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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.”

Santa Clarita Valley Mayors Prayer Breakfast Returns in May

| News | April 18, 2019

The 2019 Mayors Prayer Breakfast, presented by The Diako Group, will take place in conjunction with the National Day of Prayer on Thursday, May 2 at 7 a.m.

Writers and Producers Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman, known for God’s Not Dead, will be present at the event and discussing the topic of prayer in Hollywood. Their faith-based production company Believe Entertainment aims to produce films which “honor God and strengthen family values.”

Also present at the event will be special guest Niamani Knight, a local teen who founded the nonprofit organization “S.T.R.E.A.M” while she was in high school. She will be discussing her faith as it relates to her success in reaching thousands of young people through her nonprofit.

Registration begins at 6:30 a.m., with the event beginning promptly at 7 a.m. Breakfast is included with ticket purchase. For more information about the event, or to purchase tickets, visit www.scvmpb.net.

The Diako group is a 501c3 nonprofit working to help young people take their place as community leaders, movers and shakers.

Emergency Locating System Markers Added to City Trails

| News | April 18, 2019

Trail users in Santa Clarita will now be easier to find during emergencies – even in the city’s vast open space hiking areas – thanks to a new Emergency Locating System recently launched by the City of Santa Clarita. As part of the system, a total of 658 markers have been posted every 1/8 mile on all city trails, including bike paths and hiking trails.

The trail markers provide a quick and easy way to convey a location during an emergency situation. Each marker displays a specific number which designates its location. These numbers correspond to a GIS map that first responders can use to locate the emergency. When a hiker or cyclist provides an emergency operator with the designated number, the operator will be able to pinpoint the location and know where to dispatch emergency personnel.

This new Emergency Locating System will cut down response times during emergency situations. After over a year and a half of planning and design, the system is now in place and ready to be used by residents and visitors who are out enjoying the city’s trails.

For more information on the Emergency Locating System, visit santa-clarita.com/emergencylocator or email gis@santa-clarita.com.

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.

Councilmember Laurene Weste Provides Testimony In Support of H.R. 1708

| News | April 4, 2019

Santa Clarita Councilmember Laurene Weste visited Washington, D.C. last Tuesday to provide testimony in support of House Resolution 1708, the Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act. The testimony was presented at a legislative hearing held by the Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. H.R. 1708 was introduced by Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA-28) on March 13, and proposes to expand the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA) to include a proposed Rim of the Valley Corridor Unit, which includes portions of Santa Clarita Valley.

“H.R. 1708 is important to our [Santa Clarita] community because it provides a solid pathway for the federal government to more fully participate as a partner with the City of Santa Clarita and other stakeholders in the region to significantly augment our collective open space, park lands, historical sites and trails,” said Councilmember Weste in her testimony.

Before the hearing, Councilmember Weste met with Representative Katie Hill (D-CA-25) this morning, a co-sponsor of H.R. 1708, to discuss the Councilmember’s testimony in support of the bill.

Councilmember Weste testified that the bill would enable the National Park Service to better protect natural resources and habitats and provide members of the community with improved access to nature for recreational and educational purposes.

“With the availability of state park bond resources and local resources, such as Santa Clarita’s Open Space Preservation District, this bill can lead to leveraging modest federal investments, which will yield high levels of return by creating and enhancing amenities that residents and businesses value in making their decisions to locate in our community and surrounding areas. I urge your support for H.R. 1708,” said Councilmember Weste in her closing words.

A link to a video recording of the hearing can be found online at the Natural Resources Committee website at NaturalResources.house.gov/hearings.

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.”

Councilman Bob Kellar Officiates Installation of the New Salvation Army Advisory Board Officers

| News | March 21, 2019

The Santa Clarita Valley Salvation Army Advisory Board Annual Meeting and The New 2019 – 2020 Advisory Board Officers. Pictured left to right: Envoy in Charge at The Salvation Army – Jerry Bloom, Secretary – Lisa Espindola, Vice Chair – Tami Pena, Chair – Michele Ewing, Treasurer – Rebecca Widdison, City of Santa Clarita Councilmember – Bob Kellar.

The Santa Clarita Valley Salvation Army held its annual Advisory Board meeting Monday evening to celebrate the achievements of this past years fundraising and volunteer efforts and to install its new 2019 – 2020 Advisory Board Officers. Through fundraising and volunteer efforts, The Advisory Board Officers and The Advisory Board Members work with The Santa Clarita Valley Salvation Army Core to serve the underserved throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.

Located on Lyons Avenue in Newhall, The Santa Clarita Valley Salvation Army provides Spiritual Counseling and Encouragement, along with basic social services helping the homeless and those in need.

For more information on all of The Services Provided by The Santa Clarita Valley Salvation Army or how you can donate to the Salvation Army, be a Salvation Army Volunteer, or become a Corporate Sponsor, visit https://santaclarita.salvationarmy.org.

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.”

Canyons Students Provide Free, Certified Tax Preparation

| News | March 14, 2019

Business accounting students from College of the Canyons will provide free tax preparation services to qualifying members of the community as part of the federal government’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.

This volunteer program is sponsored by the IRS and designed to help low to moderate income households. College of the Canyons is participating in this program to both assist local community members and provide business accounting students with hands-on working experience in their chosen field.

COC’s certified student volunteers will be preparing and e-filing federal and state income tax returns every Saturday through April 13. Experienced tax practitioners and IRS agents will also be on site to assist with quality review. Visitors are welcome by appointment or walk-in.

The service will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every Saturday through April 13, 2019. The tax preparation will be held at COC’s Valencia Campus in Hasley Hall, Room 233, located at 26455 Rockwell Canyon Road, Santa Clarita, CA 91355.

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.

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.

No More Neighborhood Voting Precincts

| News | February 28, 2019

Get ready to say goodbye to neighborhood voting precincts and welcome voting centers.

Starting with the March 2020 primary, citizens will go to any of the vote-center locations in Los Angeles County to cast their ballots. They can vote on primary day or up to 11 days before. Or they can vote by mail.

According to Mark Meuser, a Republican constitutional law attorney based in the Bay Area who ran for Secretary of State, it’s about time.

“I think vote centers, based upon where elections are in the state of California and the direction we’re going, I think vote centers is a necessary choice that we need to make,” he said.

Senate Bill 450 (also known as the Voter’s Choice Act) passed in 2016 and called for counties to offer voters more choices in how they could cast ballots. These included vote centers and mail-in ballots. Madera, Napa, Nevada, Sacramento and San Mateo counties held elections using this format in 2018.

Under the new system, according to the website vsap.lavote.net and Meuser, everyone will receive a ballot in the mail. Voters may simply fill it out and mail it back in the postage-paid envelope, but it must be received no later than three days after the election.

Or they can go to any vote center (locations have yet to be finalized; Meuser said Uber and Lyft give free rides to the polls on election days) and cast a paper ballot there.

As Meuser sees it, the advantages to such a system include lower election costs, better-trained personnel, convenience for voters and increased machine oversight.

Meuser mentioned an Orange County cost analysis that showed traditional voting methods cost between $23.4 million and $40 million; vote centers would cost between $8.5 million and $14.1 million.

Meuser said most of the election problems he sees occur at precincts because of limited training the poll workers get. With voting centers, the workers will get more training, and since the centers are open for 11 days, there’s time to work out problems before the expected Election-Day crunch.

“We live in a transient society where people may want to vote close to work, close to home, on their way from point A to point B as they run errands,” Meuser said.

And for those people worried about the voting machines themselves, Meuser said there would be fewer machines, thus making it easier to protect them.

“When it comes to technology breakdowns, you got 1,000 machines versus 100 machines,” he said. “For security purposes, it’s a lot easier to secure 100 machines than 1,000 machines. It’s a lot easier to secure something for 10 days in one location than one day in 1,000 locations.”

One problem that has plagued elections, Meuser said, is provisional ballots, and this system eliminates such ballots. In the past, a voter received a provisional ballot if he or she went to the wrong polling place or tried to vote at a poll place while listed as an absentee (mail-in) voter.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, provisional ballots are “a fail-safe mechanism for voters whose eligibility is uncertain.” In California, a provisional ballot is rejected if the signature cannot be verified, but Meuser said the plan is for additional county registrar workers to verify signatures.

Meuser ran for Secretary of State on a platform that incumbent Alex Padilla did a terrible job of keeping voter rolls accurate. He acknowledged that this system isn’t foolproof, and that it is possible for people to research names of people who haven’t yet voted (perhaps because they’re dead) and go to various voting stations and vote several times as several people, since the law doesn’t require ID checks.

Attorney Eric Early, who ran for attorney general, also thinks the system is OK on its face, but he has some concerns. These include busloads and caravans bringing people to vote a certain way, long waits on par with the Department of Motor Vehicles and intimidation at these voting centers.

“I’m concerned about the potential to lead to fraud and voting abuse,” he said.

Meuser said that if somebody votes, the computerized system will not allow a duplicate vote for that same name. And each ballot has a bar code that, when scanned, will disallow a duplicate vote.

“We are going to know who won on Election Day, which is a win for the integrity of elections in California,” Meuser said.

COC Board Cited for Lack of Self-Evaluation

| News | February 21, 2019

After Edel Alonso won election to the College of the Canyons board of trustees in 2016, she said she noticed that the board’s policy is to conduct annual self-evaluations. In looking at past meeting agendas and minutes, she found the board had not performed them seven times since 2004.

“The timing, I think, is off,” she said. “If we have a board policy that says it should be done, annually, I’m very uncomfortable when we don’t do it annually. If there’s a rule, we should follow it.”

Documents the Gazette obtained and interviews with various board members show no self-evaluation took place in 2006, 2009, 2011 and 2014-17, although the 2013 evaluation was completed in 2014.

Board self-evaluations are one of many factors in determining a college’s accreditation. Although Canyons has always earned full accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and College’s Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), there is some concern that could change in the next accreditation cycle, in 2022.

“In our accreditation documents, (the ACCJC has) cited the board for not having appropriate, scheduled and authentic evaluations on a regular basis, but then another accreditation cycle comes through and they haven’t remedied it yet,” faculty president Wendy Brill-Wynkoop said. “The accreditation has a standard that the board needs to maintain, independent of the administration.”

The ACCJC’s Standard IV.C.10 requires colleges to have board self-evaluation policies and procedures as a prerequisite for accreditation. As COC board member Joan MacGregor explained it, “We make the decisions on how the (public) money is spent. We are the final decision-making body for the budget, for personnel, for facilities, for the various things that are going to affect the students in the classroom. The board needs to make sure that we have our goals set.”

The nonprofit Community College League of California’s trustee handbook says boards must have “regular” evaluations. COC’s Board Policy 2745 reads, “The Board is committed to assessing its own performance as a board in order to identify its strengths and areas in which it may improve its functioning and will do so on an annual basis.”

There are no rules that state where meetings must take place, but they must be public and properly posted, per the Brown Act. In the past, documents show, evaluation meetings have occurred on campus but also at board member Michael Berger’s house, Newhall Land and Farming and the Oaks Club of Valencia when it was called TPC Valencia. (Berger declined comment, citing unrelated union negotiations that have reached an impasse.)

To earn accreditation, which lasts six years, the ACCJC requires member colleges to carry out a self-study, compose a report, and undergo peer review. In short, the ACCJC process consists of two elements: the college evaluating itself and the ACCJC evaluating the college. Self-study differs from self-evaluation in that the entire college – all departments and programs – examines itself in the context of the ACCJC’s policies, eligibility requirements and standards. After the college writes the report, a team of educators visits the school, conducts interviews with various people, including the board, and examines evidence.

Based on all information gathered, the visiting team takes action by writing a report and determining accreditation. It can make recommendations or issue sanctions. Recommendations require attention or risk future sanctions, which don’t cost a school its accreditation, but the ACCJC withholds reaffirmation until it’s satisfied the college has adequately addressed the issues that caused the sanction in the first place.

This happened at The Master’s University last year, when the Western Association put the accreditation on probation 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.

COC has never been sanctioned, but it received recommendations pertaining to its irregular board self-evaluations in 2002, 2008 and 2013, documents show.

It is the 2013 episode that most alarms Brill-Wynkoop and MacGregor.

The accreditation team noted that meetings in June, September and October mention discussions but no proof of any goals or action plans.

“Concerning the Board’s self-evaluation process, the Board has not fully benefitted from the guidance received in 2002 and 2008 visiting teams, and would benefit from specific improvements in its process,” the report said. “In order to increase institutional effectiveness, the team recommends that the Board formalize and adhere to a regular cycle of review for Board policies.”

Following this, then-board president Michele Jenkins wrote to the visiting team chairman that the board held eight self-evaluation meetings between 2008 and Oct. 14, 2014, the date of her letter. Brill-Wynkoop and MacGregor believe that was a lie.

Still, after Jenkins’ letter, the ACCJC reaffirmed the school’s accreditation and disregarded the recommendation. “The Commission noted that the policies are in fact reviewed annually by the College Executive Cabinet and forwarded to the board only when revisions are needed,” a letter from the ACCJC to the college President Dianne Van Hook dated Feb. 6, 2015 said. “Therefore, the Commission acted to set aside this team recommendation.”

“If you read the whole visiting-team report, which is almost 80 pages, and you read the final letter, which again are both public, it’s hard to reconcile the two because there’s problems that just disappeared between the two,” Brill-Wynkoop said. “And then they (visiting team) jump in their car and they go away, and then a week later Michele Jenkins writes this letter saying, ‘Whoops I misspoke, we really are doing them and here is all the evidence,’ but there isn’t any evidence.”

MacGregor said she told Jenkins publicly that she thought Jenkins had lied.

“If you read the letter and then you look back at the minutes, we did not have a board evaluation. We didn’t have the things that were stated,” MacGregor said. “Lying is a hard word, but definitely not truthful, not completely truthful in that letter. I never had the chance to see the letter to the accreditation committee.”

Jenkins said she recalled the letter when parts were read to her. “We’ve done self-evaluations. I don’t know if we’ve done them every year. We do do them,” she said.

She then asked who’s requiring annual board evaluations. Told it’s Board Policy 2745, she responded, “If it actually says we’re gonna do it on an annual basis, we need to decide are we really going to do it on an annual basis or modify policy?”

ACCJC President Richard Winn said writing such a letter is rare. A school also is allowed to challenge the report by showing new evidence that could lead to a different conclusion.

“You have evidence that those board evaluations didn’t really happen? It’s entirely possible that that evidence was not known to either the commission or the team at the time the decision was taken,” Winn said. “Accreditation is a human enterprise. We do the best we can.”

The ACCJC underwent controversy of its own during this time after it threatened in 2012 to revoke accreditation to City College of San Francisco, citing problems with fiscal management, governance, student services and technology. What ensued were two lawsuits, a state audit, a federal reprimand and the retirement of the ACCJC president.

Winn declined to speculate a link between the ACCJC’s turmoil and the COC accreditation report’s irregularities.

“The team deals only with recommendations. It does not determine the final action taken by the commission,” he said. “The commission will often weigh the significance of a finding, they will calibrate it with decisions they’ve made on other institutions where similar issues have arisen.”

After years of no self-evaluation, the board completed one in 2018. Alonso said the board used a 62-question survey in which each board member rated himself/herself and the board as a whole on a five-point scale. She said she objected to this instrument because she found the definitions of each rating point (unsatisfactory, below average, average, above average, excellent) unclear. Plus, she wanted all questions to reflect the three authorities that govern the board: its policies, the state Education Code and the ACCJC standards.

MacGregor said the evaluation lacked specific goals.

“There should be an evaluation instrument that was used to (determine) how are we going to improve our interaction and communication,” she said, “but also how are we going to improve the actual meetings themselves to make them more productive? What are the committee assignments? Where is our budget? What are we doing to expand our networking and advocacy abilities?”

The board has not yet undertaken its self-evaluation for 2019, but Brill-Wynkoop said she knows what she wants to see.

“The board needs to maintain independence and transparency so that as a public institution, we know that our tax dollars are being spent appropriately,” she said, “and I think this is an example of where there isn’t transparency.”

Two COC Students Make Finals at American College Theatre Festival

| News | February 21, 2019

Gazette Editor and College of the Canyons student Sarah Farnell made history when she and fellow COC student Fox Smith

Mark Cortez (left) and Fox Smith (right)

were named Region VIII finalists in the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival’s Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship competition. It was the first time COC students reached the finals.

The regional festival, which brings together 400 students from various public and private two-year, undergraduate and graduate programs from Arizona, Central and Southern California, Hawaii, Southern Nevada, Guam and Utah, took place last week at Los Angeles Theatre Center.

Sarah Farnell (left) and Hudson Hedge (right)

Farnell said she performed a one-minute monologue from “The Monogamist” by Christopher Kyle and a two-minute scene from the 1974 play “Seascape with Sharks and Dancer” by Don Nigro in the preliminary rounds. She thought that since she was competing against more advanced students, she wouldn’t reach the later rounds, but when she did, she had to scramble to come up with a third scene.

She chose something she wrote: “Smoke and Mirrors,” which she called “a total joke. I wrote a bad theater piece and played it seriously.” She spent a day reworking it into what she called a “satire, film noir, soap opera, anti-smoking PSA.” It ran three minutes, she said.

Her coach, David Stears, said Farnell showed her “Smoke and Mirrors” in its original form. “She wrote it to be played seriously,” he said. “She showed it to me, and I said, ‘This is awful. This is just an awful piece of theater if you play it seriously, but if you turn it into a telenovela-type piece and present it over the top, it (would be) hysterical,’ and I can say without a doubt, it was the crowd favorite.”

Astudent from Brigham Young University won the regional. COC student Fox Smith also reached the finals, performing a one-minute monologue from “Deer” by Aaron Mark, a two-minute scene from Spike Heels by Theresa Rebeck and a three-minute scene from Octopus by Steve Yockey.

According to the Kennedy Center’s website, the 50-year-old festival involves 20,000 students in eight regions. Previous Irene Ryan winners include Sheryl Lee Ralph (“It’s a Living,” “Moesha”), Dan Butler (“Frasier”) and Kevin Rahm (“Judging Amy,” “Mad Men”).

Ryan (1902-1973) was most famous for her role on “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Her foundation has awarded these scholarships since 1972.

Hart District Acknowleges Brown Act Violations

| News | February 14, 2019

The William S. Hart Union High School District acknowledged it committed a Brown Act violation when a bond oversight committee failed to provide a link to a meeting agenda.

Debbie Dunn, executive assistant to district Superintendent Vicki Engbrecht, said in an emailed response to local bond watchdog Steve Petzold that the violation of Government Code Sec. 54954.2 occurred because there was no direct link to the Jan. 10 meeting agenda on the district’s home page. Starting Jan. 1, a direct link to the most current meeting agenda has to be posted on the primary website’s homepage.

Petzold had sent a letter dated Feb. 8 to Engbrecht and Suzan Solomon, presiding member of the Measure SA bond oversight committee, detailing the problem. In keeping with the law, Petzold also demanded that the committee should call a special meeting, with proper notice, “to make null and void (invalidate) all actions taken” at the meeting.

Under the Brown Act, a body has 30 days to correct a problem, but Dunn emailed the same day. Her email, which Petzold provided to the Gazette, said, “I have confirmed that the only action taken at the January 10 meeting was approval of the minutes of the September 13, 2018, meeting. We understand that this action is void and the minutes will be placed on the agenda of the next meeting for approval.”

COC Board Accused of Brown Act Violations

| News | February 14, 2019

College of the Canyons’ board of trustees committed Brown Act violations by failing to post meeting times and agendas of its finance subcommittee, the faculty president and two board members allege.

A community member also alleges a different violation by failing to provide a link to the board agenda on the college website.

The finance subcommittee was established during the April 23, 2008 meeting, according to the minutes. While the Gazette was unable to find a printed list of members, many named current board President Michael Berger, fellow member Michele Jenkins and Vice President of Business Services Sharlene Coleal as members (Jenkins confirmed her involvement, Berger declined comment, citing the unrelated union negotiations that he said have reached an impasse; and Coleal, who was traveling in Sacramento, hung up on a reporter).

At issue is whether this is a standing committee and, therefore, subject to the Brown Act, which governs meetings conducted by local legislative bodies and presumes public access unless specifically excepted.

According to the law, “a commission, committee, board, or other body of a local agency, whether permanent or temporary, decision-making or advisory, created by charter, ordinance, resolution, or formal action of a legislative body” is subject to the Act.

The law also requires meeting times to be posted at least 72 hours in advance and an agenda or agenda packet made available.

COC’s Board Procedure 2220 states, “The Board may by action establish committees that it determines are necessary to assist the Board in its responsibilities. Any committee established by board action shall comply with the requirements of the Brown Act and with these policies regarding open meetings.”

Several people, including board members Joan MacGregor and Edel Alonso, and faculty president Wendy Brill-Wynkoop believe this is a standing committee. They say that Berger, Jenkins, Coleal, and various members of Coleal’s staff meet regularly and report to the board.

This matches Jenkins’ own description: “Sharlene and her staff in the business office go through and summarize the items that we reviewed and sends it out to us for our own information and to make it easy when we’re at board meetings. We can refer to them if we want to help illuminate any unusual financial issues.”

MacGregor said she and Alonso would like to serve on that subcommittee, “but it’s been consistently Michele and Michael Berger the past six years.”

“If they’ve been meeting on a regular basis and they’ve been appointed to that committee, it sounds to me like a committee,” Alonso said. “If it’s a standing committee, then they need to follow the Brown Act, and that means they need to advertise their dates and agendas and minutes and so forth.”

But College of the Canyons Public Information Officer Eric Harnish said in an email the board did not follow through with any subcommittee meetings after April 23, 2008. Jenkins said the subcommittee meets only “once every couple months or so and only if there’s something unusual in the agenda, in terms of the financial area.”

However, the Gazette found 13 agendas and two email summaries from Aug. 6, 2013 to July 1, 2014 on Business Services Department letterhead. Many of those meetings were held regularly on the first Tuesday of the month.

Harnish wrote that shortly after April 23, 2008, college President/Chancellor Dianne Van Hook took it upon herself to approach Coleal and see if she wanted to meet with one or two trustees to discuss potential board questions. The first meeting took place in December 2010, he said, and either Berger or Jenkins would report to the board.

Because it was Van Hook’s idea, Harnish wrote, it differs from board policy and, therefore, does not fall under the Brown Act.

Jenkins disputed it’s a standing committee.

“The idea is that way, a couple of us are hearing more information so we can carry it back to the other board members at the meeting,” she said. “It meets so irregularly that I can’t remember the last time we met.”

Terry Francke, chief counsel of the Sacramento-area nonprofit Californians Aware, said this is a standing committee because the board minutes say so.

“That’s all you need for classifying it as a standing committee, if it’s been created by the board itself,” Francke said. “It has a fixed assignment within the jurisdiction of the body itself. Anything that has to do with finances presumably goes through them.”

Jenkins said college attorney Mary Dowell doesn’t think the subcommittee falls under the Brown Act (Dowell didn’t return a call or email).

“That’s not what we’ve been told by our attorney,” Jenkins said. “It depends on the attorneys you look at and how familiar they are with the state Education Code.”

The Brown Act is part of the Government Code. It says nothing about keeping and posting minutes, although the California Public Records Act allows the public to obtain copies of any minutes. MacGregor and Alonso have not seen any minutes but believe there should be some.

Since the Brown Act was passed in 1953, no one has ever been successfully prosecuted for violating it, according to the First Amendment Coalition, a nonprofit Francke worked for before Californians Aware.

Individuals may bring one of three lawsuits to enforce it, one of which is to void a past action. This is what Saugus realtor Steve Petzold has chosen to do.

Petzold, a sometimes vocal critic of the college – so much so that Van Hook once got a restraining order against him, effectively banning him from attending board meetings – accused the board of violating the Brown Act by failing to include a link on its website homepage to the Jan. 16 meeting agenda (he originally wrote the meeting was Jan. 9, but corrected himself). The letter, addressed to Van Hook, demands the board declare all actions it took at that meeting null and void.

In keeping with the law, Petzold’s letter said the school has 30 days to take action. If it does nothing, Petzold has 15 days to initiate court proceedings.

Harnish said in an email, “We are still looking into his allegation, and will get back to you about that.”

Social Media and Threats

| News | February 14, 2019

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With death threats being leveled against two Saugus Union School District board members, some might wonder how society got to this point. How does somebody escalate his or her behavior from simply expressing outrage at a meeting to making insulting comments online to threatening a person’s life?

According to one psychologist, it’s an extension of the world today.

“There’s an awful lot of bigotry out there, as you know, and it is now socially acceptable to say it,” Tarzana-based marriage and family therapist Judi Lirman said. “Somebody is very invested in what they think is wrong, and it comes from something that is probably very specifically out of their own history. I would think it would be ‘I’m not getting through to you. You’re not doing what I want. You’re not paying enough attention, so if I amp up my thing, you may do what I want you to do.’”

David Barlavi has received death threats because of his politics. In a salute to the Black Lives Matter movement, he regularly stands with his fist raised while the national anthem plays. Or his fist is raised and his other hand is over his heart while he recites the Pledge of Allegiance. He has been photographed doing this, and many people don’t like it. Some have resorted to anti-Semitic comments; others took it further, and the Santa Clarita Sheriff’s Station is investigating at least 10 comments.

Barlavi declined comment, but he left a note on Facebook that has since been taken down: “In light of recent events, I’d like to reiterate my belief that Donald Trump is the greatest president of all time. Thank you.”

Board President Julie Olsen has been threatened with violence because her comments about adhering to meeting rules got interpreted to mean she was attempting to limit public comment.

Lirman is not surprised that the threats happened. She said it resembles a mob mentality.

“You normally think of a mob as a group that comes together in one location and does something together. This obviously isn’t a mob in that sense, but it certainly is in terms of the kinds of threats,” she said. “It’s kind of like the mean kids ganging up on somebody.”

Of course, what has happened to Barlavi and Olsen is far from isolated. Hart Union School District board member Joe Messina has received death threats. Farther from home, former One Direction band member Zayn Malik received death threats in 2014 after posting “#FreePalestine” on Twitter. And in 2015, a reality show winner named Rebecca Francis was threatened after comedian Ricky Gervais posted a five-year-old photo of Francis laying next to a dying giraffe she had slain.

Reuters ran an article in 2014 blaming the internet for making death threats easier. It listed several: against the Detroit police chief, a writer, an entrepreneur, an actress, a gun dealer, two pro football players, a pro soccer player and a pro baseball player.

“Advanced technology has removed most of the work and hazard from sending cowardly messages to people to frighten them,” the article said. “Death threats — internet or otherwise — aren’t funny.”

 

Letter from Saugus Union School District Superintendent on February 8, 2019:

Good evening Saugus School District Community,

In the Santa Clarita Valley Signal today there was an article regarding death threats that have been made against David Barlavi, one of the Saugus Union School District Board Members. We recently learned that similar threats have been made to Board President, Julie Olsen. These threats are part of a string of social media comments related to videos posted on YouTube. The videos are a continuation of the protests made at the Board Meeting on February 5, 2019.

The Saugus Union School District supports people’s right to civilly state their opinions, and voice their concerns. The District, however, does not support threats of any kind, or the hatred expressed in the social media comments posted to YouTube, or any other social media venue. It is important that we maintain civil dialogue, even when there is disagreement.

We continue to provide opportunities for our community to participate in the public comment portion of each Board meeting. The SUSD Board policies (BB 9323) indicate that speakers at Board meetings are limited to 3 minutes, and limits the comments on a single topic to 20 minutes unless authorized unanimously by the Board to extend the time.

Further this is supported by Government Code 54954.3 which states, “The legislative body of a local agency may adopt reasonable regulations to ensure that the intent of subdivision (a) is carried out, including, but not limited to, regulations limiting the total amount of time allocated for public testimony on particular issues and for each individual speaker.”

The safety and security of all students, staff, administrators, and Board members, remain our highest priority. We are working with local law enforcement to ensure that these threats are investigated, and that safeguards are in place. We will continue to implement all current safety measures, including the use of our visitor protocol, and all procedures that ensure that we maintain a culture of respect and safety.

If you are aware of a threat to an SUSD family member (student, staff, or Board Member), report it to law enforcement immediately. Please know that our campuses are safe, and we will continue providing that environment despite the current concerns.

Sincerely,
Colleen Hawkins

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