if Dunn or Van Hook broke the law. Even then, it’s possible the DA wouldn’t want to spend time and resources prosecuting because violating Sec. 7054 is either a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum one year in county jail, a $1,000 fine or both; or a felony punishable by between 16 months and three years in county jail.

A similar case involved the Fair Political Practices Commission ruling that the Bay Area Rapid Transit District was guilty of three counts of spending public funds in support of Measure RR, a $3.5 billion bond measure that passed with 70.53 percent of the vote in 2016.

The total fine assessed was $7,500.

Over 6,000 Instances of ADA Noncompliance on COC Campus

| News | May 9, 2019

In the College of the Canyons library is a black three-ring binder called the ADA Transition Plan. At about four inches thick, it runs 295 pages and details the more than 6,000 instances the school was found noncompliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as recommendations on how to fix them and the expected completion dates.

It’s not known what has been fixed because the plan has not been updated, although many projects were supposed to be completed by the last day of 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. Other projects are not supposed to be finished until Dec. 31, 2030. College spokesman Eric Harnish emailed to say the school is finishing Phase 1, which focuses on replacing doors. Phase 2, which is scheduled to start later this year, addresses access and paths of travel, including parking lots and walkways. A third phase will address bathrooms and disabled seating in public areas.

The Board of Trustees will receive a full update from Vice President of Facilities, Planning, Operations and Construction Jim Schrage in August, Harnish and board president Michael Berger said.

COC is one of the few of the state’s 114 community college campuses that has such a plan, several people said. The reason it exists in the first place is because of a lawsuit.

Julio Ochoa, who was 28 and disabled from a motorcycle accident when he filed suit April 3, 2013 in Superior Court, alleged that the college “failed to remove these physical barriers to ensure that each of its programs, services, and activities are readily accessible to and useable by persons with mobility disabilities.”

The suit named numerous areas: parking lots and curbs, classrooms, the library, cafeteria, restrooms, gathering areas and sidewalks and other paths of travel with excessive slopes that made it difficult, if not impossible, for Ochoa to get around in his wheelchair.

“Due to his disabilities, Plaintiff (was) unable to independently and safely use public facilities that are not designed, constructed or altered in compliance with applicable accessibility standards for use by disabled persons, without placing himself at significant risk of injury,” the lawsuit said. “Plaintiff has suffered disability discrimination, deterrence, humiliation, emotional distress, and embarrassment, all to his damage.”

Two years later, the sides settled. Included in the settlement was the school paying Ochoa $270,000 “if my notes are correct,” COC lawyer Terry Tao said on a Feb. 21, 2018 video detailing the updates to the transition plan, with another $155,000 in attorney fees. COC also agreed to make 1,769 changes, down from tens of thousands the plaintiff originally wanted. Finally, Ochoa could return and see the progress made (Ochoa couldn’t be reached; his attorney, Jeff Harrison, didn’t return calls).

Tao added that even though some deadlines are still many years away, it’s possible additional extensions can be granted, provided there’s proof of dealing and making progress with the Division of the State Architect (DSA), one of the agencies in charge of overseeing ADA compliance.

One thing was certain: “This campus was identified as having some significant ADA issues,” Tao said on the video.

In addition to personal instances where Ochoa believed he was impeded, the lawsuit named other places the school should fix, including various athletic facilities, a coffee kiosk and the women’s restrooms.

Tao said Ochoa signed up for disabled student programs and services but didn’t use them, which contributed to him ending up in non-accessible classrooms.

Several Canyons officials said the lawsuit was one of several in which the same attorneys went from school to school looking for opportunities to sue. Tao said Harrison’s firm sued UC Riverside, Riverside Community College, the Los Angeles Community College District, Chapman University and “a bunch of campuses from Newport Beach to us.”

“Our impression was that it was about money in some respects,” Tao said. (The Gazette found proof that the firm sued Pierce College in 2008.)

Still, after settling and agreeing to make 1,769 fixes, the school decided to expand its transition plan and look at every single possible instance of ADA non-compliance. One reason was money: No one wanted someone else to find something else that’s ADA non-compliant and bring another suit. Architect Greg Sun said in the 2018 video that a school could be subject to $4,000 per violation. This meant that COC could have paid as much as $7,076,000 plus attorney fees this time.

Another reason, Schrage said on the video, is a desire to be a fully accessible campus.

“We’re not trying to shuck and jive here,” he said. “We want full accessibility. We’re doing everything we can to make this accessible, and to maintain that accessibility.”

As a result, the school contracted PBWS Architects to survey the entire Valencia campus. Tao called it “an unfunded mandate” because the college doesn’t get any money to make ADA fixes.

Tao said the state inspected 41 buildings and 154 acres covering 793,000 square feet, with COC officials following along, trying to get an idea of the cost.

“I don’t remember the cost,” Berger said. “It was extremely expensive.”

Harnish said they found approximately 5,000 additional items; he added that not every item is a separate violation. “For example, a restroom that requires the grab bars all be raised an eighth of an inch could account for as many as 20 items,” he wrote.

Board member Edel Alonso said she spent hours counting all violations in the transition plan and came up with 6,859.

Some could be considered trivial. For example, an accessible parking space in lot 14 is too narrow by .63 inch.

Some could be considered significant: Rooms in Mentry Hall don’t have enough knee and toe space under tables and desks, the sidewalk near the softball field is almost a yard too narrow, and Pico Canyon Hall lockers are inaccessible.

Then there’s four buildings, Bonelli Hall, Boykin Hall, Towsley Hall and West P.E., whose repairs Tao said would be so difficult to bring into ADA compliance that they will be done last in hopes that state comes up with the money to repair or replace them. A future bond issue could be a solution, and Harnish said that some Measure M and Measure E funds are being used. But Berger said, “I don’t remember that being a part of any long-term planning for us.”

Sun said state law requires entrances to be first priority, so doors made up the first phase. The focus was to make doors accessible, including changing knobs for levers and increasing door widths. Kirstyn Bonneau, a PBWS Architects associate, said on the video they looked at between 2,200 and 2,500 doors.

More recently, board member Joan MacGregor said, the locks were changed so they could be locked from the inside.

Since the plan in the library is not updated, very few know exactly what has been completed. Berger said he asked Schrage last month for an update.

“I know that we are – and I’ve asked a lot of questions over the years – it was reported that, as far as the timeline, we are ahead of schedule,” Berger said. “That doesn’t mean we are ahead on every single thing. But the majority of the projects that are online are ahead of schedule. I’m waiting for the August report to get the details.”

Alonso and MacGregor said they have asked for updates, but they know things are getting done because items come to the board for approval.

“I know we’re making progress, but I don’t know how many identified violations have been fixed,” Alonso said. Schrage didn’t return phone calls, but he said on the video he had made numerous purchase orders for new ADA-compliant furniture “for two years.”

Alonso openly wondered if all of this could have been avoided. Tao said communication would have been key.

“How well did you handle the student? How well did you communicate with them? Were you on them right away? Did you make sure that they were properly accommodated?” he said. “Because the law is somewhat unforgiving, and since it is so unforgiving, if somebody’s upset, they have options with regards to using the legal process, and under (the law), they’re entitled not only to their damages but also to their attorneys’ fees.”

Mayors Prayer Breakfast Nearly Brought to Its Knees

| Community | May 9, 2019

To coincide with the annual National Day of Prayer, Joe Messina puts together the SCV Mayors Prayer Breakfast. Most years, the planning goes smoothly.

This was not one of those years.

From struggling to secure keynote speakers to finding a venue to problems with printing the program, Messina said he had more to deal with this year than in recent years.

“I had nothing, I had nothing, I had nothing,” he said. “It was quite interesting. At the last minute, everything kind of fell into place.”

The National Day of Prayer statutorily occurs the first Thursday in May, and the president is required by law to sign a proclamation encouraging Americans to pray on that day. Messina had long ago decided not to plan this event more than three months out because it gave more time for problems to occur. So, in February, he and The Diako Group, which put on the annual breakfast, worked on securing a keynote speaker.

He first attempted to get Mike Lindell, inventor of My Pillow, an open-cell, poly-foam pillow design that has sold more than 41 million units but also has settled lawsuits relating to false-advertising and marketing claims. What drew Messina to Lindell was Lindell’s history of overcoming addictions to alcohol and crack cocaine through prayer.

His people confirmed, then told Messina that Lindell was going to be in Israel.

Then he tried to get Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who resigned in 2009 and later wrote a memoir, “Unplanned,” that was made into a movie.

Messina said her people confirmed, too, but Johnson’s OB-GYN nixed her traveling because of her pregnancy.

Instead, Messina secured the movie’s writer-producers, Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman. He also tried to get syndicated columnist, Republican politician, author, and conservative political activist Star Parker, but she was already booked.

Messina said that every year, the program is the same: there’s breakfast, patriotic music, a Christian speaker and prayer. Messina tried to get the SCV Men of Harmony Chorus, but here wasn’t enough time to make that happen, he said. Then he remembered hearing a group sing Christmas songs in Urdu at the International Friendship Center. It was available.

There’s always a flag salute, and Messina usually entrusts a local William S. Hart Union High School District ROTC with doing the honors (Messina is a board member). But they were booked, so he turned to the local Knights of Columbus chapter.

Of course, a breakfast can’t happen without a site. Last year’s venue, Kelly’s Banquet Hall, lacked the kitchen to handle 300 hot breakfasts, so Messina turned to the Hyatt Regency.

The Hyatt had previously held the event and then declined to do it because groups complained and demonstrated seemingly every year. But Messina said the Hyatt had undergone a management change and “wanted to be part of the community.”

Everything was falling into place. Just one more thing: the program. Messina had been using the same Burbank-based printing company for many years, so he knew what to expect: Email the proofs by the Friday before, and they would be ready for him to pick up by the next Wednesday, the day before the event.

This time, after sending the proofs, he got an email confirming they would get to it in 48-72 business hours. At first, he thought it was just an automatic thank-you-for-your-order email, but something prompted him to call.

Good thing he did, for he learned the company had changed its policy in February. They don’t do work on weekends, and it would be two to three business days before it was approved by a human. The person offered to rush it so it could be done Thursday.

“You mean after the breakfast?” Messina responded.

He found an online outfit that was easy to deal with and inexpensive. He had the program by Wednesday.

By all accounts, he said, the breakfast went off without problems.

“Ultimately, it all came together,” he said. “Everyone was pleased with it.”

Ronnie Wald: The Voice of High School Baseball

| Sports | May 2, 2019

If you were to call Ronnie Wald the Vin Scully of high school baseball, he’d be flattered.

Wald has found his calling as a play-by-play man doing high school and junior college football, basketball and baseball. Those affiliated with West Ranch High know Wald well, as he has called all 28 Wildcat games this season, plus 16 other fall and winter ball games. West Ranch was scheduled to play at Foothill in the first-round of the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division I playoffs on Thursday.

This is Wald’s sixth season behind the West Ranch mike. Fans know he’s the guy who has a “press box” on a scaffold above the bleachers behind the plate. It’s just him, sitting on a chair at a table, speaking into his microphone and broadcasting the game over the internet, usually on Facebook Live.

“A high school game being broadcast?” West Ranch coach Casey Burrill said. “He’s a topic of conversation. People ask who he is.”

Wald, 59, grew up in the San Fernando Valley and felt spoiled listening to Scully, Chick Hearn and Dick Enberg calling Dodgers, Lakers and Angels games. He went to Cal State Northridge and got a political science degree, but his love was broadcasting, and he later worked as a news reporter for KGIL-AM 1260.

At first, the idea of doing play-by-play scared him. “That was off the radar for me. It was the hardest thing to do,” he said. “I’d rather read a script.”

But he grew to love the drama of a live event. Now, 37 years later, he has done hundreds of games “that feel like hundreds of years,” he joked.

It wasn’t an easy gig. He had to contract with radio stations in which he would pay to broadcast the games, and then he would have to sell his own ads to make money.

Then came the internet and the ability to turn a telephone into a microphone. Suddenly, it was cheaper to broadcast.

What brought him to West Ranch was the Wildcats reaching the sectional semifinals in 2012. Wald had secured the rights from the Southern Section office to broadcast the semifinals and finals, so he called West Ranch’s game.

Ever the hustler, he contacted Burrill about possibly calling more Wildcat games. Burrill was interested but wasn’t sure how to pay for it. Nor was he sure a public high school could afford it. But in 2014, Wald started calling West Ranch games. At first, he only did audio broadcasts because, as Burrill discovered, the CIF charged nothing for audio but $150 for video of regular-season games (playoff games cost $150 for audio and $250 for video, Burrill and Wald said).

There also were some growing pains, Burrill said. Players complained they could hear Wald as they batted. Burrill responded, “Isn’t it a distraction for the other team, too?”

Parents also sometimes objected to Wald describing that their minor sons committed an error, even though Wald would describe it as neutrally as Scully. One time during a road game, a mother didn’t like how her son the pitcher was being described (he was giving up a lot of runs and hits), so Wald stopped, and Burrill decided to have Wald work only home games until the playoffs.

In 2014, Wald called another West Ranch playoff game, at Chaminade. Burrill was still impressed, and it finally became clear the parents liked it, too. The next year, he started calling all the games, and it’s become so popular that Valencia and Saugus also have sought him to call their games.

Wald also dabbles in football, calling El Rancho High games in Pico Rivera, and Bakersfield College basketball games. He’s also worked for Hawaii- and Alaska-based teams that travel here but don’t bring their broadcast personnel. And he’s in talks to broadcast College of the Canyons men’s basketball games next year, he said.

“I found a nice little niche,” he said.

Former School Board Member Stephen Winkler Dies

| News | May 2, 2019

Stephen Winkler, who shockingly won a school board election only to be removed because he lived outside the district’s boundaries, died April 1 of heart failure, his family said. He was 67 and had been in poor health.

According to his brother, Mike, and Mike’s wife, Deirdre, Winkler spent about $20,000 in what many considered a quixotic attempt to gain a seat on the Saugus Union School District board in 2011. He ran as a teacher, claiming he had more educational experience than most board members. He finished second, ahead of incumbent Rose Diaz by 264 votes, but the top two were elected.

“That was his moment in the sun,” Deirdre Winkler said of Stephen being a board member. “He loved it.”

Almost immediately, he set himself apart by voicing his disdain for unions and his support for charter schools. He also was censured and asked to resign after making statements about Adolf Hitler that the board found to be “expressing support for Nazism, slavery and segregation and enjoyment of cruelty towards animals,” according to a statement then-board member Paul De La Cerda read at a 2013 meeting. Winkler refused to resign, and the board couldn’t remove him.

“He did not do what I advised him: Shut up and play ball and don’t go against the grain,” Mike Winkler said.

Winkler was removed from his position in 2013 after it was found he lived in Sylmar and not on Rio Prado Drive in Valencia like he claimed. Mike Winkler said that his brother lived in Valencia, where he worked as a security guard at a townhome complex.

Part of his pay allowed him to live there, Mike Winkler said, so Stephen would live in a vacant townhome while it was being renovated, then move to another one once the fixes, upgrades and improvements were complete.

“They called him a squatter,” Winkler said, adding that his brother was unable to explain his living situation because “he was book-learned but not quick-thinking on his feet.”

Winkler was born Jan.13, 1952 in Florida to Hungarian immigrants, a year before Mike was born in New York. The family moved to California in 1955, Mike said.

Winkler was known for having a photographic memory in matters related to history, sports or the Bible.

“Have you ever seen the movie ‘Rain Man?’ ” Deirdre Winkler said. “Steve was like that but higher-functioning.” She acknowledged her brother-in-law never was diagnosed with any autism spectrum disorder, although Mike said he thought he should have been.

“He was very intelligent in certain areas, but had absolutely no common sense or social skills,” Mike said.

Stephen earned bachelor and master degrees in history and political science from California State University, Northridge, his brother said, and then got his teaching credential while working as a security guard. He substituted in districts such as William S. Hart, Los Angeles and Palmdale.

“He loved being a substitute teacher,” Deirdre Winkler said. “His students often referred to him as the Penguin,” after the Batman villain.

After his removal, Winkler “went on with his life,” his brother said, but had a difficult time supporting himself. He was never one to make a lot of money, and the election had put him deeper in debt. Being removed from a school board made it harder to get any teaching position. Mike said he told him that the demand for history and political science teachers is far less than for math, science and English.

His lack of finances caused him to seek low-cost or free meals, which was why he frequented various houses of worship: a Catholic church on Friday for fried fish or Tony Alamo’s church for 9 p.m. dinners (he was raised Catholic like his mother, his family said, although his father was Jewish).

Winkler also didn’t exercise and preferred to sit in a cart while shopping. He suffered from Type II diabetes for about 17 years. He had a heart attack in March and underwent quadruple bypass March 20 at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. He was transferred to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center the next day, his brother said, and died there.

Winkler had been married once. He is survived by his brother, sister-in-law and four nieces and nephews. He was buried in California City in a plot next to Mike’s daughter.

Katie Hill Town Hall Disrupted by Unruly Attendees

| News | May 2, 2019

After Rep. Katie Hill held a town hall Saturday, one attendee posted his disgust on Facebook.

“I recently shared a live feed from a town hall meeting with Representative Katie Hill. I wish I hadn’t,” Phil Gussin wrote.

He detailed why: People booed a Valencia High teen when she tried to read a question. They booed when someone said Michelle Obama’s name. They shouted and interrupted Hill when she spoke.

“The display of ignorance and intolerance did not reflect well on the community. We — and I’m including myself — are better than that. Much better,” Gussin concluded.

Hill (D-Agua Dulce) held the town hall at Santa Clarita City Hall to talk about her first 100 days and take questions from constituents. In a nearly three-minute video she posted on Facebook afterward, Hill blamed the commotion on “eight or 10 people who were unfortunately very loud and disruptive and made the experience pretty unpleasant for a lot of the others there.”

Hill Communications Director Kassie King said she knew the most disruptive were from outside the 25th congressional district because when they registered to attend, they were required to give their zip code. Also, King said, “We have video footage and we can match those individuals with other public behavior. We know who they are.”

This isn’t the first time district town hall meetings have become disruptive. Former Rep. Steve Knight dealt with boos several times, including after he voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Gussin wrote that people considered the actions as payback for when Knight took gruff.

“Here’s the problem with that ‘reasoning.’ As far as I know, Rep. Hill never condoned that kind of behavior,” he wrote. “Throughout the campaign, she repeatedly expressed her respect for Rep. Knight despite strong policy disagreements.”

Hill said the importance of hearing from constituents, whether they agree with her or not, remains paramount, so she’s trying to figure out how to hold future ones while limiting disruptions. Her Facebook video mentions such possible formats as one where people talk (or yell) and she listens, or a court-like format where one topic would bring out opposing viewpoints.

King said they have considered asking for proof of residency and barring people who don’t live in the district, but nothing has been decided.

“We’re figuring out the best path forward based on recommendations from other offices, based on recommendations from others who have done this before or who have gone through this before,” she said.

College of the Canyons Suing Saga Continues

| News | April 26, 2019

Former College of the Canyons employees aren’t the only ones who have brought lawsuits against the school. The Auto Tech Department chairman also did so.

Gary Sornborger filed suit June 3, 2015 against the district, President Dianne Van Hook, two deans and four others, alleging retaliation, negligent and intentional inflicting of emotional distress, assault, illegal hiring practices and conspiracy. The complaint was amended twice, on Feb. 17 and Aug. 22, 2016, with one fewer defendant named each time.

Sornborger settled in late 2018 but received no money. In effect, the sides agreed to walk away.

“My official comment is no comment,” Sornborger said. “They tried to knock me out twice. I want to teach.”

College spokesman Eric Harnish declined comment in an email, citing personnel matters. He also wrote, “This is a matter that was resolved in 2017 with no admission of liability by the Defendants and with Plaintiff dismissing his Court complaint.”

COC board member Edel Alonso, who was faculty president at the time, said she found Sornborger to be a good teacher who “didn’t receive the support he needed to be successful.”

COC board member Steve Zimmer, without asking what the Gazette was calling about, referred questions to board President Michael Berger, who didn’t return calls or texts beyond saying he had a client in the lobby and that he had been on vacation for 10 days.

According to the complaint, Sornborger’s troubles began in the summer of 2014 when he needed to prepare for recertification or reaccreditation by the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation. His bosses, Kristin Houser and Jerry Buckley, wanted the work completed before the fall semester. Sornborger completed most of the work and submitted payment requests, but Buckley and Houser refused to approve payment for almost a year.

In June and July, Sornborger alleged, Houser signed his name to two college assistant employment forms implying Sornborger approved hiring three people, which he didn’t. He reported this to Vice President of Human Resources Diane Fiero, who in turn informed Houser.

In August, the court documents say that Houser retaliated by removing Sornborger as department chair, firing two employees Sornborger had hired and transferring another employee to the night shift, thereby making it impossible to help Sornborger with computer communications (the documents say Sornborger is disabled, and the employee was a reasonable accommodation for that). The documents say the terminations stemmed from complaints Houser received from then-Instructional Lab Technician Mark Veltre about a “hostile work environment” in the auto shop.

Veltre, who no longer works at the school, couldn’t be reached for comment. Houser, now a lecturer in the California State University, Northridge marketing department, declined comment.

“I don’t have the time and energy for that. I spent way too much time in my life dealing with all that crap,” Houser said. “It’s over and done with. I’d love to help, but I can’t. I’m not interested in getting involved in all of that stuff again.”

On Aug. 19, the Academic Senate convened an ad hoc committee to discuss Sornborger’s removal as department chair. Two days later, the committee found that Sornborger had not been given an official evaluation of non-performance, which was required to remove him from his chairmanship. It also recommended to Buckley that Auto Tech be removed from Houser’s division and placed within a different dean’s division, and the new dean, with Houser’s help, would formulate a new performance plan that Sornborger must abide by for the fall 2014 and spring 2015 semesters.

According to the complaint, Houser refused to sign the committee’s findings and Buckley took no action until October when he moved Auto Tech to the Math, Science and Engineering Department and restored Sornborger’s chairmanship. He also threatened to strip Sornborger again if the NATEF accreditation wasn’t completed by Jan. 1, 2015, and forced him to take a seven-module department-chair training program that did not exist and had never been required before.

On Aug. 25, Sornborger requested Fiero launch an investigation into Houser’s retaliatory actions and take “prompt and corrective action.” Fiero did not return a call for comment.

Two days later, Sornborger alleged, Houser retaliated further by telling then-Assistant Director of Campus Safety Howard Blanchard to curtail an established arrangement in which Sornborger gave his office to Blanchard in exchange for additional Auto Tech student parking. This caused Sornborger to ask then-Academic Senate President Paul Wickline to set up a meeting between the two of them, and Wickline to discuss the situation (Wickline and Blanchard didn’t return phone calls; Alonso said Sornborger told her the meeting took place, but she doesn’t know what was resolved, if anything).

The complaint says that around Sept. 12, Sornborger spoke with Houser and believed “an understanding had been reached.” Instead, he alleged, that while Blanchard was on vacation, Houser ordered campus security officers to start ticketing Auto Tech students’ vehicles. After Sornborger questioned her, he alleged Houser escalated things by ordering vehicles be towed.

According to the complaint, a vehicle belonging to a student who wasn’t on campus got towed on Sept. 17. While Sornborger reported the incident to Buckley and Van Hook, Houser canceled classes for the day.

The student, unnamed in the complaint but later identified as Nick Vaughn, went to campus security to ask Blanchard why his car was towed. The lawsuit alleges campus security officer Tommy Thompson threatened and assaulted Vaughn, something Thompson denied.

“There was a verbal altercation between one of Gary’s students and (Blanchard),” Thompson said. “I heard the verbal altercation, and I came out in the office hallway to back Howard up. … The student started going off on Howard, and basically when I came down the hall, me and Howard were instructing the student he needs to leave the campus, and then when he was going and hopping in his truck, I told Howard, ‘You’re probably going to want me to write a report.’ And he said, ‘Oh, absolutely.’

“I walked out towards the student as he’s getting in his truck, and instead of me trying to write down his license plate and all that, I pulled out my phone camera and took a picture of him, the student and his truck that he was about to get into. Nick Vaughn started cursing me out.”

Thompson then asserted that Vaughn revved his engine and twice charged at Thompson, something Vaughn’s mother, Kelli, denied. She explained that Thompson had informed the students that class had been canceled and if they didn’t leave campus, they’d be arrested for trespassing. She added she had witnesses claiming Nick didn’t curse but screamed, “Excuse me?” repeatedly.

The lawsuit says Sornborger, “while protecting the student, was injured and required hospitalization.” Kelli Vaughn said her son is 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds; Sornborger is 5-foot-7, 165 pounds.

Nick then got into his car, a 1984 Ford Bronco, which was parked next to Sornborger’s car and backed out, still screaming, “Excuse me!” over and over.

Vaughn said Thompson then said, “Are you going to hit me?” and her son responded, “Well, you’d better move!” Vaughn said Thompson didn’t immediately move.

Nick then pulled next to the building, Vaughn said. Sornborger followed to give him paperwork to give to the sheriff’s department to file an addendum to his complaints of retaliation by the school. Then Nick left.

The next day, Vaughn was arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon, his mother said (Thompson said it was attempted assault). He eventually pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor and was sentenced to two years of summary probation, six months of anger management and 30 days of community service.

While Sornborger was hospitalized, the lawsuit says, Houser sent “a threatening and accusatory email falsely accusing (Sornborger) of organizing his students to protest the towing of the student’s vehicle and demanding to know how he planned ‘to make up the instruction time missed by the morning’s activities.’”

Veltre is accused of telling people that Sornborger was or had gone crazy, that he was suspended, that he encouraged students to interfere with the towing, and that he would not be teaching in the fall 2014 semester.

Sornborger was medically cleared to return to work Sept. 24 but was placed on administrative leave and forbidden to discuss the matter with anyone related to Canyons. He was reinstated in November but barred from teaching until the spring.

The lawsuit says Sornborger sustained “physical, emotional and mental damages as a result of his anxiety, loss of self-esteem, loss of self-confidence, embarrassment, humiliation, worry and mental distress.”

 

COC Chancellor’s Legal Fee Reimbursement Questioned

| News | April 25, 2019

Around June 22, 2016, College of the Canyons Chancellor Dianne Van Hook won a restraining order against two people, which required attorney fees, court costs and the like.

According to documents in the matter Van Hook v. Petzold, attorney fees came to $15,099.05, which included a $1,638 discount.

On March 1, 2017, Van Hook wrote a personal check to the law firm Poole & Shaffery for $15,099. In June, the board of trustees approved a purchase order for Van Hook’s reimbursement.

However, two board members claim they don’t recall approving it and expressed concern that it wasn’t clear what they were approving. Nor are they completely sure Van Hook was entitled to the reimbursement.

“I don’t believe I knew what this was for,” Edel Alonso said. “I don’t remember voting for an item to reimburse Dianne Van Hook.”

And from Joan MacGregor: “This is a unique case. As far as I’m aware, it’s not happened before, since I’ve sat on the board, where she has taken reimbursement for a legal expense. It normally goes to the law firm.”

Documents the Gazette obtained include Poole & Shaffery’s invoice to Van Hook dated July 19, 2016 that does not specify what the $15,099.05 was for; Van Hook’s personal check to the firm and a purchase order dated June 7, 2017 for $15,099 for “reimbursement of unanticipated legal expenses in accordance with normal reimbursement procedures.”

There’s also a check voucher, a direct payment voucher signed by Van Hook dated March 9, 2017 and then-board president Steve Zimmer dated June 2, 2017, and a list of 39 purchase orders between May 22 and June 18, 2017, for the board to approve. Van Hook is listed as the vendor, the activity is “general institutional support” and the category is “approved expenditures.”

Zimmer, without asking what the Gazette was calling about, referred questions to board president Michael Berger, who texted to say he had a client in the lobby. Later, he didn’t respond to calls or texts. Nor did board member Michele Jenkins respond to calls.

School spokesperson Eric Harnish emailed to say that because Van Hook was a victim in her role as chancellor this allowed her reimbursement. “She reviewed the expenditure with the Board President. He approved submitting that expenditure for reimbursement by the District.  The item was processed for reimbursement by Business Services per the District’s established procedures, and was unanimously approved by the Board,” Harnish wrote.

MacGregor said when the board receives purchase orders, the specifics are not usually stated. The board also regularly approves reimbursements to Van Hook, the law firms the college can use and legal fees. Poole & Shaffery is on the approved list, she said, but “we don’t use them a lot.”

From time to time, MacGregor said, she or Alonso will ask to discuss a specific expense and vote on it separately. Neither board member recalled asking to have this one separated.

Alonso said Berger, Jenkins and Zimmer often express disdain when she wants a specific expense discussed, accusing her of “getting into the weeds” and unnecessarily lengthening the meeting. Her response is, “I need to understand what I’m voting on. When I ask, I’m given an answer that is not always a satisfactory one.”

MacGregor said she doesn’t feel “I made a mistake” in approving it, but she wants more information. “I have put in a request to the Chancellor’s office, but that’s just gone in, so I don’t expect an answer yet,” she said.

Nor do they understand why Van Hook fronted the money. MacGregor said that when the board discussed Van Hook getting a restraining order, she assumed the district would pay for it.

“It’s rare for her to put that money out,” MacGregor said.

The other issue is whether Van Hook should have been paid back in the first place. In her contract dated Feb. 11, 2015, it clearly states Van Hook is not responsible to pay to defend herself when she is sued. It does not clearly state she is entitled to the same courtesy if she initiates legal action; nor does it expressly say she isn’t.

It is this vagueness that troubles Alonso and MacGregor.

“That is not clear to me,” Alonso said.

“We didn’t have a board discussion authorizing it,” MacGregor said. “I do feel there should be full transparency to the board.”

Rep. Katie Hill’s 100 Days

| News | April 18, 2019

Traditionally, congressional freshmen take it slow, keep their heads down and learn from the more experienced lawmakers. Rep. Katie Hill is not acting like a typical freshman.

Before she even took office, Hill led a movement to ensure Nancy Pelosi was re-elected Speaker of the House, was elected co-freshman representative to the Democratic House leadership, became the first congresswoman-elect to deliver the party’s weekly address, and co-signed a letter to President Trump asking for more federal aid for California fire relief.

Once taking office, she was appointed vice chair of the House Oversight Committee.

Last week marked 100 days in office, and Hill (D-Agua Dulce) sent out a press release touting her accomplishments. In a statement, Hill said, “I am so proud to serve the people of my hometown in Washington and even prouder to already be delivering for our community. I promised that I would put the priorities of the people above corporations and special interests and that’s exactly what I’ve done to achieve results.”

Republicans Mike Garcia and Angela Underwood Jacobs, who have announced they will challenge Hill next year, said in separate statements they object to Hill’s connections to Pelosi and New York Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s agendas. Both also accused Hill of moving too far to the left toward socialism.

Here are the highlights:

Authored bipartisan legislation to address concerns from 25th Congressional District constituents about the flaws in their Medicare Part B enrollment;
Passed a bipartisan bill through the House of Representatives to protect whistleblowers and follow through on her promise to weed out government corruption and promote accountability and transparency;
Delivered on her promise to focus on healthcare by cosponsoring 16 different healthcare bills, including sweeping new healthcare legislation that would lower Californian’s health insurance premiums, crack down on junk health insurance plans, and strengthen protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

This first refers to HR 1788, introduced March 14. Fourteen people have co-sponsored it, including one Republican, Brian Babin of Texas. It currently sits in two committees.

The second refers to HR 1064, introduced Feb. 7. It expands whistleblower protections to include talking to a supervisor in the employee’s direct chain of command up to and including the head of the employing agency, or to an employee designated to receive such disclosures.

The third refers to HR 1884, introduced March 26. It amends the Affordable Care Act to improve affordability, undo sabotage and increase access to health insurance coverage.

It currently sits in three committees.

Hill said she knows it isn’t realistic to get legislation through Congress and onto the president’s desk in 100 days, given how slow things progress through the chambers. The previous Congress passed just 388 bills that became law, according to govtrackinsider.com. The Congress before that passed 329 bills that went to President Obama, according to Quorum.

“The fact that we not only passed some things through but actually had them signed into law is a pretty big deal, especially in a divided Congress like this,” she said in an interview Wednesday.

So far, Hill has authored four bills. Only HR 1064 has passed the House. It currently is in the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

According to congress.gov, Hill has attached her name to 177 pieces of legislation. Of these, eight have passed the House, and all of them are in Senate committees.

Hill also signed onto 18 resolutions. Trump vetoed the joint resolution objecting to his declaring a national emergency at the southern border, and Congress failed to override.

Used her position in Washington to cut through bureaucracy and tackle pressing local issues like the CEMEX mine.

Last month, Hill wrote a letter to the Department of the Interior Board of Land Appeals requesting an expedited decision on whether Mexican building materials company CEMEX can mine gravel in Soledad Canyon. Two days later, the ruling came down: Cemex’s contracts are valid until July 2020, but since it would take longer than that to get the operation going, it’s unlikely any mining would ever happen.

According to Communications Director Kassie King and senior advisor Ben Steinberger, who ran point on CEMEX, the IBLA informed Hill that her letter had been received and sent to the right people. Steinberger also said he expected the ruling to come later this year.

Hill insisted, “There was no way that timing is so fortuitous when we’ve been waiting on a decision for three years,” she said. “The fact that we pushed for it and it got done is a testament to the work of my office. The issue is the IBLA has been sitting on this decision for three years. … It became clear the issue was a bureaucratic one. We used our political leverage to make that decision happen, and that shows bipartisan relationships. You don’t get a decision from the (Trump) administration without working across the aisle.”

Of course, Hill wasn’t the first to deal with this issue. Former Reps. Buck McKeon and Steve Knight had tried, to various extents, to get something done. Hill took credit for finishing the job.

“You have something sitting there three years. Then we get the letter issued, then we get a response within two days,” she said. “You’re telling me that happens to be a fluke?”

Introduced her first bill addressing a top local priority, and ensured the legislation was included in a public lands package that passed both Houses of Congress and was signed into law by the President.

King said this refers to Senate Bill 47, a public lands package in which Hill secured a memorial to the Saint Francis Dam disaster of 1928 (Hill’s original bill, HR 1015, never got out of committee).

Hill said that the memorial was a top city priority, even though she acknowledged, “If you go around the district or go around Santa Clarita and ask if this was their top priority, I can’t imagine you would have a huge number of people that would say yes, that’s the case. The city is a massive stakeholder and it’s something they prioritized. We were glad to be able to finish it off for them.”

Opened two district offices, held two town halls, attended 22 community events, and visited 16 businesses, military bases, and other key sites in the district.

That does not count a Santa Clarita office. However, Hill said there is now one, in Valencia near City Hall, but it’s not officially opened pending final House security clearance.

Hill said she felt “frustration at how slow the process can be” to get offices opened. “I’m glad we have it now,” she said.

Secured more than $80,000 in VA and Social Security benefits for 25th Congressional District constituents;

District Director Angela Giacchetti said the actual total was $80,808.66. Two constituents received benefits from the VA, and one receive Social Security benefits.

“People who were broke and struggling have now $80,000 in benefits they didn’t have before,” she said. “We have dozens of cases that are open.”

College of the Canyons Faces another Lawsuit for Alleged Discrimination and Retaliation

| News | April 11, 2019

College of the Canyons has been sued again, this time by a former employee alleging discrimination and retaliation.

The civil case, filed March 27, 2018 in Superior Court and brought by the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing on behalf of Laura Anderson, alleges the college discriminated against her after she suffered a work-related injury.

The suit further claims the school did not make accommodations, retaliated against her for requesting accommodations, forced her into an unwarranted leave of absence, suffered emotional distress and failed to prevent discrimination, according to court documents.

Although specific dollar amounts are not specified, the suit seeks compensatory damages for Anderson for lost wages and emotional distress. It also asks the court to require COC to post written policies prohibiting discrimination and retaliation, require managers to undergo at least four hours of annual training, create a full-time position that will ensure compliance and provide proof of compliance.

The sides met March 20, court records show, but no settlement is indicated. A trial date has been set for February, a source not authorized to comment said.

Previously, former COC employee Donna Frayer sued the school for harassment, intimidation and retribution. She settled seven years ago.

Through an acquaintance, Anderson referred questions to her attorney, Alexandra Seldin, who didn’t return calls. COC’s attorney, Antoine Pitts, said, “I’ll have to have someone call you back” before hanging up on a reporter, but no one did.

Anderson started at COC in 2006 and was an administrative assistant at the Performing Arts Center starting in 2012, according to court documents. Through an acquaintance, she said she left in June 2018.

In mid-2013, she injured her arm and hand, later being diagnosed with an excessive-use injury similar to carpal tunnel syndrome. In September, the district says in court documents, Anderson’s workstation underwent an ergonomic evaluation that led to 11 adjustments. These included adjusting her keyboard, chair, mouse and monitor. The evaluator also recommended a footrest and headset, which the district provided.

A flare-up in May 2014 limited Anderson’s ability to use her right hand to type for just four hours a day, court documents show.

The district reduced her schedule, but not her workload, the court documents said. While the district approved hiring an assistant to help with Anderson’s workload, Anderson’s boss at the time, Evy Warshawski, would instruct the assistant to do unrelated work, which didn’t lessen Anderson’s workload (Warshawski, who now lives in Napa, was unable to be reached for comment).

According to court documents, Anderson “consistently” informed Warshawski that some work was not getting done and she needed help because her injury was not improving.

The district said in court documents that Anderson never made any complaint against Warshawski, “although she had the opportunity to do so.”

When the district did nothing, Anderson requested a transfer, but the human resources department denied her.

At the end of January 2015, then-HR Manager Yvette Barrios told Anderson that the district needed a full-time employee in that position, so Anderson was placed on leave. Court documents show Anderson “objected to and was distraught by this decision, expressing her strong desire to continue working and asked if they could … wait another few weeks to see if there was any change in her condition.” The district denied that request, too, the documents show, “nor did the district explore any alternative accommodations that would allow her to continue working.”

The documents say there were “numerous vacant positions available at the District that Ms. Anderson was qualified for,” but these are not specified.

Barrios, who said she left COC four years ago, declined comment out of professional courtesy, because she still works in HR, because the case is ongoing and because she might be subpoenaed later.

According to court documents, the district said that from May 7, 2014 to Feb. 2, 2015, Anderson’s condition did not improve. The sides agreed that the four-hour workday was not helping her heal. “Ms. Anderson never protested the mutually agreed upon accommodation to provide her 100% paid leave until initiating a complaint,” the district said.

Court documents also show the district said it was mutually agreed upon that Anderson would benefit from full medical leave to focus on healing.

Anderson went on leave around Feb. 2, 2015. Fourteen months later, court documents say, Anderson received a letter from the district saying her paid leave would run out May 25, 2016, and if she couldn’t resume her duties, she would, among other things, lose her benefits.

Anderson requested a two-month leave of absence, which was denied despite a policy that “permitted the District to grant up to (six) months of leave after an employee’s paid leave is exhausted,” the lawsuit said.

Anderson met with Vice President of Human Resources Diane Fiero to discuss the district’s denial.

“Ms. Anderson was told that her leave request was denied because there was no guarantee that she would be able to resume her position at the end of the leave and they needed an employee in the position as her replacement had retired,” the complaint says. “Again, the District refused to discuss alternative accommodations with Ms. Anderson, and in fact, Fiero told her that to modify her essential functions would constitute a ‘misuse of public funds,’ or words to that effect.”

Fiero did not return calls for comment. Court documents say the district denied the request per past district practices. Furthermore, the district was unable to replace Anderson with a full-time employee because the position was not vacant, as it was paying Anderson during her leave, causing the district undue hardship. The district instead used part-time employees.

With no accommodations and afraid of losing her job, Anderson returned to work on or about May 23, 2016, reporting to Lindsay Gambini. The district said she started accruing leave time again, which court documents said ended Feb. 28, 2018. She immediately noticed that Gambini’s boss, Carmen Dominguez, who had taken over for Warshawski, treated her coldly, and that other employees were not speaking to or looking at her.

“It was later discovered that Dominguez had specifically instructed employees not to talk to Ms. Anderson and berated them for doing so,” the court papers say. Furthermore, the suit alleges Dominguez changed Anderson’s hours to later in the day, making it difficult to deal with people on the east coast, which her job required.

The suit alleges Dominguez also required Anderson to train other employees near the end of the fiscal year, making it difficult for Anderson to meet certain deadlines; and perform other unnamed “unreasonable and unnecessary tasks that were never required of her in the past” such as taking weekly department-meeting minutes.

The court documents say neither Anderson nor Gambini understood why Anderson had to take minutes. Reached Monday, Gambini said. “It’s a typical task for a person in that position to do. I was new, so I didn’t know what her predecessor did, but her successor still does it.”

Anderson further alleges in the complaint that Dominguez found her initial minutes unacceptable because they weren’t detailed enough. Dominguez, now Cypress College’s vice president of instruction, referred comment to school spokesman Eric Harnish, who declined comment because the case is still pending.

Dominguez also said, “I still care very much about the Santa Clarita Community College District. They do great work for their employees, and they’re very sensitive to all our needs. That was my experience when I was there.”

Anderson went to Fiero to report Dominguez, but Fiero did nothing because Dominguez was not Anderson’s direct supervisor, court papers say.

The district said in court documents that Anderson never made any complaints against Dominguez. It later discussed the claims with Dominguez but found them “baseless” and “unsubstantiated.”

The district also contended it never received any complaints of discrimination, harassment or retaliation against Dominguez, and it accused Anderson’s lawyers of “an oppressive fishing expedition” for requesting the district identify any of the approximately 200 people who directly or indirectly reported to Dominguez.

After two months of this sort of treatment, the stress was getting to Anderson, so she took a leave of absence through her worker’s compensation insurance. The complaint says she suffered “emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, and humiliation, in an amount to be proven at trial.”

“At all relevant times, Ms. Anderson was able to perform the essential functions of her position with or without accommodation,” the complaint says. “At all relevant times, there existed reasonable accommodation that would have allowed Ms. Anderson to perform the essential functions of her position including, but not limited to, job restructuring, transfer to an alternative position, employing an aid or assistant, and/or providing assistive technology.”

The district contends in court documents that Anderson never requested to be transferred, nor was she well enough to return once she went on leave Feb. 2, 2015. The district also said it granted a paid administrative leave from March 1 to April 30, 2018, paid medical benefits and paid her for an additional two months of salary. It also granted her two months of unpaid leave.

Mike Garcia Attempts to Conquer ‘The Hill’

| News | April 11, 2019

Saying he was unhappy with the 2018 election results and “couldn’t just stand on the sidelines and not do anything about it,” Republican Mike Garcia announced Wednesday that he will challenge Rep. Katie Hill in the 25th congressional district.

Garcia, 43 in a couple of weeks, has lived in Valencia since 1983 and graduated Saugus High, which he said might be the only thing he has in common with Hill (D-Agua Dulce).

He said he attended in the U.S. Naval Academy and flew F-18 jets during his 15 years in the service.

“After serving the country for so long and fighting for the values and losing friends in the process, it’s something worth fighting for,” he said. “(Hill) ran a campaign that confused a lot of our voters and she did not represent the district, and I think she’s aligned with the far-left agenda of folks like Alexandria (Ocasio-)Cortez and Nancy Pelosi.”

Garcia is the second person to challenge Hill, following local businesswoman Suzette Valladares.

Who’s Running for City Council? The 2020 Vision Begins

| City Council | April 11, 2019

Twenty Democrats have announced they will run for president next year. Two people have declared their candidacies against Rep. Katie Hill, with others expected to follow.

And down the ballot, it’s not too early to look at the race for city council.

“Is it really time to actually start talking about 2020?” Jason Gibbs asked.

Well, yes. Even though the election isn’t for another 19 months, minds can change and the filing period doesn’t open until next summer, former candidates have been giving some thought about whether they want to give it another go.

DEFININTELY RUNNING

Of the eight people the Gazette reached, only Ken Dean said he was in. Dean, despite not paying for a ballot statement, finished a surprise fifth out of 15 with 14,951 votes (8.33 percent) in 2018.

“A lot of people know me and like what I stand for,” he said, adding the issue that frustrates him the most is traffic and congestion, and it likely will be a campaign theme for him. He said he would like to form two committees if elected: one to examine traffic and one to work on synchronizing the stoplights in the city.

He said the corner of Bouquet Canyon Road and Newhall Ranch Road is particularly bad, as is the intersection of Reuther Avenue and Golden Triangle Road. He said the railroad crossing often leads to delays there, yet he doesn’t experience delays when the train crosses the intersection of Soledad Canyon Road and Rainbow Glen Drive.

“There’s not an ounce of logic the way they’ve got it set up,” he said.

PROBABLY RUNNING

Councilmember Cameron Smyth said that when he was elected in 2016, he intended to run again in 2020. But that requires him talking to his family and employer to ensure everyone can make the commitment, and since there is no primary election, he has until next summer to formally file paperwork.

THINKING ABOUT IT

Gibbs (ninth place, 10,008 votes, 5.57 percent) and Sandra Nichols (13th place, 5,049 votes, 2.81 percent) are contemplating, they said.

Nichols said she is most likely running, “but in life, there are no guarantees.”

Gibbs said he wants to wait and see if Councilmember Bob Kellar runs again. “If Bob truly decides not to run, there’s a good chance I’ll run,” he said.

Former councilmember TimBen Boydston (seventh place, 12,857 votes, 7.16 percent) said it’s way too soon to speculate, adding he won’t give it serious consideration until at least November.

DEFINITELY NOT

Kellar previously has said he will not run again. On Monday, he reiterated that.

“Twenty years is enough,” he said. “It’s been an honor and a pleasure, but I am out of here.”

Logan Smith (sixth place, 12,871 votes, 7.17 percent) said he isn’t running because he wants to help others get elected or, in the case of Hill and Assemblywoman Christy Smith, re-elected.

He said he expects the council races to be competitive, considering that 61 percent of votes cast in 2018 went against any of the three incumbents. “There’s clearly a willingness to change,” he said. “The question is will it be someone handpicked by an incumbent or fresh blood?”

Diane Trautman (fourth place, 16,479 votes, 9.18 percent) said she would run only if district voting exists, and she doesn’t think there’s enough time for that to happen.

“Something needs to be done to change the dynamics here so that more members of this community, and more diverse even than myself, can actually stand a chance at getting on the council, and that’s not going to happen without moving to council districts,” she said. “It’s just outrageously expensive and extremely difficult to raise that money in this environment. The people who are happy with the status quo will give to the people they know will maintain it.”

These three join Brett Haddock (eighth place, 11,427 votes, 6.36 percent), who a month ago said on Facebook he wasn’t going to run.

“I look forward to seeing the field of candidates when the filing period closes next year, and will be a vocal supporter of those I believe have the same values, and hold a desire to move the City of Santa Clarita in a forward direction,” Haddock wrote. “I will also advocate for the city to abandon at-large elections and move to districts. Hopefully, though unlikely, avoiding a costly (California Voting Rights Act) lawsuit. We can look to the city of Moorpark to learn how to transition to a system that better represents Santa Clarita, and facilitate the electing of superior candidates.”

Saugus Union School District Among the Least Funded

| News | April 4, 2019

It’s a story well told but not welcomed: California ranks among the bottom in funding per student. And the Saugus Union School District ranks among the lowest within that low.

Receiving the second smallest amount of money per student per school year in the county, Saugus got just $7,720 per student for the 2016-17 school year, the most recent year available, according to the California Department of Education. Superintendent Colleen Hawkins said only Hermosa Beach City School District received less.

By comparison, the Castaic district got $97 more and Newhall got $258 more. Sulphur Springs got $8,203 per student per year, and Acton-Agua Dulce got $8,885.
The William S. Hart Union High School District got $8,568, but Saugus District spokesman Lee Morrell said it isn’t fair to compare elementary with high school districts.

Nationally, California ranks 45th in percentage of taxable income spent on education, 41st in per-pupil funding, 45th in pupil-teacher ratios and 48th in pupil-staff ratios, according to the California School Boards Association, which cited state and national sources.

What’s a school district to do? Ever since Proposition 13 cut property taxes, districts have struggled. They can’t simply petition the state for more money. First, there’s Proposition 98, which guarantees a minimum level of the state budget must be spent on K-14 education.

The problem, said Assemblywoman Christy Smith (D-Santa Clarita), is that once that minimum level is met, Sacramento lawmakers tend to think of education as being fully funded.

“It has operated as a ceiling instead of a floor, and its intent was to be a floor,” Smith said.

Another problem, according to Smith: Govs. Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom have not been willing to put budget surpluses toward education.

“So, it’s a matter of how do we figure, out of the state’s existing General Fund, a means of finding some savings that could be shifted to the education space,” Smith said.

The problem is the Legislature is often hamstrung from so many ballot propositions over time that require various General Fund monies go to various things.

One legislative attempt to solve the problem was to create a local control funding formula, but because the Great Recession led to some deep cuts in education, the LCFF has only restored funding to pre-2007 levels, Hawkins said. So, Saugus is where it is.

Morrell told a story, possibly apocryphal, that explains why Saugus is so poorly funded: Originally, the district was designated as rural and agricultural, which means less funding than urban districts.

Smith has heard that story, too.

“Some of the funding formulas are pretty archaic, and they don’t meet current circumstances at all, when it comes to what it costs to educate a student given the area,” Smith said.
Nor do the formulas take into account special needs, whether learning, emotional or physical, Smith added.

“It is time to move on to something that makes more sense,” she said.

Saugus took the approach of offering early retirements to its teachers and staff. Hawkins said that when she took over in July, the district was overstaffed by 30 positions. Now, 82 people have taken advantage, including 37 teachers, she said.

The good news was that the district avoided layoffs and has been able to increase its class sizes from 26 to 28 students (the district says on its website there isn’t enough funding for smaller class sizes, and Hawkins said 300 teachers and staff are within five years of retirement age). The bad news is some of the most experienced people left, to be replaced by cheaper, less experienced teachers.

Adding to this is what Hawkins says is a shortage of teachers that can be traced to the Great Recession. Declining enrollment is also a factor. The district expects 184 fewer students next year, Hawkins wrote on the district website.

None of the other area districts resorted to early retirements, although Smith, a former Newhall district trustee, recalled a time when Newhall did.

“It’s getting harder and harder,” Smith acknowledged. “With pension costs creeping up and other impending factors, you’re looking at Saugus having to do some early retirement buyouts. Newhall had to do early retirement buyouts in the past. It doesn’t come without a set of tradeoffs.”
Smith said she’s trying to do something about it, signing on to Assembly Bill 39, which requires the state in 2020-21 to increase its basic funding to $13,462 for K-3 students, $12,377 for grades 4-6, $12,745 for grades 7-8 and $15,152 for grades 9-12. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the national average was $11,392 in 2017-18.

California spends about $10,291 on average, according to the California Budget and Policy Center.

AB 39 currently sits in the Education Committee, of which Smith is a member. A hearing was postponed on March 20, legislative records show.

The California School Boards Association is demanding something be done. It is behind Full & Fair Funding, a petition that calls for providing “the access, resources and supports needed to provide a high-quality education for all public school students.”

It does not specify how much per student that is, but Smith and Hawkins support it. Hawkins, in fact, takes it one step further.

“I have a preference that my students have all the money that we need to provide really robust programs with really qualified teachers, and that things like art and music and counselors and those sorts of things aren’t considered extras but are considered core,” she said. “Whether it’s Full & Fair Funding or AB 39, whichever one gets me to the point where that is an easier option than what I’m faced with now, which is very limited funds and deficit spending.”

Locals React to Barr Summary

| News | March 28, 2019

Move on, Democrats.

That seemed to be the majority sentiment from locals willing to comment on Attorney General William Barr’s four-page summary of the Mueller Report. Barr wrote that there was no direct proof that President Trump or anyone involved with his campaign colluded with Russia to swing the 2016 election, but Trump could not be completely exonerated from suspicions of obstruction of justice.

Conservative Bill Reynolds, who often writes about local veterans and their concerns, and Councilmember Bob Kellar were not surprised at the findings, although Reynolds had the more incendiary words.

“You would think a guy like Adam Schiff would say, ‘OK, let’s get busy with some legislation,’ ” Reynolds said of the Burbank congressman who chairs the House Intelligence Committee and said on CNN in February that there was evidence of collusion. “All they’re doing is resisting Trump’s policy, which is pathetic.”

Kellar seemed grateful at the findings but wishes people would put aside their divisiveness and support Trump as he “works on behalf of all Americans.”

He also doesn’t expect that to happen, either. In fact, the government is nowhere near the type depicted in the 1939 film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

“We’ve been far too divided and his divisiveness has got to stop,” Kellar said. “I have never seen in my years this kind of divisiveness between Democrats and Republicans. For the health of our country, we need to.”

Dave Goss, founder of the Trump Singles dating website, said the Barr summary conclusively pointed to Russia’s role in meddling with the 2016 election, and he believes the Mueller Report will spell it out in detail.

Also, the country needs to examine itself and figure out its role in being duped by the Internet Research Agency’s online trolling, and by being swayed by the emails that surfaced as a result of the Russian government hacking the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton campaign.

“We need to come together and be mad at Russia,” Goss said. “We need to take a look at ourselves. How did we get trolled by Russia, and how do we not let it happen again?”

As for obstruction of justice, Goss said he wants to wait for the report to be released, but he thinks it will show something similar to former FBI director James Comey refusing to prosecute Clinton for storing sensitive material on public servers.

“If (Trump) didn’t collude, why obstruct the investigation?” Goss said. “I don’t think there will be obstruction of justice. We have both Barr and (Deputy Attorney General Rod) Rosenstein saying there’s no evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. Either they (Trump and/or his campaign people) didn’t do it or did it and got away with it.”

It is that last sentiment that many liberals, including Rep. Katie Hill (D-Agua Dulce) seems to cling to. On Monday’s “New Day” on CNN, Hill told anchor Alisyn Camerota that Schiff and Rep Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, do not need to do what Rudy Giuliani says and apologize for publicly commenting that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.

“They’re still stating things that happened in plain sight. The definition of collusion as a legal term is completely nebulous, so I think the suspicions that have been had by Democrats in Congress but by people across the country are completely valid,” Hill said. “Whether it was intentional or not, Trump and his associates were conducting themselves in a way that was highly, highly suspicious, both during the election and after, that made it so this investigation had to happen. I think we’re kind of missing the fact that we have a four-page summary written by the person that was handpicked by Donald Trump to write it in a way that was as favorable as possible. Until we get the full report, and until we get all of the information that surrounds that, I don’t think we should be jumping to any conclusions.”

Hill also seemed very reluctant to acknowledge Trump’s lack of collusion, instead reminding that Trump once encouraged Russia to release the emails. Instead, she pointed to questionable aspects that the Mueller Report didn’t cover that need to be examined, such as how the Trump administration doled out security clearances, proposals to give Saudi Arabia nuclear technology and the policy of separating children at the southern border.

“We have to say, ‘OK, fine, he didn’t directly coordinate with Russia’ moving forward, but now we have evidence over the last two years that the Mueller investigation was not covering that is highly, highly suspicious,” Hill said “It’s so many issues we’ve got to continue our investigations on, and it’s just not related to the Mueller Report.”

Stephen Daniels, a liberal who hosts the “Talk of Santa Clarita” podcast, found it shocking that Mueller didn’t find any conclusive proof of collusion. Daniels equated the findings to the case of O.J. Simpson, who was found not guilty of murdering his ex-wife and her friend despite many people believing otherwise.

“It’s so obvious, the only thing missing is the bloody knife,” Daniels said. “But that being said, it’s time for the Democrats to move on and focus on 2020. Otherwise, we’re going to end up with a 60-percent (Trump) approval rating like (Bill) Clinton had after this impeachment.”

College of the Canyons political science professor Lena Smyth said she plans to discuss the Mueller Report in her classes. She, too, is unsurprised both sides have dug in.

“I feel both sides are reading from it what they want to read from it and taking it to the next level,” Smyth said. “Trump and many Republicans want to say, ‘OK the issue is resolved,’ and the Democrats want to say, ‘Not even close.’ It’s pretty typical of the partisan politics that exists today, and I think in Washington and around the country, things are so incredibly divisive that this just feeds into that.”

Former COC Employee Speaks Out After Seven Years – Recounts ‘Harassment, Intimidation and Retribution’

| News | March 21, 2019

Donna Frayer called herself a golden child at College of the Canyons, a stellar employee and wonderful to work with. She won numerous awards, including Employee of the Year.

But she also considers herself a woman of integrity, and when she saw her bosses engaging in behavior that ranged from questionable to illegal, she spoke up.

As a result, she said, she was subjected to harassment, intimidation and retribution for calling out Vice President of Business Services Sharlene Coleal and school Chancellor Dianne Van Hook on their behaviors.

After suffering through five months of such stress from being labeled unprofessional and insubordinate, and being threatened and pressured from superiors, Frayer resigned amid health issues. She eventually settled and can’t discuss the terms, but she can talk about the events, so seven years later, she is finally speaking out “to bring light and truth to some very nefarious practices.”

Actually, she was always willing to talk about it. She had given up hope that anyone ever would listen. Much of the following is based on 85 pages of documents Frayer, 55, provided the Gazette as well as interviews and emails she gave from her home in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. These documents consist mostly of emails, internal memos, communications to and from law-enforcement officials and attorneys, and the eight-page formal complaint against the Santa Clarita Community College District, Van Hook and Coleal.

Neither Van Hook nor Coleal returned calls for comment. Vice President of Public Information, Advocacy and External Relations Eric Harnish emailed to say the district denied the allegations then and denies them now.

“(Frayer’s) complaints are not new or currently newsworthy,” Harnish wrote. “In the settlement, she withdrew all her complaints. Both she and the District promised not to publicly discuss the settlement or the circumstances surrounding it. The District intends to comply with its commitment, and will make no further comment on this matter.”

Board member Joan MacGregor said she believed Frayer’s account. Former board member Bruce Fortine spoke generally when he said, “I’m definitely disappointed, but I would not be surprised. We have a couple of thousand employees at the college. These kinds of things can happen. We know bullying goes on. People sometimes do naughty things.”

Frayer, then Donna Haywood, had returned to school as a single mother and found a home at COC, graduating in 1999 as valedictorian. She got hired in October that year, eventually moving up to director of budget development. Along the way, she created salary databases to more accurately track budget expenses for all permanent employees.

She said she received numerous letters of commendation from Van Hook, who she considered a mentor. She felt like Canyons was an extended family.

“I planned to stay here until I was old and gray,” she said.

But she wasn’t one to sit quietly if someone behaved badly. Around June 2011, Diane Fiero, the school’s vice president of human resources and someone Frayer considered a best friend, asked Coleal to hire her mother in accounting after she had lost her job at Boeing. According to the documents, Coleal admitted she felt pressured to do so. Frayer said she told Coleal this was a bad idea because of a possible perception of nepotism and misuse of executive authority (Frayer characterized her relationship with Coleal as “contentious.” Fiero didn’t return calls for comment).

A few weeks later, Coleal told Frayer she was in a bind because a more-qualified person was going to be hired, causing Fiero to tearfully beg Coleal to find any spot for her mother or she would lose her house. According to documents, Frayer said she advised Coleal to deny the request because it’s a misuse of funds. Coleal nonetheless hired Fiero’s mother in business services.

In late September 2011, Coleal called various business-services managers in for a meeting in which she first declared everyone was on a break, then proceeded to advise that they needed to endorse Fortine in his board re-election campaign because he had voted to approve their pay raises. The documents provided to the Gazette said she suggested everyone donate a maximum of $99 to Fortine’s campaign so names wouldn’t have to be disclosed. Frayer said she felt “uncomfortable” and “coerced.” Coleal responded, “You’d better not let Dianne hear you say that.” Frayer went silent after that.

The matter wasn’t settled, however, On Oct. 20, during an executive cabinet meeting to discuss how to deal with a $7 million budget shortfall, Coleal walked up to the front of the room, declared everyone was on a break and then said all managers should sign an endorsement letter for Fortine that could be sent to the Signal (Fortine said he did not recall being endorsed for his 2012 election and didn’t know of these meetings).

Frayer said Coleal’s actions of declaring a break are a common ploy used to discuss such matters at work. “However, in her capacity as my boss, she forced us into her office. We didn’t have a choice. We were subjected to it,” Frayer said. “She used her position as our boss to tell us, come to my office, I’m telling you this, this is what you need to do and I expect you to do it.”

According to documents, Frayer was shocked and said Coleal’s actions were coercive and illegal. Fiero said Frayer was being ridiculous, to which Frayer said, “No, it isn’t. This is my boss and you are the VP of HR. Between the two of you, you hold my raises in your hands.”

On Nov. 7, Coleal wrote Frayer an email saying the manner Frayer shared her concerns were “in what I would consider a less than professional manner.”

The next day, Frayer sent a six-page email spelling out her objections to Fiero’s mother’s hiring and Coleal’s asking to endorse Fortine.

“I hope you can see from my detailed recounting of the events above that I have to the best of my ability brought my concerns to you in both a confidential and professional manner…more than once,” she wrote. “My intent in bringing the subject before our management group is simple. I have an obligation as a public servant to be a faithful steward of this district’s financial resources and to bring to light any wrongdoing or misuse of funds if I believe that is what is happening. What you sensed as ‘my tone’ was nothing more than my passion for the truth and my insistence that, as a senior administrator in this organization, you also be accountable for the decisions (within your control) to be a faithful steward as well.”

“Things blew up because I tried to get my boss to do the right thing,” Frayer said this week. “I was naïve. I was stupid. Shame on me.”

On Nov. 9, Frayer asked a district auditor if Coleal’s actions required reporting. Told they were, Frayer forwarded the email. She said that she felt scared that she was going to get in trouble (the investigation ended Dec. 29, auditors finding the complaint “without merit,” the documents said).

Trouble soon began. On Nov. 18, after Frayer had gone home sick, Fiero called and spoke to Frayer’s fiancé (now husband) Jim, who recalled in an email sent Monday that Fiero demanded to speak to Frayer and wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Two statements Fiero made that Jim Frayer recalled were, “I can’t help her if she won’t talk to me” and “This isn’t going to go well for her.”

Three days later, Fiero questioned Frayer for two hours regarding the email’s contents. Frayer said she felt like Fiero was using her position to get Frayer to back off. The meeting ended with Fiero offering to create a job for Frayer in HR, which she declined.

Frayer subsequently forwarded the email to Van Hook, who called her on Dec. 5 to discuss Frayer’s “future” at COC and convince her to consider other “opportunities.” This prompted Frayer to send Van Hook a two-page email detailing why she loved it there.

Other higher-ups also tried to pressure Frayer to take another position; she declined each time.

When she returned from winter break in January 2012, she said she knew things had changed. Coleal had stopped talking to her.

There also was a “status meeting” scheduled for Jan. 4 to discuss “goals for the future.” This had never happened before.

“They were looking for anything to get me on,” Frayer said. “They couldn’t because there wasn’t a current review and my last employee evaluation was stellar. I’m sure she was instructed over the break, ‘How could you have not done a review in the last year and give this girl some goals? … OK, bring her in and give her a bunch of goals that she has to complete by the end of the year. On top of it, add some more of her workload, take some workload off of the other managers and give it to her’ – basically, trying to set me up to fail by giving me all these goals that were never mine to begin with. That was one of the retaliatory things that they did.”

It was during these status meetings that Frayer decided to start recording her conversations with Coleal.

“She’s mad because I outed her and reported on her. Now she’s subjecting me to these status meetings that I knew were going to be contentious, and so my lawyer told me that I had a right to record,” Frayer said. “I got her on tape admitting that she was giving me more work and disciplining me because of the email that I sent about the improper activity. She’s kind of stupid and she doesn’t have a filter on her mouth.”

Frayer made it clear to Coleal in a Jan. 3 email that “I have no desire to change my job duties, workload, assignment, location or supervisor.”

She also referenced the cease-and-desist order Frayer’s attorney had sent to Van Hook that day. In it, Frayer’s attorney, whom she retained out of her own pocket, reminded that these meetings “constitute harassment and intimidation” and that any further meetings must be scheduled so Frayer can have counsel present.

In that status meeting, Coleal outlined 14 goals. These included not acting disrespectfully, not dwelling on issues that have been resolved, not monopolizing meeting time, notifying Coleal when certain tasks are assigned out, teaching people how to use the salary databases and sending monthly updates on these goals.

Perhaps most incendiary were the demands to leave her office door open and remove curtains from the window. Additionally, she was no longer required to attend board budget subcommittee meetings.

On Jan. 6, Coleal disciplined Frayer for asking payroll for copies of Fiero’s mother’s timesheets. “It is also inappropriate to ask Payroll for individual time cards or payment information. You do not need this information to perform your normal duties. You were improperly inquiring into confidential personal information about an employee,” the memo said.

Frayer said this was part of her job. Soon after, she went to the county district attorney’s office to pursue criminal action. She received a response from the Public Integrity Division saying hiring Fiero’s mother is not a crime, but Coleal committed a misdemeanor soliciting a campaign contribution from a fellow employee.

But since the division doesn’t investigate misdemeanor conduct, no criminal charges would be filed, the letter said.

Coleal further disciplined Frayer in the Feb. 2 status meeting, stating Frayer 10 times acted disrespectfully and six times dwelled or brought up issues that have been resolved.

The school also sent a fax to Frayer’s attorney advising her that Frayer’s behavior had become so “disruptive and insubordinate that she is now close to being terminated for cause.”

Instead of firing Frayer, the school sent another fax to the attorney offering a resolution: Frayer would switch to a lower-paying job in academic affairs, serve a one-year probationary period, take part in no union activities for three years, train people on the salary databases, undergo weekly counseling sessions on the school’s dime for six months and release claims of retaliation.

After some back-and-forth counterproposals, Frayer on March 12 declined the offers and decided to remain in her position. She also notified that she had let go her attorney. Frayer told the Gazette it was because she could no longer afford her.

On March 19, Coleal wrote that she had found Frayer’s behavior unacceptable during that day’s status meting. Specifically, she objected to Frayer recording their meetings without her consent.

Frayer responded by writing her conduct was completely professional.

“Since my disclosure of your improper governmental activities in November of 2011, you and the District have engaged in multiple instances of coercion, intimidation, and outright threats to my employment,” she wrote. “You have repeatedly misrepresented my so-called ‘unprofessional behavior’ from the very first day I returned to campus from the holiday break on January 3, 2012. It is clearly evident to me that your intent is to force me out of my position due to my opposition to your improper governmental activity.”

By this time, Frayer was a physical wreck. She had suffered panic attacks for the first time, partly resulting from being told her phone and computer had been bugged. According to the documents, her fibromyalgia worsened, and she suffered from depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, irritability, apathy, social withdrawal, upset stomach/intestinal pain, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, impatience and other symptoms.

She said people told her, “If this can happen to you, there’s no hope for any of us.”

She got married on April 7, but many people didn’t come out of fear it would get back to their bosses or Van Hook.

“So many of them, not just faculty but administrators, classified staff, they were told not to support me for fear of their jobs,” she said. “They understand that there is a culture of retaliation and fear on that campus.”

On April 12, she resigned and prepared to file suit. But state law required mediation first. By then she was so emotionally spent that she didn’t have any fight left. She settled after one day but refused to sign any kind of non-disclosure agreement beyond the settlement terms.

“What (COC) did to me is like being raped, and you’re never going to get me to sign anything for any amount of money that says I wasn’t raped,” she said.

To this day, Frayer has never worked. She tried to find jobs, saying she applied for many positions she felt overqualified for, but never got an interview.

“Here’s the thing: Santa Clarita’s a small town. COC is a big part of that small town,” she said, “and when you burn a bridge at COC, you pretty much burn it anywhere in that town.”

Her husband said they’d make it on one paycheck, and they moved to Texas when he got a job there near the end of 2016.

Every once in a while, somebody calls asking about the case, and Frayer obliges by sending the documents. Then she hears nothing. She insists these inquiries usually come around the time the union negotiates its next contract, although Harnish and faculty president Wendy Brill-Wynkoop denied Frayer’s case ever came up in the last negotiations.

The pain has subsided, but she has been in therapy the last year and a half to work on things, some of which stem from her ordeal.

“I died a thousand deaths and shed a lot of tears,” she said. “I’m in a healthy place. I’m OK with it. I’m trying to convince you it’s true. It’s not my job. Whether or not you believe me doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.”

Katie Hill On Military Funding, CEMEX

| News | March 21, 2019

Katie Hill worried that President Trump, in seeking to reallocate funds from various military construction projects to fund his border wall, would take from Edwards Air Force Base.

Her district was spared, but that didn’t stop Hill (D-Agua Dulce) from bemoaning the California sites the Pentagon included in its pool, including Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in San Diego County and Fort Irwin National Training Center in San Bernardino County.

“Pulling mission-critical military construction funding to sidestep Congress and deliver an unrealistic campaign promise is outrageous,” Hill said in a statement. “Any pull of military funding from California that has already been authorized and appropriated – like Camp Pendleton and Fort Irwin – is a hit to us all. I will vote to override the President’s veto of the House and Senate’s bipartisan refute of this plan that threatens our national security and hurts our communities.”

The Los Angeles Times released the Pentagon’s complete funding list on its website. The 21-page document lists 13 California sites as possible places from which to draw funding.

Included in the criteria are: not using projects in which funding has already been awarded, not using any housing projects, and using only projects that would be funded after Sept. 30.

Hill requests Cemex decision
In an unrelated matter, Hill has requested the Department of the Interior’s Board of Land Appeals make an immediate decision on the future of the Cemex mine.

In a letter to Acting Secretary David Bernhardt provided by Hill’s office, Hill asked for his help in bringing about a resolution.

“While I recognize that this is an administrative judicial process outside of the direct scope of your office, any assistance that you can provide in facilitating an early decision would be most welcomed,” Hill wrote.

The Sand Canyon-based mine has been a source of contention between the city and Mexico-based Cemex. The company has for decades wanted to mine 56 million net tons of gravel and sand from it; the city has resisted. There have been lawsuits and involvement from various officials, including former Reps. Buck McKeon and Steve Knight. Most recently, the Bureau of Land Management canceled the contracts for Cemex to mine; the organization has appealed.

Steve Petzold: Menace or Misunderstood?

| News | March 14, 2019

They’re called “cure and correct letters,” and they’re the latest tool local activist Steve Petzold is using to effect change.

So far, Petzold, 61, has had some success. Two school districts acknowledged Petzold was the impetus for making a change to their website to comply with state law. A third district did not directly credit Petzold, but evidence shows changes were made after Petzold wrote the letters.

For Petzold, it’s just another day being a lone watchdog.

“I reside in all three of the districts, and I feel, as a resident, I have a civic obligation and duty to watch what’s going on,” he said. “If no one watches, the taxpayers may be abused.”

Petzold’s latest crusade stems from the Brown Act, which governs meetings conducted by local legislative bodies and presumes public access unless specifically excepted. An addendum that went into effect January 1 requires that all meetings subject to the Act post a link to the latest agenda on their website homepage.

The law further says that any person may demand in writing, within 30 days of the meeting, that the legislative body “cure and correct” any action taken at a meeting whose agenda wasn’t properly linked on the homepage. That usually means the actions are declared null and void and have to be revisited during future meetings. The legislative body then has 30 days to respond.

Petzold first set his sights on College of the Canyons, a district with which he has a long history that includes complaining about bond Measure E, making a video in which he fired an air rifle at a district map while wearing a black T-shirt with an illustration of a helmet from the movie “300” and two machine guns crossed to look like a skull and bones; resulting in having a restraining order placed against him.

In a Feburary 5 letter that was amended and resent February 11, Petzold claimed the COC website did not have a direct link to the agenda for the January 16 board meeting. He wrote similar letters to the William S. Hart Union High School (February 8) and the Saugus Union (March 5) districts, then wrote letters to COC (February 9) and Saugus (March 6) asserting that their bond oversight committees’ lacked links.

He received responses each time. Debbie Dunn, executive assistant to Hart superintendent Vicki Engbrecht, acknowledged the Brown Act violation of no direct link to the January 10 meeting agenda on the district’s home page.

Saugus and COC did not admit to Brown Act violations, but Saugus Public Information Officer Lee Morrell said Petzold’s letter caused the district to add links called “Board Agendas” and “Measure EE Agendas” on its homepage.

“If a person felt uncomfortable that it wasn’t delivering what they needed it to deliver, then we should try and find a solution that better delivered what our constituent needs,” Morrell said.

The links on COC’s website also became more prominent after Petzold wrote his letters. Vice President of Public Information, Advocacy & External Relations Eric Harnish would not acknowledge Petzold was the reason, however.

“You can read into it what you want,” Harnish said. “I’m going to leave it at that.”

Petzold sent the Gazette Harnish’s response letters that included, “The link has recently been made more prominent.”

Petzold acknowledges that it’s not always easy being the only one loudly keeping these legislative bodies honest. “I feel like I’ve sacrificed somewhat on a personal and business level for bringing up some of these things,” the Realtor said. “My wife said, ‘You’re supposed to be making friends.’ ”

He isn’t, and while no one said they dislike him to his face, he says he reads body language that says, “Wow, you again? You just won’t go away.”

But that doesn’t mean his efforts aren’t appreciated.

“I don’t consider anyone whose first agenda is to make sure that a governing body like this is doing its job ever to be a pain in the butt,” Morrell said.

And from COC board member Edel Alonso, “I really appreciate a member of the community who demonstrates an interest in the college, and I mean that sincerely.”

So, Petzold will continue to be a muckraker, a one-man opposition crew and a crusading skeptic who doesn’t take anyone’s word for it and continually digs up research for what he considers is the truth.

“It’s a little bit at a time. It’s a little bit at a time,” he said. “When you’re doing what I do, it’s rare that you get a home run.”

Master’s University Lays off 11 Faculty – School’s Accreditation Remains on Probation

| News | March 14, 2019

The Master’s University, already struggling with some of its management practices, will lay off 11 faculty members and the executive secretary at the end of this school year, according to unnamed sources and a tweet.

This is on top of the news that the school’s accreditation will remain on probation. The Western Association of Schools and College’s Senior College and University Commission placed the school on probation last year because of a “pervasive culture and climate of fear, intimidation, bullying, and uncertainty among significant numbers of faculty and staff,” “a pattern of seemingly arbitrary personnel actions … with a lack of due process and in violation of existing (school) Employee and Faculty Handbooks” and too-cozy relationships between board members and the college president, according to the report.

It appears these two events are unrelated, the sources said.

School Director of Communications Brian Harr did not return calls for comment, nor did the school make available Sharon Staats, the longtime secretary of President John MacArthur who was named in a tweet from Karen Cardwell under the name The Master’s Reject as being let go.

The tweet also cited falling enrollment as the reason that the school will lay off 11 faculty members and Staats.

“How do they reconcile this with their recent ad touting ‘expansion & growth?’” the tweet ended.

A Nov. 2 article from the school’s website touts an increase in enrollment “and looking at an even bigger increase next year.”

A Facebook post attributed to Donna Laubacher Morley said in part, “I never thought in a million years Sharon Staats (MacArthur’s secretary) would be let go. The school ran efficiently because of her.”

Local Radio Host Attends CPAC

| News | March 7, 2019

Local conservative radio talk-show host Joe Messina attended last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md., and heard most of President Donald Trump’s more-than-two-hour speech.

Messina was there as host of his show, “The Real Side.” He said he attends every year and interviews a wide variety of people.

But it was Trump’s two-hour, 18-minute speech that caught the most attention. Late-night hosts lampooned the president for hugging the flag and for rambling on. In the context of the speech, Messina didn’t have a problem with the flag hugging.

“He talks about loving America,” Messina said. “You can’t hug the country. Why not hug the flag? I don’t see why it’s a big deal.”

Messina said Trump also spoke about former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, saying Ryan was always more moderate than conservative. Messina said Trump’s swipes at Ryan were “well deserved.”

Messina said Trump missed an opportunity to reach out to the vast numbers of young people who attended. As he recalled, Trump encouraged people to elect “people that love this country and want to work with us,” but Messina said he thought Trump could have hammered that point home a bit better to the youth.

Katie Hill On Hearings, Hypocrisy

| News | March 7, 2019

Katie Hill has been a congresswoman for two months and she’s already sick and tired of the hypocrisy.

As vice chair of the House Oversight Committee, she had a front-row seat as Michael Cohen testified last week. While she found him believable, she didn’t like what she saw and heard from her Republican counterparts.

“When the GOP members were suggesting, ‘He’s a liar, you can’t believe him,’ the part that they failed to mention – and this was getting under my skin, quite a bit – was he was lying and got convicted of lying for protecting the president,” Hill said Sunday during a 29-minute interview as she drove in Agua Dulce. “That’s exactly what it was related to, so when he stopped lying to protect the president, that’s what they’re upset about.”

Hill wasn’t done yet, saying the Republican Party that she knew as a child (and her father joined) is not the same.

“The reason he was a part of the Republican Party was because it was supposed to be the party of law and order and protecting our country. That doesn’t even seem to register as part of the calculation anymore,” she said. “It’s all about defending Trump and it’s about what has to happen to protect him, as opposed to getting to any kind of truth. It’s just mind-blowing.”
Another place she called out hypocrisy was first mentioned in the online magazine Politico, in which she called out Republicans for using a tactic called “motion to recommit.” In the House, the minority party uses this as a way to send a bill back to committee or add a late amendment right before the final vote. Hill says this tactic doesn’t allow members to read the amendment before it’s added to the bill, so a blind vote could come back to hurt a congressperson in some future election.

“Clearly [Republicans] are doing this as a ploy and not because [they] actually give a s–t about the issue,” Hill was quoted. She told the Gazette that she knows Democrats have used the same tactic when they’re in the minority. She added she would like to see the rules amended to give members at least 24 hours to read the amendment’s text.

She said there’s even more hypocrisy within the moderate Republicans, some of whom have told her that they despise Trump but publicly support him. She refused to name names but expressed hope that these members would remember the oath they swore to the Constitution as more important than re-election and holding onto their power.

“The way the districts are gerrymandered, it puts the most conservative people into these concentrated districts, it makes it hard for these Republicans,” she said. “They’re so afraid of being primaried and the power Trump holds within the Republican base. They don’t think they can separate from him.”

As for the president, Hill said she was glad he walked away with no deal from North Korea rather than take a bad deal. But she was highly critical of Trump, using Cohen’s testimony regarding signed checks that Cohen said was used to pay off porn star Stormy Daniels to state that Trump committed crimes.
She acknowledged that there is a presumption of innocence, even for a president, but added, “When you have evidence of checks that were signed while he was in office, related to the cover-up of payments that we know for a fact were made, that’s where the presupposition of innocence starts to fade away. Does that mean he’s going to be convicted of it, that he’s going to be charged with a crime? No, not necessarily, but it certainly is a disturbing indication that that was the case.”

She also acknowledged that Hillary Clinton committed crimes, as former FBI Director James Comey testified in 2016. Clinton has never been prosecuted, something Trump and his supporters often mention.

Hill said Trump’s alleged transgressions are far worse, and the severity must be taken into account.

“Coordinating with a foreign entity to manipulate elections or to influence aspects of foreign policy, I have serious concerns about,” she said. “That is a far different thing than using an email server, or even committing campaign finance violations.”

Other topics she discussed:

–The Mueller Report should be made public, except for ancillary people who aren’t criminally accused and would be harmed by having their names publicized. Yet the current law only requires the attorney general to make only a summary report available to Congress. Hill said she’s willing to negotiate on who sees the full report, suggesting that maybe only the Intelligence and Judiciary committees (she sits on neither). But ideally, Congress decides.

“Even if he doesn’t make the report public, that will not be the end of it,” she said. “We will find a way, whether we have to subpoena members or other figures. We will find a way of getting that information out there.”

–Impeachment is a non-starter until the Mueller Report is finished. But all bets are off once it’s released.

“Ultimately, impeachment is a political process as much as it is anything else,” she said. “If we think the information that comes out of the Mueller Report are warranting of impeachment, then the American people need to be on board with that as much as the representatives in Congress. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter.”

–The original intent to overturn the president’s emergency declaration was to see how many Republicans would join the Democrats. Thirteen House Republicans voted with the Democrats, and four Republican senators plan to do the same when the bill reaches their floor. That’s not enough to override an expected Trump veto, but Hill said there might be more defectors once it becomes clear exactly from where Trump will divert funds to build his wall.

“Armed Services (a committee Hill serves on) is going to start looking into the military construction projects that are going to be pulled due to the emergency declaration,” she said. “Some of them might be impacting them right here at Edwards (Air Force Base). We’ll have to see what that looks like. What we do know is that it’s going to absolutely impact military-family housing and other critical infrastructure projects for our bases and for the men and women serving our country, and their families. I think that could be the tipping point.”

–The Oversight Committee soon will look into the process by which White House security clearances were authorized. Hill said it’s not known if Jared Kushner will be called to testify.

She also wants to hold hearings on prescription drugs and Aliso Canyon.

Local Team Wins State Cup

| Sports | March 7, 2019

A local club soccer team won the prestigious Cal South State Cup tournament over the weekend. It’s the first such title for the club, the coach said.

The girls 2007 team from Fútbol Foundation Santa Clarita outscored its opponents 31-5 in eight games to capture the Governors Division. Sixty teams started the tournament, and FFSC was left standing after beating the Apple Valley Soccer Club Storm 3-2.

Kayla Lugo led all team members in goals, and goalie Sierra Cordola amassed five shutouts and even scored a goal in the final.

Other top players include twins Gianna and Bella Costello. Gianna assisted on Bella Bruno’s goal in the final, and Bella Costello helped anchor the defense. Ava Magana scored the first goal in the final.

At this age, the teams field only nine players at a side and play on smaller fields. Coach Adam Waddell said FFSC will move up to 11-on-11.

Overcoming Obstacles – Shelby Jacobs’ Journey from Segregation to NASA

| News | March 7, 2019

Shelby Jacobs encountered racism and segregation growing up in the Santa Clarita Valley in the 1940s and ’50s. He couldn’t get jobs in places his white peers could, he lived in a segregated area, and he worked for some of his Hart High classmates.

While other African Americans he knew felt victimized, resentful and angry, he never let it bother him, becoming class president before moving on to UCLA, where he became one of the first black mechanical engineers.

His claim to fame is developing the camera system used to photograph the separation of the parts of the Saturn rockets in the Apollo program for NASA. A famous photo and film from the unmanned Apollo 6, launched the day Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, shows parts falling away against a backdrop of the Earth’s curvature – the first time there was visual proof that our planet is round.

Today, Jacobs is 83 and lives in Oceanside. An exhibit at the Columbia Memorial Space Center in Downey called “Achieving the Impossible: The Life and Dreams of Shelby Jacobs” runs until the end of this month.

NASA named him an unsung hero in 2009. He truly remains a hidden figure, one of many black people who helped the country achieve greatness in the space race.

“I developed a reputation early in life, self-confidence based on my ability to perform at a level equal to or better than my peers,” he said by telephone from his home. “That’s what I did in high school. When I (went) in industry, I did the same thing. I never suffered from a lack of self-confidence that I could do whatever was required to do. I became known as a can-do kind of guy.”

Jacobs was born in Texas and moved to Val Verde in 1945. At the time, Val Verde was one of the few places opened to black people. Jacobs recalled it was the only place between Los Angeles and Bakersfield.
According to a 1984 Los Angeles Times article, “it was one of only a few places blacks could go for recreation, others being Lake Elsinore in Riverside County, a section of Venice Beach and a park in Pasadena that was open to blacks one day a year.”

Jacobs fondly recalled one massive swimming pool there that was nicer than any other pool in the county, other than the one near the Coliseum used for the 1932 Olympics.

“We were the envy of the area because we had an Olympic sized pool,” he said. “Little did they know it was put there to keep us out of other recreational venues. Blacks were sometimes angry (at that).”

He attended Castaic Elementary but did not recall the Confederate flag that flew over Interstate 5 at that time. At Hart, he was one of three black students in his 65-person class. Inside the school walls and on the athletic fields, he excelled, starring in track, basketball and football. He also was elected senior class president.

“He was quite an athlete,” friend Susan Davy remembered.

Outside the school was a different story. His summertime job prospects were slimmer than his white counterparts. While they could work at gas stations or the phone company, his options were limited to busing tables Tip’s Restaurant in Castaic Junction or picking watermelons, cantaloupes and potatoes in the fields.

He would do yard work at the Davy’s home. At the same house, his college-educated mother worked as a maid because she couldn’t find any other work.

“There was considerable class difference between myself and Susan,” he said. “I went to school with people I worked for, my parents worked for.”

When he earned a scholarship to study mechanical engineering at UCLA, Hart Principal George Harris warned Jacobs that there weren’t any black engineers, so his job prospects would be limited.

The second-class treatment was evident, but Jacobs never let it get him down.

“I never exhibited anger because I found out anger only affects me,” he said. “It doesn’t solve the problem, so I refused to be angry about what was going on historically, up to and including now. It was only causing me to harbor anger and hatred, and they would be directed at people who may be innocent of the problems.”

He studied at UCLA for three years but left before graduation to take a job at Rocketdyne in Canoga Park. According to the Los Angeles Times, only eight of the 5,000 engineers were black.

He faced discrimination and racial comments, and earned a lower salary.

In 1961, Jacobs transferred to Rockwell in Downey, where he spent the next 35 years until retiring as upper management in 1996.

It was at Rockwell that he helped design the camera system. He said it was because NASA wanted proof that the parts of the Saturn rocket would safely separate and not damage the vehicle. This was important because President Kennedy had set the goal of reaching the moon before the decade ended, and this was a necessary step.

“The Apollo Saturn (rocket) was the most powerful thing we’d ever built,” he said. “We had to make sure the camera system would endure the environment.”

NASA has said that the separation film and photo are among the most viewed in history.

And it all started in the Santa Clarita Valley.

“I was inclined to be temperamentally suited,” he said. “Many blacks that I knew, historically (and) all my life, had reasons to be angry about our conditions, from slavery (forward). I tended to find the people as divine intervention. I was disposed not to be angry because I had to live in Val Verde.

“I was able to assimilate without carrying the baggage of how ugly the underbelly was/is.”

COC Faculty Union Reaches Tentative Agreement

| News | March 1, 2019

The Santa Clarita Community College District and College of the Canyons Faculty Association have reached a tentative deal on a new two-year contract, the union’s chief negotiator said.

According to Garrett Hooper, the union secured a 3.71-percent raise for academic year 2018-19, which ends June 30, and another raise tied to the state’s cost of living adjustment (currently 3.46 percent) for academic year 2019-20.

Additionally, the faculty will now be paid the same rate for work inside and outside the classroom (called “non-instructional rate,” it was paid $17 an hour less, Hooper said), and the hourly pay rate for teaching summers and winters (called “overload”) will increase from $70.91 to about $75, and this will increase at the same rate as what the adjunct faculty union negotiates for its members.

There are 11 non-compensation aspects, too, upon which the sides had previously agreed. These include counselor workloads, evaluations and enrollment caps.

The union had wanted a 5.5-percent raise but accepted less to increase the overload and non-instructional pay rates. The 3.71 percent is exactly what the district offered.

“We’ve negotiated the best deal we thought we could achieve, and that’s all we can do,” Hooper said. “There may be folks that are disappointed we didn’t get the 5.5, but negotiations is just that, and compromise has to be made. We believe that we got something the faculty can support.”

It remains to be seen if the faculty will vote to approve the contract. Hooper said that he will hold several informational meetings over the next two weeks (the first one was scheduled for Wednesday). After that, the union will have two weeks to vote.

Eric Harnish, the school’s vice president, public information, advocacy and external relations, was neutral in his comment about the agreement.

“Our mediation discussions have been positive, and we’re confident the conclusion of the process will result in a fair and positive outcome that reflects the critical role of our faculty members in affecting student success,” Harnish said in an email.

Before this agreement was reached, the sides had declared an impasse, which union leaders said has never happened before. The union rhetoric also started to sound more like the antagonism associated with the battle between United Teachers Los Angeles and is school district.

There was picketing and demonstrations for the first time. Teachers wore green T-shirts and carried green signs that said, “Fair Contract Now.”

“We feel a lack of respect. It’s pervasive and it’s systemic,” Hooper said. “This is what has outraged faculty the most. One way you show respect and value is by honoring the hard work through the paycheck, through the salaries. Now, more than ever, it’s time to do that. … “What we’re asking for is quite reasonable. Our position is the district has the money to honor the faculty. We’re tired of what we believe is constant disrespect.”

The tentative agreement also means the sides don’t have to go to fact finding, in which both sides would have justified their positions in front of a neutral panel of independent arbiters from the Public Employee Relations Board. The panel would have made recommendations to the district board of directors, Hooper said, and the board could have accepted or rejected them.

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