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A Reporter Says Farewell

| News | July 2, 2020

My first clue that the Gazette was dying was eight weeks ago, when Publisher Doug Sutton secured a Paycheck Protection Program loan but warned me that if ad revenue didn’t return to pre-virus levels, he would shut down. My second clue was two weeks ago, when returning editor Sarah Farnell told me she was back “until the Gazette goes under.”

It became official last week when Sutton told me. Immediately, the sadness enveloped me. I knew newspapers were dying; this was the first time I had personally lost a job.

Two reasons I went into journalism in the first place was to hold those in authority accountable and tell the stories that needed to be told, stories that not only held people accountable but helped inform and enlighten the public and lift up the little guy.

In my four and a half years, I feel like I accomplished that. I questioned where the Latino Chamber of Commerce monies went and what was Bill Miranda’s role in all that. I followed the always-delayed Whittaker-Bermite cleanup and wondered if it would ever be complete. I watched the city find a way to cite the Canyon View Estates owner for those unsightly solar panels, but I also took it to task over how it selects a mayor. I questioned the motives behind the Lyons-Dockweiler extension and who might profit from it. I covered the various California Voting Rights Act lawsuits against the city and some school districts. I highlighted the opposition to school bond measures CK and US that ultimately failed. I raised questions (since answered) about Assembly candidate Suzette Valladares’ residency, but I never found out why she didn’t pay some staffers. I wrote about the teachers who sued the William S. Hart Union High School District and won. I spotlighted some of the alleged dysfunction going on at College of the Canyons, resulting in several lawsuits against it. And I looked into the possible mistreatment of cats at the Castaic animal shelter.

I told numerous stories about just about every single city council candidate, and many school board candidates, too. I covered the House races, the rise and fall of Katie Hill, the various candidates who lived outside the district and the rise of Mike Garcia. I followed the city council appointment process and the march toward district elections, whether that’s in November or 2022. And I put the reader in Las Vegas and, to a much lesser extent, Saugus when those terrible shootings occurred.

I met some strange and wonderful people: the guy who had no credit rating, the guy who worked at one of Donald Trump’s golf courses, the guy who got banned from Facebook, the pot farmer and the Satanist who ran for Congress, the guy who runs a local cornhole league, the guys who do underwater hockey, the family that fought with the county over a permit to sell alcohol at their store, the guy who announced high school baseball games, and the guy who opened his restaurant before the county allowed it – and had to close it almost immediately.

I feel frustrated and terrible that I have to stop reporting now because there are unfinished stories still to be told. What will become of Chris and Krissy Ball in their desire for justice against the bookkeeper who stole $1.5 million from them? Will Whittaker-Bermite ever be clean, and once it is, what will the city do with the land? Will Scott Rafferty sue the city or seek to nullify the November city council election if it’s at-large? Who will fill Bob Kellar’s seat? What will the city districts look like? Will the College of the Canyons faculty union succeed in flipping the board, and will that lead to Chancellor Dianne Van Hook’s retirement, as some hope? Will COC complete the required repairs and upgrades that are required for it to comply with the Americans with Disability Act?

There remains a glimmer of hope that the Gazette will return in September, so maybe I will still be able to cover these to their conclusions. But assuming this is the end, I have many people to thank and not enough room to thank all of them.

First, I want to thank the people who were there for me with their story ideas, comments or just plain conversation: Steve Petzold, Alan Ferdman, Joe Messina, Bill Reynolds, Stacy Fortner, David Barlavi, Richard Michael, Stephen Daniels, Allan Cameron, Bruce Fortine and Gloria Mercado-Fortine.

I want to thank the city councilmembers for their accessibility. While each granted varying degrees – Kellar and Cameron Smyth were the most accessible, Laurene Weste the least and was the only to hang up on me, and several times at that – I never wrote a council-related story in which none of the five were available.

I want to thank Donna Frayer, who courageously came forward seven years after the fact to detail how she was subjected to harassment, intimidation and retribution for calling out Vice President of Business Services Sharlene Coleal and Van Hook on their behaviors. It led to others coming forward: Gary Sornborger, Lee Hilliard and Laura Anderson, whose suit is ongoing. Also a thank you to Wendy Brill-Wynkoop, Martha Torgow and Marlene Demirjian for their support and help in bringing these stories to light.

Most of all, I want to thank my boss for letting me be a newspaper journalist again. When I left the Daily News on July 15, 2002, I never thought I would get the chance again. I wrote 478 stories for the Gazette; never once did Doug make me write something to fit his political leanings. Many times, he would suggest a story, I would investigate it, find the real story was opposite what Doug thought it would be, and he would run it as I wrote it. He let me practice my news judgment, even if that meant his conservative leanings took a beating, because he recognized the story’s value and the value of informing the public about it.

I had nothing to do with “Doug’s Rant.” I was not a tool of Doug Sutton or anyone else. In fact, for many years, nobody knew my political leanings, and they couldn’t tell from my writings (although I often reminded people that I don’t live in the area and had no vested interest in who won any election).

This wasn’t the first time I covered Santa Clarita. I worked at the Signal from 1990-95 and then in the Daily News Santa Clarita bureau from 1995-99. With any luck, I will resume in September.

And so, I close by paraphrasing one of my favorites, Bruce Springsteen: Maybe you’ll be out on the road somewhere, in some motel room, there’ll be a newspaper laying there, and you’ll read it, see my byline. If you do, please know I’m thinking of you and all the miles in between. I’m just writing one last time not to change anything but just to say I miss you.

Good luck. Goodbye.

(Freeze Frame) You Might be Wondering How I Got Here

| News | July 2, 2020

It was April of 2015, and there I was sitting in an empty Del Taco, stuffing my face in a prom dress. Waiting for my date to catch up to my fourth taco, I saw a stack of free newspapers by the front door and opened it up to a page that read “Doug’s Rant.” And there it was – an entire opinion page talking about a dream this man had about an encounter with Barack Obama. I literally couldn’t stop reading.

As a 17-year-old and editor of my high school satire section, I honestly couldn’t tell you if he was kidding. After all, what newspaper in California would print something like a vivid dream of a man confronting the president? Why is he talking about his knee surgery? Why does he look so shocked in his picture?
All I knew is that the Gazette had become my favorite pastime.

Every week I would prank call people who posted classified ads. (If you put your phone number in a public newspaper, expect teenagers to find it.) My friends and I would sit outside of the train station with a pizza and read Doug’s Rant out loud and debate with each other. I learned about city government and every little event happening in town. I read every opinion, left or right, and started to form my own opinions. Some of it was thought-provoking, most of it was wild. But it was all free speech, and that was something important to me.

Then, one Wednesday at the train station, bored to death, my friend Varick and I had a crazy thought. What if we go and get Doug’s autograph? We have to go meet Doug.

So, we called the number on the front of the paper, and a woman named Barbara answered. We asked where the Gazette was located, and she impatiently responded, “Do you know where the old Don Cuco’s burned down? It’s right there.” And then she hung up.

We drove to the little shopping center in Canyon Country and walked into the Gazette. We asked if Doug was in, and he walked to the front; that’s when we asked him to sign our Gazettes.
“You aren’t liberals, are you?” he asked.

“No?” I answered. I actually didn’t know the answer.

We talked about how we were in journalism at Saugus High, and that’s when he asked me if I wanted to write for him. I didn’t even think about it. Yes.

First, he would assign me people to interview and write about. Then, he asked me to meet him at Foster Freeze. I had no idea I was being interviewed, but I guess I was hired.

I was taught how to do everything at the Gazette. I took down classifieds, wrote articles, and learned how to put the paper to print. I went from having no experience to being able to take over for Doug and Jeannie when they were out of town. Then, they asked me in 2018 if I would like to be the editor. I didn’t even think about it. I said yes.

They worked with my school schedule at College of the Canyons and I stayed for four years until I took a break to attend UC Berkeley, where I was shown a completely different side of political culture. But, my experience at Berkeley it didn’t make me cut off my anyone in my life who was conservative, even if that was the dominant peer pressure. In fact, it made me realize how important outlets like the Gazette were – and I immediately asked for my job back.

As editor of the Gazette, I was forced to read opinions I did not agree with, both conservative and liberal. Not only that, but I was required to correct articles and make them more presentable even if I really didn’t want to. I had to see their points through the eyes of those who agreed and those who disagreed in order to help them make sense (some need more help than others). Sometimes I felt like I was really in over my head, and most of the time I was.

The most important thing I learned was that everyone has the right to speak and be heard. Everyone’s personal experience is unique and everyone is flawed, political party be damned. But one of the worst mistakes one can make is to silence and shut others down without hearing what they have to say.

There is a complex responsibility that comes with giving people a platform to voice their opinions, and it is important to balance freedom of speech with fostering a welcoming community. To me, the role of a fair press is to ensure all sides are presented, and a community which does not give a platform to all is not necessarily a welcoming community. The unintended consequence of silencing a base can make them more extreme and firm in their positions. (I’m specifically referring to the press. If you are the mayor of a town, it’s probably not a good idea to call yourself a proud racist. I do not recommend this.)

The Gazette has always been a beacon of free speech. Lee Barnathan always reported on news other outlets refused to touch. Most of my friends have contributed to the Gazette at some point, and I do not have a single conservative friend (not my fault – I’m a 23-year-old college student. Good luck finding one). Doug always said yes to every opinion we received as long as there was room. He even outsourced left-wing opinion articles from other news syndicates when there weren’t enough in the Gazette. One time he let me write the Rant when he was out of town. Yes, he regretted it.

I’ve scooped ice cream, I’ve served coffee, and I’ve scraped human feces off the streets of Berkeley. But this job is the best job I’ve ever had, Doug and Jeannie are the best bosses I’ve ever had, and it’s been the biggest growing experience.

Oh, and while I still have the mic, here’s a rap I wrote about Bob Kellar:

Dear Bob, you make me sob
Thanks for letting me photoshop you without permission
It is you I won’t be a missin’
You are the only dope Santa Clarita is a smokin’
(Interlude)
It’s about time you retired
Laurene, Marsha, Bill and Cameron as well

Sarah, out.

The Gazette, Final Chapter

| News | July 2, 2020

In 2012, the economy was still in shambles, and revenue for the new Santa Clarita Gazette and Free Classifieds was not increasing. If Doug and Jeannie Sutton didn’t find a new revenue stream soon, their publication would disappear almost as soon as it debuted.

An attorney friend suggested the Suttons run legal notices. These are announcements from government, businesses and individuals that are published with a paper’s classified ads.

The Suttons wanted to publish every type they could. Jeannie thought it could bring the fledgling paper an extra $4,000-$5,000 a month. But first, there was some law to be followed. California Government Code Secs. 6000 and 6008 say a newspaper must be considered “a newspaper of general circulation,” meaning it has to be published and distributed in the same area, it needs a list of paid subscribers, and it must exist for at least one year.

The Free Classifieds had existed in Santa Clarita since 1998, the Gazette had existed since 2012. The Suttons soon commenced a subscription drive and accumulated about 100 paid subscribers. All that remained was to file a verified petition in Los Angeles Superior Court, publish the announcement in the closest local newspaper, and have a judge grant the petition in a hearing.
The problem was The Signal was the closest paper, and it was owned by Morris Newspaper Corp. (now Morris Multimedia, Inc.) — the same company the Suttons had once partnered with in the years before the Gazette.

“They could notice it. They could not notice it,” Jeannie Sutton said. “If they noticed it, they might fight it.”

So, the Suttons quietly petitioned the court in March 2013, received a hearing date in May and published the announcement in The Signal. At the hearing, an attorney representing The Signal, appeared informing the court it would contest the petition.

The Signal’s attorney asked for, and was granted, a continuance to summer. Things dragged on, and it wasn’t until September 2013 that the sides finally met in court.

“We learned a lot about the legal system,” Jeannie said. “It’s slow.”

Doug had decided he couldn’t afford an attorney and represented himself. It was a mistake.

“Right doesn’t always win,” Jeannie said. “A lot of factors go into convincing a judge.”

The Signal objected on the grounds that the Gazette wasn’t a newspaper of general interest, and that its subscriber list was questionable at best. The judge agreed.

But he did something unusual: He told Doug Sutton that he was close. If Sutton would improve the amount of news in each issue and increase his subscriber list, “You’ll do fine the next time,” Sutton said the judge told him.

“The judge seemed to have respect for Doug representing himself,” Jeannie said. “He seemed to be gracious. It didn’t feel negative.”

However, the money still wasn’t coming in, and the Suttons made the difficult decision to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection. This enabled them to develop a plan to repay all or part of their business debts.

“We needed to slow down what we were paying,” Jeannie said.

Towards the end of 2013, Doug refiled the petition. There were court delays, depositions and as he got into the middle of this second round he was beginning to be overwhelmed with the legal demands from the opposition. In mid 2014, after a casual lunch with his friend Michael Berke, a former criminal lawyer, who now handles business transaction disputes, Berke offered to assist.

“This was way out of my area of expertise,” Berke said, “and we went against some excellent lawyers with The Signal. … It got very arduous and very combative. I thought it was a summary procedure. We’d just present the elements required and we’d be approved. I didn’t know it would take (so long). It was a battle.”

Berke requested a new date, and a new judge was assigned to the case. When the hearing date arrived, the new judge sent the case back to the original judge, and there was a delay of many months before the original judge could calendar the matter.

While this went on, Morris sold The Signal to Paladin Multi-Media Group, which took over operations on Jan. 1, 2016. Jeannie Sutton said she wondered what it meant.

She found out soon enough. The new owners, Chuck Champion, Gary Sproule and Russ Briley, requested a meeting in February. Doug Sutton was optimistic a settlement was near. Instead, he was told that Paladin reviewed the court documents, spoke to attorneys and decided they were willing to let the court decide the matter. Sutton misunderstood, thinking Paladin’s position was as entrenched as Morris had been. He stormed out and started writing in the Gazette that the Signal was trying to put him out of business. The result was some bad publicity for The Signal.

That changed in March, when the Suttons finally won their court battle, albeit on a technicality. The judge admitted he had erred in using the wrong part of the law in denying the Suttons in the first place.

“I thought it was a courageous thing to do,” Berke said.

Paladin had previously discovered the Suttons’ bankruptcy filing and attempted to have the petition overturned on those grounds. Meanwhile, the Suttons started running legal notices, and they were as lucrative as they had hoped.

For two and half months, the money came in, and The Signal took a hit as a result.

“Doug had an impact on our business,” Champion said.

The owners had to make a decision: Fight or give up.

“We could’ve spent the next year and a half adjudicating it in appellate court,” Champion said. “We looked at it and simply said it does not make any sense.”

So, in secret, the owners again reached out to Sutton, this time with an offer: Why not join forces?

“It was surprising,” Jeannie said. “We felt like they were trying to put us out of business, but in reality, they had some respect for us.”

In June, the deal was announced: The two entities would partner to form SCV Publications, LLC. For about two years, the Santa Clarita Gazette and Free Classifieds enjoyed a solid business relationship with Paladin Multi-Media Group, which owned The Signal. They shared building space at 26330 Diamond Place and maintained editorial independence. The Signal took control of the more-lucrative legal notices, while the Gazette continued to accept other forms of advertising. The Gazette’s printing and distribution costs were sharply reduced, and Publisher Doug Sutton’s bankruptcy also ended.

In late 2017, the opportunity came up to purchase an animal related magazine, PetMe! Magazine. The first issue under SCV Publications was February 2018 and proved to be a hit with Santa Clarita’s pet lovers. The magazine was published every other month until February-March issue 2020.

One day in 2018, Champion called Sutton into his office and surprised him with the news that Richard and Chris Budman were buying Paladin, its assets and liabilities. That meant the Gazette would have new partners.

“It was an unsolicited offer. The amount was too financially lucrative to not consider,” Champion said of the undisclosed amount. “I felt we were putting it in the hands of a qualified and committed publisher. He understood the Gazette was a very important component of our overall strategy, and he understood the contract we had with Doug and (wife) Jeannie, and he was willing to continue with those responsibilities.”

Jeannie Sutton said they didn’t have much time to process what it meant to have Budman as a partner, but Doug Sutton was pleased. He had a prior business relationship when Budman was publisher of The Signal (2004-2007), Sutton had distributed one of Budman’s magazines in the early 2000s, and Budman had written a letter on Sutton’s behalf in 2015 urging the court to approve the Gazette as a newspaper of record while Sutton fought The Signal over legal notice.

There were subtle differences, while Champion welcomed controversy, Budman tended to shy away from it. Budman and Doug Sutton disagreed – sometimes over the “Doug’s Rant” column and its community effects – But for the most part they maintained a good working relationship.

“He completely let us operate on our own,” Sutton said. “Richard could have come in and ruled us with an iron fist, and he was within his right to do so. But he didn’t.”

And so the Gazette continued. Sutton always wanted his paper to not shy away from controversy, which was why the paper reported on issues other media may have avoided.

But there was always “Doug’s Rant.” When he was partners with Sutton, Champion didn’t agree with his politics or the way he communicated his views, but “I respect that he agreed with everything he wrote.”
Not everyone agreed with the Rant. Liberal-minded people often took exception, perhaps never more so than the Aug. 15, 2019 column in which he voiced his opinions about racism, white supremacy and Donald Trump.

“Come on you Trump derangement sufferers, please tell me words and actions of what this man has said or done to cause you to believe that he believes the white race is better than all other races and he should have control over all other races?!” Sutton wrote. “Don’t give me the poppycock of him saying that some illegals coming in to our country are criminals, saying the squad should go back to where they came from or Baltimore is a horrible place to live. Seriously, if you think those words represent the definition of a white supremacist then I almost feel sorry for you. And if you think statements like those cause sick people to shoot other people, than I definitely feel sorry for you.”

Sutton also wrote, “Do you know any white supremacists in your neighborhood, your church, the grocery store you go to, where you take your car to get serviced, restaurants you frequent, casual acquaintances, friends or friends of friends? Have you ever been introduced to someone and the introducer says, ‘This is John Smith, he’s a white supremacist.’ Me neither, it’s almost made-up.”

Community members expressed shock and disgust that Sutton seemed to be at best minimizing and at worst denying that these things exist in Santa Clarita or the Trump presidency. Somebody alerted Assemblywoman Christy Smith’s office, and eventually Smith read the piece as well and called for an advertising boycott.

Neither Smith nor her office nor her campaign returned calls or texts for comment. After Sutton’s column first came out, Smith wrote on her Facebook page, “I will no longer be promoting my official state activities, nor sponsoring paid campaign advertising in Santa Clarita Gazette and Free Classifieds. … I’m exercising my ‘white privilege,’ the privilege of moving money, marshaling resources, and saying no more. I urge anyone who supports this publication with your ad dollars to do the same. Let’s show our neighbors we stand with them.”

Saugus Union School District trustee David Barlavi honored it, although he continued to talk to the Gazette because of his First Amendment understanding. But the group CA25 United for Progress really ran with it. Led by Anthony Breznican, advertisers received the following email:

“I live in Santa Clarita and there is a boycott movement happening against the Santa Clarita Free Gazette over the publisher’s recent column excusing and diminishing the danger of ‘white supremacy. In the current issue he dedicated a full page to a ‘rant’ declaring that white supremacy is a hoax. He has previously called himself a ‘defender of the problem of whiteness,’ and the new column includes a section dedicated to white pride. Your company advertised in that issue of the Gazette, and you deserve to know what kind of articles are appearing alongside your company’s name.”

The result was a temporary financial hit as a car dealership stopped its full-page advertising, and Facey Medical Group, citing patient complaints, also backed out.

Sutton said the dealership returned after a month and Facey, which didn’t advertise every week anyway, returned after two months. In the meantime, three or four advertisers increased their buys, telling Sutton 25UP and Breznican could “take a hike, that I’m not a racist and they would stick with the Gazette.”

Having weathered that storm, another one was on the horizon, and it proved too deadly:
COVID-19.

Throughout the Santa Clarita Free Classifieds/Gazette’s 22-year life, in all its forms – it started as a Recycler-type publication before adding news – income streams and profit were inconsistent. It always made enough for the Suttons to pay themselves, the staff and expenses such as printing and distribution, but many years that was it.

The coronavirus ended that. Ad revenue crashed by 70-80 percent as people sheltered in place. Whether they stayed open with minimal staffing or closed their doors forever, there wasn’t nearly enough ad revenue to go around.

Jeannie Sutton said January and February are typically lower revenue months. But then COVID-19 hit in March.

“The last week in March, I said, ‘Holy crap!’ (Revenue) just plummeted,” Doug Sutton said. “The next week, it plummeted even more. March and April were killers.”

In April when they could not pay anyone, the Suttons began planning an exit strategy that included looking for a house in Indiana. Still hopeful things could bounce back, the Gazette attempted to cut costs by printing every other week, running strictly online the other week, but the online readership does not generate significant income. They applied for a Payment Protection Program loan, but the program ran out of money before it could be funded.
The Suttons started a campaign, asking readers for donations. “The Gazette has been there for you. Help us,” it said.

Donations totaling over $8,000 came in, which Sutton said acted as a bridge to keep the paper alive while he applied a second time for a PPP loan. This time, he got enough to keep operations going for eight weeks, albeit with fewer pages.

That has ended now. Since ad revenue didn’t return to pre-virus levels, Sutton had no choice but to shut down. After past years of having to inject personal funds into the business whenever it was needed, now it seemed most prudent to retire.

“Mrs. Ranter and myself have always planned on retiring at some point and moving to Indiana to be closer to our oldest son, his wife and three of our grandkids.  We would always ask each other ‘when will the right time be?’” Sutton wrote in the June 26 Doug’s Rant. “Well… The big bad virus answered that question rather abruptly.”

Champion was saddened to hear the news, saying, “Santa Clarita ought to be sad he’s leaving because he gave a s—.”
Yet despite shutting down, there is the possibility that the Gazette can be resurrected in the fall. The idea is to possibly run an eight-page Gazette inside The Signal. It would include Doug’s Rant, the popular memes page and local news.

Regardless, the Gazette as we know it is done, having died a similar death to thousands of newspapers around the country.

Perhaps ironically, the conservative Sutton chose the lyrics to “All Good Things” by the liberal Jackson Browne to sum it up:

All good things have to come to an end
The thrills have to fade
Before they come ‘round again
The bills will be paid
And the pleasure will mend
All good things have to come to an end.

COC Yes on E Committee Fined

| News | July 2, 2020

The College of the Canyons Yes on Measure E and its treasurer has been fined $9,000 for four counts of failing to file statements, reports, notices and disclosures, documents show.

The Fair Political Practices Commission levied the penalties against the committee and its treasurer, Robert McCarty: for not properly naming the committee and complying with disclosure requirements, not filing campaign and contribution statements on time, and not identifying 16 major donors.

The FPPC could have fined the committee and McCarty a total maximum of $20,000.

Measure E was a $230 million bond measure the voters approved in 2016 with 58 percent of the vote.
Steve Petzold, who raised the complaints to the FPPC in the first place, expressed satisfaction at the outcome.

“I hope it will send a message to other people engaging in campaigns that they must follow the rules when it comes to campaign finance,” Petzold said.

McCarty didn’t return a call for comment. College spokesman Eric Harnish declined comment through email, saying the case and its resolution didn’t involve COC.

Sage Rafferty runs for Saugus School Board

| News | June 25, 2020

School board members often trumpet the wonderful things a district can enjoy if the voters pass the latest bond measure. Sage Rafferty would rather see bond measures go away.

“The state needs to fully fund education, and it’s in the state’s best interest for the long term,” the candidate for Saugus Union School District Area 4 said. “We need to master fiscal responsibility but come up with a long-term solution instead of just passing bonds.”

His solution: Increase state funding. Until recently, California always ranked near the bottom of per-student funding (Rafferty put it at 39th; other studies now put it between 20th and 37th, up from the 40s four years ago). In 2016-17, the Saugus district got just $7,720 per student, according to the California Department of Education. 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.

Suddenly having more money per student is not something a school-board member can control. That’s the Legislature’s job. But Rafferty said that as a board member, he would be in an ideal position to lobby state leaders to increase the money flow as well as remain closer to his constituents.

Rafferty, 38, was born in Montana but traveled to faraway places such as China and Dubai when he was young because his father taught English there. “He wanted his children to see the world and be global citizens,” he said.

There’s also a strong military tradition in the family. Rafferty’s grandfather was a Marine in World War II and his father served in the Navy. Rafferty chose the Army because he felt that branch’s values (loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage) aligned with him. He attended officer candidate school and earned commission as a second lieutenant. He was stationed at numerous bases in his nine years, including Forts Lee, Benning, Sill and Drum. He saw time in Afghanistan as part of the 10th Mountain Division, mostly in charge of logistics and budgets.
He had to figure out ways to save the Army money and found the best way was to limit spending. The best way to do that was to ensure the equipment – such as an AGM-114 hellfire missile, which he said costs as much as a house – was properly maintained.

He said his leadership in the military and his time as an aerospace manager at PPG Industries in Sylmar prepare him to lead on a school board, even if that’s slightly different.

“I am running to serve my community,” he said in a press release. “I served in the military to protect and defend the country I love. Even after I left the military, I knew I wanted to fight for something larger than myself. That’s why I want to fight for our children’s education. I also want to fight for teachers. My dad was a teacher. The teachers who shape our children’s futures deserve a fair paycheck and manageable class conditions.”

Another principle Rafferty said he would push for if elected is more transparency. In this case, he wants all board meetings televised. They hadn’t been, but with the coronavirus sending everyone indoors, the board has been meeting via Zoom, which allows for the required public access and participation.

Current board members David Barlavi and Chris Trunkey have endorsed Rafferty, who is running for the seat currently occupied by David Powell, who isn’t seeking re-election.

Gazette to Cease Publication

| News | June 25, 2020

From the Publishers:

The Santa Clarita Gazette, as you know it, is in its last weeks. After the July 3rd issue we are ceasing publication, tentatively, until September. This newspaper has been struggling with adequate advertising revenue even before the Coronavirus shuttered most businesses. The recovery has been slow and makes continuing to operate in our current form no longer feasible.

We appreciate the many people who responded and financially helped us print every week since mid April, it was a heartwarming blessing and makes the end even more bittersweet. Publishing this newspaper has truly been a labor of love, but retirement calls. We will be retiring to Indiana to live near our oldest son, his wife and our three oldest grandchildren.

So, it seems fitting to, one last time, reflect back on the story of the Gazette.

by Lee Barnathan

The story of the Gazette doesn’t begin with ink-stained wretches, newsprint or anything related to journalism. Like many tales, it starts with a gamble.

Doug Sutton and Darrin Watson worked in newspapers in the 1980s, but on the distribution and circulation side. Watson worked for Sutton, first at the Arizona Republic and Phoenix Gazette, and later at USA Today. They were responsible for ensuring the papers reached hotels and retail outlets in all of rural Arizona (everything outside Phoenix and Tucson).

In 1995, Watson left USA Today to go to work for the Recycler, a Silver Lake-based classifieds-only paper. In 1996, the Recycler started its own in-house distribution company with Watson in charge. He immediately contacted Sutton, who was still in Arizona and tired of the politics of the corporate newspaper world.

This time, Sutton worked for Watson, but that didn’t last too long. In 1998, the LA Times bought the Recycler. Sutton didn’t want to go back to the corporate newspaper world, so he left. He wondered why there wasn’t a Recycler-type of publication in Santa Clarita.

This got the two men talking: Why not start a Recycler here?

“We came up with it together,” Watson said. “We had the distribution knowledge. It was something I thought was very doable.”

With a $100,000 small-business loan and their houses up as collateral, the two started the Santa Clarita Free Classifieds out of an office at 27259½ Camp Plenty Road in Canyon Country.

“It was a lot of work, a lot of pounding the pavement,” Doug Sutton said, “joining the chamber (of commerce), business networking.”

Watson remembered the early days this way: “I would sell ads during the day, lay out the book and deliver the book.”

The first issue – 32 pages, 8,000 copies – appeared July 31, 1998.

“We sold ads, we laid out the book, we did it all,” Watson said. “Neither one of us had sold an ad in our lives. One thing we knew we wouldn’t screw up was the distribution. We started with 300 locations for pickup; stores that agreed to carry us, and racks. There was no editorial content.”

That meant they did everything. They couldn’t afford to hire delivery people, so they divvied up the circulation area (Santa Clarita, Agua Dulce and Acton) and got into their cars – including Jeannie in the minivan with the kids – and delivered it themselves.

The second issue was eight pages larger. Watson and Sutton had discovered a need and filled it.

“We had a good product, something the market was missing, and we didn’t want to give up,” Jeannie Sutton said. “We worked hard. No going back.”

Said Watson: “We struggled the first year. And then it got fun.”

About a year into it, money was coming in, and it allowed the partners to bring in Jeannie Sutton to do accounting and data entry and Watson’s sister, Jody, to do some selling and graphics work.

“We had other employees come and go, but we were the core four,” Watson said. “That was when we figured we could expand.”

The Free Classifieds continued to grow. In its best year, Watson said, they made $900,000 in revenue.

Others took notice, especially The Signal, which was losing classified ad revenue to the Sutton/Watson venture. Its owners, Savannah, Ga.-based Morris Newspaper Group (now Morris Multimedia, Inc.) approached the duo in 2002 about a partnership, which became Valley Publications Unlimited, LLC.

“We had the ability, they had the cash,” Watson said. “They gave us, cash-wise, much more than the business was worth.”

Morris invested $1 million, the idea was for Sutton and Watson to obtain, manage and grow various other shopper-type publications. The first was the Modesto Photo Exchange. Eventually, they controlled an Auto Trader-type publication in Sacramento, Ventura County Parent Magazine, Valley Ads in Bakersfield and the big one, the Tucson Shopper, which Watson said had a 300,000 circulation. All the while, they held on to Santa Clarita Free Classifieds.

Morris owned, Watson and Sutton managed. In their best year, Watson said, they brought in $6.9 million in revenue and had 65 employees under them at the various publications.

“Did we want to own 50 percent of a smaller company, or did we want to own 20 percent of a larger company?” Watson said. “We felt it was a good deal.”

“I won’t say money was flowing, but we were profitable in those years,” Jeannie Sutton said.

Profitable enough to consider another venture: a niche magazine. As they lived and worked in Canyon Country, they knew that Canyon Country often was seen as the ugly stepchild of the valley. They felt that a Canyon Country magazine would serve an untapped market.

In 2006, they published the first issue of Canyon Country Magazine with a circulation of 20,000. Doug Sutton said the local businesses took to it and bought ads regularly.

Things were going well, but they were heading into the mid- to late-2000s, and a bad economy was looming that would tear them apart and destroy almost everything.

In 2008, the economy was in decline. The real estate bubble and the subprime mortgage crisis sent the country into a tailspin that became the Great Recession. Unlike the 1929 stock market crash that suddenly brought about the Great Depression, this recession’s effects were felt gradually.

In Santa Clarita, the first sign was gradually dwindling profits. By 2009, things had gotten really bad. The poor economy caused numerous small businesses – those that often advertised in the Free Classifieds – to fail. Not only that, but the internet had made inroads with sites such as Craigslist and eBay. People didn’t need a shopper or Recycler-type of publication to buy and sell items they wanted. They could just click online.

All told, revenue declined by between 30 and 50 percent. All the publications Watson and Sutton purchased – the Modesto Photo Exchange, an Auto Trader-type publication in Sacramento, a Ventura County parent magazine and Valley Ads in Bakersfield – folded. The Tucson Shopper, which they also had purchased, lost $300,000, Watson said, although it didn’t close. Watson tried to start a digital edition, but nothing came of it because, “We were small potatoes,” he said.

The Santa Clarita Free Classifieds, meanwhile, was barely breaking even. But cracks in the relationship between the Suttons and Watson were showing in the form of personality conflicts. As Watson explained, “We both had our roles in the business, and they had evolved over time. We had to go back and do roles we didn’t want to do anymore. We butted heads. I liken it to a marriage.”

“You can’t have two bosses when you’re small,” Jeannie said.

The sides started considering a separation, helped along by Morris, which towards the end of 2009 had had enough and wanted out.

How to split everything was a bit messy. Watson still wanted the Tucson Shopper, while maintaining involvement with the Free Classifieds; the Suttons wanted nothing to do Tucson. They were concerned that Tucson was too big a loser that it would drown Santa Clarita, and Santa Clarita wouldn’t make enough to rescue Tucson.

In the end, Doug Sutton borrowed “in the low six figures” from his family to buy out Morris. Watson had no money for the buyout, but he still believed Tucson had potential. So, Sutton took sole control of the Free Classifieds without the Tucson debt. Watson took Tucson and the debt that went with it, but no longer had a stake in Santa Clarita.

The Tucson Shopper no longer exists. The last entry on its Facebook page was Nov. 17, 2015.

Meanwhile, the Free Classifieds revenue continued to shrink. Craigslist and, to a lesser extent, eBay, was eating into the revenue these types of publications were used to getting. By mid-2011, things had become dire.

“If we didn’t do something, it was going to go out of business,” Doug Sutton said.

Jeannie Sutton posed the question, “What else would make people pick us up?”

The answer was local news. But The Signal, although also suffering from revenue losses, was a daily community paper. So, the Suttons decided they would posit themselves as a weekly alternative. Sutton would network with the pitch, “Tired of reading the paper every day? How about once a week?”

On Mar. 5, 2012, the Santa Clarita Gazette and Free Classifieds debuted. In the first issue was a letter from Doug Sutton explaining that nothing would change about the Free Classifieds, but now the readers would get news, too. He called that first letter “Doug’s Rant” and included some headlines with his opinions about them.

“I didn’t think I’d write the rant too often, but as the election loomed later in 2012, I was more and more convinced that Barack Obama had to go,” Sutton wrote in an email. “I thought it was totally necessary for a Republican to take over to save the economy, but more importantly, to effect changes that would benefit my company! I felt very strongly about it and found the weekly column a good way to vent.

“I soon discovered I had many readers in agreement with me, as well as some detractors, but one thing was for sure, the rant caught on fairly quickly.”

But the revenue did not increase significantly. Something else needed to be done. An attorney friend suggested the Suttons run legal notices. Jeannie realized this could net the fledgling paper an extra $4,000-$5,000 a month.

But they didn’t know the trouble that would come from wanting to run these notices.

Next week: Conclusion

Shop Local This Summer in Santa Clarita

| News | June 25, 2020

As more businesses are reopening, the City of Santa Clarita is encouraging residents to shop local. Restaurants, offices, retail businesses, auto shops, medical facilities and more throughout Santa Clarita are hard at work to ensure that every patron that shops with them or utilizes services can do so with confidence. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has greatly impacted business establishments in our community, many of which are operated or staffed by our neighbors.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s most recent lifted restrictions has enabled additional businesses including gyms, nail salons, tattoo parlors and others to reopen. As the list of open businesses grows, it is essential to show our support. Many of these businesses have faced uncertainty, and the hard tasks of laying-off or furloughing employees. To help our businesses in need, consider scheduling the doctors appointment you have delayed, dining on a restaurant patio with family, taking advantage or your favorite clothing stores curbside delivery, planning a staycation at a local hotel and much more. Santa Clarita has a wide variety of business options for every need, and it will take effort from everyone to keep our city businesses alive.

One way the city is helping local businesses is through the Eat Local Program. Through the program, the city is issuing free Temporary Use Permits to qualified restaurants, allowing them to expand their activities into their retail center’s private sidewalks and parking lots. This allows for restaurants to serve more patrons while indoor occupancy limits remain in place. The city has also recently launched the Safer Business Commitment website, for local businesses to agree to follow a series of recommended safety guidelines to protect both employees and patrons. The website has received over 100 business commitments since its creation, which the public can view at VisitSantaClarita.com/SaferBusinessCommitment/List.

The city continues to work with the Santa Clarita Chamber of Commerce, the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation and the Valley Industry Association of Santa Clarita to develop programs aimed at encouraging residents to shop locally. By shopping locally, we not only support our local economy, but we also help keep Santa Clarita’s amazing and diverse set of businesses in operation. To learn more about the Eat Local Program, contact Jason Crawford at [email protected] For more information about the Safer Business Commitment, visit VisitSantaClarita.com/SaferBusinessCommitment.

Websites Anonymous

| News | June 25, 2020

For many years, an anonymous writer has published a blog called “I Heart SCV” in which said writer professes a love of the area. “When not in SCV, I go through SCV withdrawal,” the blogger writes in the introduction.

The Gazette recently found the blog when researching City Councilmember Bob Kellar’s recently resurfaced “proud racist” comments. In seeking to identify the blogger, I Heart SCV responded via email: “Who am I? I’m the person who writes the IHSCV recaps. Thanks for reading.”

The Gazette followed up: “But why the anonymity?”

Why indeed. According to College of the Canyons Political Science Professor Phil Gussin, we’re living in divisive times in which few people want to engage with the opposition and instead only want to read (and put out) information that either confirms what they already believe or intentionally divides.

“They’re agitators, for lack of a better word,” Gussin said of anonymous online outlets.

While there are perhaps an unusually large number of media outlets in the area with no anonymity – the Gazette, The Signal, KHTS, SCVTV, Canyon Country Magazine, Inside SCV Magazine and the “Talk of Santa Clarita” podcast – there also are several online outlets with no names attached.

Beside I Heart SCV, there’s the Santa Clarita Valley Advance Post Times whose latest post is an article on how the city council admitted it was wrong to call in the National Guard amid fears that looters and rioters were about to overrun the city, and that the five members apologized and “resigned in disgrace.”

The author, Emmanual Goldstein, is a pseudonym, referring to the state’s principal enemy in George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” although it’s spelled “Emmanuel” in the book.

New to the anonymous ranks is the website and Twitter handle Poisonous Tree. Its mission statement is to “highlight businesses that support the racism in our town.” It has named several media outlets, including the Gazette, Signal and KHTS.

Gussin said that although he doesn’t follow any of these local sites, groups that try to divide often run anonymous sites.

“People on the left want to spread ideas of anarchy, and people on the right want to start a race war, create violence and exacerbate tensions,” he said. “I wouldn’t take anything at face value.”

In fact, many representatives of non-anonymous sites criticized those not putting their names to their writings. KHTS owner Carl Goldman’s site recently ran a story on Kellar that delved into his background and how some business leaders support him. It earned the ire of Poisonous Tree, which also took Gazette Publisher Doug Sutton to task over his “Doug’s Rant” columns.

“I’m against anyone going on anonymously,” Goldman said. He blamed left-leaning troublemakers “trying to shut down anyone who has different opinion. The mainstream media has the right to voice different opinions.”

In fact, Goldman said, he has personally been a victim of anonymous screeds. After he came down with COVID-19 while on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, the White House invited him and seven others to meet with Vice President Mike Pence, head of the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force. Goldman also met President Donald Trump, saying he expected a few minutes with him but got about an hour and a half.

Goldman said he didn’t announce the invitation, but TV images caught him as he walked to the Eisenhower Building to meet Pence, and the social media reaction was quick.

Many of the 372 Facebook posts were of people insulting Trump and then each other, but some were positive, such as Gigi Grey-Bronstru’s: “Congratulations to the Goldman’s (sic) what an honor! They have endured more than most of us over the last few months.”

“So now I will know not to listen to KHTS,” James Olmstead posted.

Goldman is a Republican and attended Trump’s inauguration, but he said, “If (Barack) Obama and (Joe) Biden had invited us, we would have been just as happy to go.”

Anonymity in the media is nothing new. Famous poems such as “Beowulf,” books such as “One Thousand and One (Arabian) Nights,” were anonymous, as originally were Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” the Federalist Papers and Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”

Locally, there was a popular feature called “Tell it to The Signal,” in which residents could anonymously sound off about whatever they wanted to.

“That’s been going on for hundreds of years,” former Signal publisher Chuck Champion said, “It’s easier now to be able to do things online. Anyone can get a domain with a few bucks and a mailing list.”

But Goldman said it is as bad as it has ever been. It’s something Stephen Daniels, host of the “Talk of Santa Clarita” podcast thinks, too. In fact, he’s been warned that he might lose guests if he voices his political leanings too strongly.

“Everyone’s really afraid to show where they stand,” he said.

Gussin said people who read online articles usually fall into two groups: those who stubbornly hold their opinions and reject anything that could call those beliefs into question, and those who can be persuaded.

He questions anonymous people’s motivations. Why do they want to hide? What do they gain from being anonymous? Are they trying to mobilize their base, or are they trying to anger the opposition?

More importantly, he said, why do people want to pay attention to anonymous people?

Longtime resident Leon Worden, who runs SCVTV, doesn’t.

“I would say I don’t like it, but I don’t read it,” Worden said. “I hope it doesn’t have any traction because it doesn’t deserve any traction. If you’re going to have an opinion, you’ve got to put your name on it. (If you don’t), it’s chicken and wrong.”

City of Santa Clarita to Celebrate the Spirit of America with Annual Fireworks Show

| News | June 25, 2020

The annual Spirit of America Fireworks Spectacular will take place this Fourth of July. The fireworks will light up the sky from the launch site near the corner of Magic Mountain Parkway and Citrus Street at approximately 9:15 p.m. on Saturday, July 4, 2020.

“It was important for the city to provide the firework show to our residents,” said Mayor Cameron Smyth. “With all the events, milestones and celebrations that have been canceled over the last few months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we wanted to ensure that our community was still able to mark this patriotic holiday.”

This year’s show will be a non-traditional firework display with several new restrictions in place. The Los Angeles County Health Officer Orders, which are in effect to slow the spread of COVID-19, still restrict public gatherings. Therefore, residents are encouraged to view the display from their vehicles or virtually via Facebook livestream in the comfort of their homes. Make sure your radio is tuned to KHTS, Your Hometown Station on 98.1 FM and 1220 AM. You will be able to hear a special introduction to the fireworks as well as music synchronized to the impressive display.

To prevent large public gatherings, Westfield Valencia Town Center will be closed to vehicle parking and in-person fireworks viewers. There will also be no vehicle parking or in-person viewing on the streets and parkways surrounding the Town Center. Due to the limited viewing area, the show will be livestreamed on the City of Santa Clarita’s Facebook page and Channel 20 SCVTV.

“Although we would like to gather with family and friends as we normally do on the Fourth of July to enjoy the fireworks show, this year will be different to help maintain the health and safety of our community,” said Mayor Smyth.

Citrus Street will be closed beginning at 3:00 a.m. on the morning of July 4. In addition, a portion of the Town Center parking lot will also be blocked off for the firework fall zone. All other roads in the area will remain open to traffic, and “no parking” zones will remain in effect and be enforced by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Residents are also reminded that all fireworks are illegal to possess in Santa Clarita. Fireworks are a violation of the Santa Clarita Municipal Code, Health and Safety Code and Los Angeles County Fire Code.

“During these days leading up to the Fourth of July, we regularly see an increase in illegal fireworks use,” said Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station Captain Justin Diez. “We are once again using the City’s Illegal Fireworks tracking system to find the hot spots of use so we can increase our proactive patrols in those areas.”

Through the “Illegal Fireworks” category in the city’s Resident Service Center (RSC), residents can report locations that have been problem areas for illegal fireworks in past years. This information will be automatically transmitted to the Sheriff’s Department so they can enter it into their database and know where they should focus their patrols. This information gathered will be used to “predictively” map out problem areas of concern for law enforcement efforts.

Reporting illegal fireworks through RSC will not result in an immediate response from the Sheriff’s Department. The Resident Service Center is accessible on the city’s website and through the Santa Clarita Mobile App. The public can also report illegal fireworks activity to the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station at (661) 255-1121 (non-emergency). Do not call 911 to report as those lines need to be kept open for life and death emergency needs.

The loud noises emitted from fireworks can cause stress and trauma to our proud veterans. Animal shelters also report that more pets run away on the Fourth of July than any other day of the year because of stress caused by the sounds. In addition, the risk for wildfires sparked by fireworks is heightened as our hillsides are currently covered with dry vegetation as we enter the hot summer season.

“We have already experienced several brush fires throughout the county this month that were sparked by illegal firework use,” said Assistant Fire Chief Anderson Mackey. “After last year’s devastating Tick Fire that caused the largest evacuation in Santa Clarita’s history, we ask residents to help protect our community by not setting off illegal fireworks.”

For more information on illegal firework use in Santa Clarita, pet safety and additional resources, visit Santa-Clarita.com/Fireworks.

Bob Kellar’s Words 10 Years Later

| News | June 18, 2020

Bob Kellar sees this country he was born in, has lived in and will die in, and he no longer recognizes it.

Kellar is being excoriated for comments he made 10 years ago about illegal immigration. People are calling for his resignation. A petition on change.org has amassed more than 31,300 signatures as of Tuesday night.

“This is nuts,” he said. “We’ve lost our ever-loving minds. It makes me sick what’s going on in this country. It also makes me sick to see that damn policeman’s knee on that guy’s neck.”

The above comment referenced the scene in Seattle, where protestors turned an abandoned police station into an “autonomous zone,” and Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin’s alleged murder of George Floyd.

Contradictory sentiments to be sure, especially for someone with Kellar’s law enforcement background. One might be surprised at the second part, considering Kellar’s 25 years in the Los Angeles Police Department and that he sees that not all cops are good.

One also might think that as Kellar, 76, enters the final months of what will be 20 years on the city council, he’s as ornery and passionate about his beliefs as ever – even when they get him in trouble, like they did in January 2010.

“They found a reason to resurrect them,” he said.

At an anti-illegal immigration rally, Kellar referenced a 1907 Teddy Roosevelt speech in which the President said any immigrant who comes here and fully assimilates shall be treated equally. “We have room for but one flag, the American flag …We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language,” Roosevelt said.

Kellar is fiercely anti-illegal immigration. He said he would never hire an undocumented worker, and someone illegally in the country in 2002 killed a sheriff’s deputy who was Kellar’s protégée. So, when he attended the rally – with no intention to speak, he said – and was urged to take the microphone, he uttered these now infamous words, which are on YouTube:

“A moment ago, I mentioned what Teddy Roosevelt said, and he was right on: one flag, one language. I brought that up and I read that … at one of our council meetings a couple of years ago. I said, ‘Folks, this is important.’ You know the only thing I heard back from a couple of people? ‘Bob, you sound like a racist.’ I said, ‘That’s good. If that’s what you think I am because I happen to believe in America, I’m a proud racist.’ ”

The pushback came quickly. Various news media jumped on a council member saying he’s a proud racist.

At the next council meeting, Kellar said the comments were taken out of context, a sentiment from which he has never wavered.

“I wish I never considered saying anything,” he said last week, “but I’m not apologizing for being an American.”

As Kellar recalled, when he first walked into council chambers, ahead of the other members, he was greeted by what he estimated was two thirds of a packed house standing and cheering him.

A YouTube video called “Take a Stand for America!” shows various people voicing support for Kellar, including Barbara and John March, whose son, David, was the protégée killed.

“My son wanted to get in the sheriff’s department. Bob helped him. Bob coached him because he knew law enforcement, helped him learn what the oral tests would be like,” John March said. “When he was killed, Bob felt, I think, as much darn pain as we did. He felt almost responsible for helping Dave get into the sheriff’s department, and I told him he had helped Dave get his dream.”

Since Kellar made his infamous comments, he twice was re-elected, garnering the most votes both times, though never more than 27 percent of the total vote.

In fact, 27,425 people cast votes in April 2012. If people were that upset, Canyon Country Advisory Council Chair Alan Ferdman said, “They should have been able to vote him out of office. Where were they?”

Some, such as Democratic Alliance for Action member Stacy Fortner, said that’s an indictment of the community itself. “We’re a racist community and they wanted him there,” she said. “The racists who wanted him there outweighed the people who wanted him out.”

Stephen Daniels, host of the “Talk of Santa Clarita” podcast, said commuters make up the majority of residents, and they’re not paying attention. City council candidate Ken Dean said one should never underestimate the power of incumbency and name recognition. He said he correctly predicted Dante Acosta would win his city council seat in 2014 and Mike Garcia would win his House seat last month because they put up signs everywhere.

Local CPA Matt Denny and longtime College of the Canyons trustee Bruce Fortine said people understood that Kellar was speaking about illegal immigration, not Black Lives Matter.

“Bob’s not a racist, He’s LAPD through and through,” Fortine said. “We used to hold police officers in high regard, and now they’re torched.”

Ten and a half years ago, the Black Lives Matter movement did not exist. According to the I Heart SCV blog, it was a white resident, Anthony Breznican, who resurrected Kellar’s comments, on Twitter (Breznican also regularly criticizes Gazette Publisher Doug Sutton’s weekly “Doug’s Rant” column and last year supported an advertising boycott of the paper).

The outcry was enormous. Many called for Kellar’s resignation, although he previously announced he isn’t running again. A Stevenson Ranch resident, Ayden McKenzie, started a petition on change.org, despite Stevenson Ranch lying outside the city limits (McKenzie couldn’t be reached).

Most who told the Gazette they signed the petition said they know it’s purely symbolic, yet they want Kellar to know they haven’t forgotten or forgiven.

“He should not be able to ride his horse into the sunset,” Fortner sad. “He needs to leave now with the shame he has brought on this community.”

Mike Devlin, who co-administers the Santa Clarita Community Facebook page, said his signing was “a final vote cast in disapproval. Whether or not he resigns is secondary to the message that he’s riding out his term much like he served: by ignoring the community’s wishes and being tone-deaf to most of the community.”

City council candidate Chris Werthe put out a statement saying Kellar’s comments are racist to undocumented immigrants and the Hispanic community. “There is a long history of racism in Santa Clarita Valley,” Werthe said, “and we need our elected officials and candidates to work for change and be responsive to the anguish and pain of people of color in our community.”

Werthe also called on fellow candidate Jason Gibbs and new House member Garcia to reject Kellar’s endorsements. Kellar said he would rescind them if either told him to, but that Garcia told him he’s honored to be endorsed. Garcia didn’t return calls; Gibbs texted a request to email questions and then didn’t respond.

Kellar, per the First Amendment, recognizes the people’s right to “peaceably assemble, and petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” But he also believes the people using his comments from a decade ago to stir things up were too young to understand back then.

“I’m not trying to diminish young people.” he said. “I’ve been in the service business my whole life. I did everything in my power to help all people.

“Apologize? That’ll be the day.”

Sebastian Cazares Runs for COC Board

| News | June 18, 2020

Before coronavirus closed College of the Canyons, board member Edel Alonso wrote a letter to board President Michele Jenkins requesting the board discuss what to do in the face of COVID-19. Jenkins refused, so Alonso addressed the board directly, pointing out that there is no policy for how to place an item on the agenda and recommending that any one board member could make such requests.

The board did nothing about it, but sitting in the room that night was Associated Student Government President Sebastian Cazares. He had been thinking about how the students had health concerns that the board – elected trustees charged with acting in the best interests of everyone connected to the school – was not addressing.

Although just 19, he had toyed with the idea of running for the board. This settled it.

Saying there needs to be a student voice on the board, Cazares – who recently graduated from the school – announced he’s running for the seat currently occupied by Steve Zimmer.

Cazares, who turns 20 on June 28, often attended meetings and sometimes filled in when student representative Basil Aranda couldn’t attend. He said the board needs to do a better job of fighting for students, ask more questions and be more transparent, comments that echo those of Jerry Danielsen, who is running against Jenkins.

“I would do more talking and asking more questions than the elected members,” he said. “I don’t think that people understand the potential the Board of Trustees can do.”

He saw the potential when he attended a Sacramento conference in January and saw other community college districts’ trustees advocate for such things as affordable housing and student-relief funds. Some even said they favored more student representation.

Then he looked at the COC board and didn’t see anything like that.

“Multiple times, I felt I was the only one talking about the issues,” he said.

Two issues that are close to him are student homelessness and student hunger. On his campaign website, he mentions Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice’s 2019 report that said 19% of California community college students have endured homelessness in the past year, 60% have faced housing insecurity and half have experienced hunger in the last year.

He also mentions the 2018 Basic Needs Survey from the state Chancellor’s Office that reported almost 57% of students have had direct contact with students experiencing basic-needs insecurity daily or multiple times a week. “Addressing basic needs issues should continue to be a priority, and we need to unequivocally support the Basic Needs Center on both campuses and efforts to provide emergency fund access to students,” he wrote. “I believe that trustees should also be advocates for affordable housing in the community and for collaborative solutions to this multifaceted problem.”

Cazares has been endorsed by board members Edel Alonso and Joan MacGregor as well as the Faculty Association, which has launched a “Flip the Board” campaign in an attempt to change the board leadership.

“The faculty were impressed that Sebastian has a keen awareness of the problems on campus,” Wendy Brill-Wynkoop, COCFA political action committee chair, said on the COCFA website. “He noted the top-down approach of the administration, who often tries to placate the faculty, staff, and students rather than allow them to truly participate in the decision making on campus. This resonated with the faculty.”

Alonso said Cazares is “an intelligent, thoughtful leader. He did a good job representing students when he attended board meetings. He was not afraid to go to the podium and address board members in a respectful way, which I appreciated. It’ll be interesting to have someone on the board so close to the students.”

That’s if he can win. Zimmer was appointed in 2013 and ran unopposed in 2016. Cazares, who will attend UCLA in the fall, is excited at the prospects.

“The student government president running sends a message,” he said. “Now, more than ever, we need a voice for students. It’s not a radical demand. All we want is a balanced voice on our school board. It’s time to listen to us. All of us are better if we all have a seat at the table.”

COC Board, Jerry Danielsen Runs Again

| News | June 11, 2020

Saying there is a need for greater transparency, Jerry Danielsen announced he is again running for a seat on the College of the Canyons school board.

Danielsen, a 1979 graduate of COC, pointed to two Faculty Association (COCFA) surveys. In 2019, only about 20% of 263 faculty and staff respondents agreed or strongly agreed that there was transparency in decision-making, down from 28% (316 respondents) in 2016.

Also in the 2019 survey, 67% didn’t know how budget decisions are made.

“It’s going in the wrong direction,” Danielsen said. “That’s a reason to run.”

Danielsen said he has watched the majority of board meetings from 2019 to now, and he doesn’t see enough board members asking enough questions to get enough information to make enough good decisions.

“My intent is to improve the situation,” Danielsen said, ticking off his list of priorities. “Students first. Quality of education, that’s the primary reason. Making sure the taxpayer money is where it’s supposed to go. Have more transparency. … asking more questions, not just accepting what is told. Looking into things independently.”

Danielsen challenged incumbent Michele Jenkins four years ago and lost by 56% to 44%. But he blamed that partially on getting into the race so late, which also adversely affected his fundraising totals.

So, he’s starting earlier this time. He already has the endorsements of the COCFA – and the funding and support that go with it – as well as 53 community members, including current board members Edel Alonso and Joan MacGregor.

“Campaigning will be different this time,” he promised.
This figures to be one of the most critical elections in COC’s history. Three seats are up for grabs, and the three unions are working hard to unseat incumbents Jenkins and Steve Zimmer while holding Alonso’s seat. Similarly, the administration figures to work just as hard in keeping Jenkins and Zimmer in place while trying to retake Alonso’s seat, although Alonso said she currently is running unopposed.

Alonso unseated Bruce Fortine four years ago. Jenkins has served since 1984. Zimmer was appointed in 2013 and ran unopposed in 2016.

The unions, led by the COCFA, have made it clear they want a change in leadership and have launched a “Flip The Board” campaign. Wendy Brill-Wynkoop, the former COCFA president and current chair of the political action committee, said the goal is “not to control the board but to put people in place that are not manipulated and make good choices for the community.” She added that Danielsen will bring transparency to the board and that his values align closely with the COCFA’s.

Some have privately told the Gazette that the ultimate goal is to force out President Dianne Van Hook. Brill-Wynkoop said that’s not her goal; it’s about making the board do its job and not have it kowtow to the administration.

“A change of leadership is good,” she said. “It’s important for a leadership change when times change. We need a board that is awake at the dais, asking questions and doing its job. Now, the tail is wagging the dog.”

Danielsen said he’s aware of the unions’ wishes but insists he will be his own man. He said he supports collective bargaining and unions and wants to ensure the board regularly evaluates itself and the president. Documents the Gazette obtained and interviews with various board members showed no board evaluation took place in 2006, 2009, 2011, 2014-17 and 2019, although the 2013 evaluation was completed in 2014 and 2018 was completed in October 2019.

Alonso said COVID-19 prevented any evaluation this year, even though for the first time, the board set evaluation dates. The April 21 board evaluation didn’t happen, and the June 18 president’s evaluation is in doubt since the board isn’t scheduled to meet again until June 24.
“The process is not as forthcoming as I think it should be,” Danielsen said. He added he thinks transparency is going to be even more important now that COVID-19 has led to budget challenges. The state projects a $54 billion shortfall; it’s not known what COC’s share will be, although Brill-Wynkoop said the administration announced on June 2 a deficit of between $8 million and $9 million, and that’s before next year’s budget cuts.

“Budgets are value systems,” Danielsen said. “Obstacles we didn’t have are going to appear with coronavirus. I don’t know what (Gov.) Gavin Newsom’s going to do, but it’s not going to be more money.”

Still, the passion that he has for his alma mater hasn’t lessened in four years, so he’s back to try again.

Mothers Against Julie Olsen and David Barlavi

| News | June 11, 2020

Mary Nieves wants her children to be properly educated, even when a pandemic threatens that. She also objects to school board members insulting people online, insisting they have violated the district’s code of conduct.

And she’s letting many know about it, resulting in several mothers joining her in disapproving.

Nieves, whose son and daughter attend Charles Helmers Elementary in the Saugus Union School District, believes children should be physically in school, that masks and social distancing don’t work on the youngest kids, and board members Julie Olsen and David Barlavi aren’t helping matters with certain Facebook posts unrelated to school matters.

Olsen has called people “infectious little plague rats” online when she doesn’t agree with their viewpoints, such as when someone credited the mayor with pushing to reopen the city. Barlavi has posted about the pandemic (“When people walk by me without a mask, I take off mine and start coughing at them”) and the current demonstrations (“Let’s thank the looters for making LA safe from COVID again”). He also criticized Republicans for what he says is a lack of critical thinking.

Olsen did not return calls for comment, but her friend, BG Nikolai, said it was she who introduced Olsen to the original post, a cross-stitch that said in lower-case letters, “don’t be a jerk, you infectious little plague rat.”

“I feel sick about this. It was a joke,” Nikolai said. “If Julie called a student or parent that, I’d say, ‘Wow, what is wrong with you?’ ”

Barlavi said his comments are as an individual and not a school-board member. Still, he’s willing to talk one-on-one with anyone who disagrees with him.

“The best way to handle it is to contact me directly. They’re always welcome to do that,” he said. “To go through a third party or the press to figure out the nuances of a Facebook post, I don’t think it really helps.”

This isn’t the first time Olsen’s public statements have caused reactions. In November 2017, KHTS said on its website it had anonymously obtained texts Olsen had allegedly sent to various community members as far back at the previous December. KHTS called the texts “crass,” “vulgar,” “expletive-laden” and “insulting,” and posted a photo of the texts. The online article quoted four texts, using asterisks in place of some letters but leaving no doubt what the words were.

It’s also not the first time a school board member has been criticized for comments made outside of school-board matters. William S. Hart Union High School District Trustee Joe Messina has had community members upset at comments he’s made on his radio show.

Saugus district superintendent Colleen Hawkins did not return calls for comment but released a statement on the district’s website.

“It is critical that our community tackle the issue of equity and that our schools support students in developing their ability to be inclusive, tolerant, and understanding of others,” the statement said. “We must establish schools where children learn to engage in positive relationships with others, that they value their similarities with their peers, and they celebrate their differences.”

Nieves believes Olsen and Barlavi’s comments are uncivil and violate standards of governance and conduct. “Board Members who are not committed to this mission statement, and on the contrary making a mockery of it, need to go,” she wrote in a letter to the Gazette and KHTS. “Julie Olsen and David Barlavi are providing horrible examples for our kids and community members, demonstrating intolerance by labeling, name-calling, and negatively generalizing anyone with different beliefs from their own.”

Barlavi’s term expires in 2022. Olsen’s term is up in November; she announced in February she is not running and is moving away. Nieves lives in Olsen’s district but said she is not interested in running. She said she has thought about recalling Olsen and Barlavi but isn’t sure there’s enough time.

In addition to the board comments, Nieves objects to the district moving to a combination of in-school and online learning, although she acknowledged that in some ways the school district’s hands are tied. She said she called Hawkins seeking clarification and learned masks and social distancing will be implemented.

The state Department of Education released a 10-category checklist on Monday. While the 55-page report reminds that there is no “one size fits all” method to reopen schools, it encourages following local stay-at-home orders, limiting on-campus access, increasing hygiene practices, cleaning and disinfecting and protective equipment; ensuring physical distancing and having masks on hand for students who forget to bring one.

Nieves believes science is on her side when she says young children need to be in school without masks and social distancing.

She referenced numerous studies. One, co-written by a medical doctor in The Hill newspaper, quotes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Of the first 68,998 U.S. deaths from COVID-19, only 12 have been in children under age 14,” and only 10 of the first 16,469 confirmed coronavirus deaths in New York City were among those under age 18.

Another, from a JAMA Pediatrics study: “Our data indicate that children are at far greater risk of critical illness from influenza than from COVID-19.”

And a third, from the Annuals of Internal Medicine in April: “Neither surgical nor cotton masks effectively filtered SARS-CoV-2 during coughs by affected people.”

The Hill article also asked the following questions: “How can classrooms hold students spread apart by six feet? How can you practice phonics with your mouth covered? How can you learn if it is time to return home just as you have settled into your seat? How can you develop socially and emotionally if you must remain distant from friends at recess? How can teachers instruct with masks on their faces?”

And the Southern California chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which represents about 1,500 doctors, said in a statement that keeping children away from in-person instruction for longer would have negative consequences.

“The numbers and science do not reflect the need for such drastic measures,” Nieves said. “You can’t expect kids to learn.”

Carla Delgado, who grew up in Santa Clarita, attending Peachland Elementary, Placerita Junior High and Hart High, said her children’s education is most important. One child is at Highlands and one will start at Helmers. She called masking and social distancing “unfeasible.”

“I don’t see how teachers can manage young kids: ‘Don’t get too close to Johnny,’” she said. “That will take more away from their education.”

Delgado also had words for Olsen. “I understand people have a right to their own opinion, but how about you act with a little bit of dignity?”

Kendall Evans, whose child attends Helmers, said her daughter is afraid of masks because she doesn’t understand them. She also said Olsen has a long history of making disparaging comments that “gives us little hope that our kids have any hope for going back to normalcy. … It’s really antagonistic. You need to objectively weigh what’s good and bad for the school district.”

One mother, who doesn’t live in either Olsen or Barlavi’s district and has children in two district schools, said the other board members and Hawkins need to hold each other accountable.

“The school board has a more important job than ever before,” said the mother, who didn’t want to be identified for fear of retribution. “We need someone honoring the values of our community and the students they serve in Santa Clarita.”

Nieves said she believes something needs to be done or parents will flee the district and opt for homeschooling, as she is.

“We need people who are rational, open-minded, tolerant, who can make decisions for our kids in a time like this,” she said. “Julie Olsen calling people infectious little plague rats, how am I supposed to trust that person has the right intentions for our children?”

The Santa Clarita Public Library Launches Summer Reading Program

| News | June 11, 2020

The Santa Clarita Public Library is launching its 2020 Summer Reading Program, running from Monday, June 8, to Saturday, July 25. This year’s theme invites children, teens and adults to “Imagine Your Story,” by participating in a summer filled with reading challenges, virtual events, interactive activities and more. As a part of the Summer Reading Program, the Santa Clarita Public Library will host Lunch at the Library, which offers free healthy lunches for children and teens 18 and under, in partnership with the Santa Clarita Valley School Food Services Agency, through the USDA Summer Food Service Program.

All are encouraged to join the free Summer Reading Program by registering at SCVSummerReading.com. Once registered, complete the 5 Book Summer Challenge by logging your books on the website. Throughout the program, participants can earn digital badges (and prizes!) by completing missions online and reading books from age-specific lists. In addition, the library team has planned an exciting lineup of virtual programs and events for all ages to enjoy. Children can watch animal shows via Zoom and enjoy grab-and-go Summer Art Kits (available for all ages) while supplies last from their local library branches. Teens can enjoy online writing workshops and virtual Art Hour. Adults have the opportunity to join evening chats with other book lovers in the virtual Random Reads Book Club, along with a Book to Action online panel event and engaging History Talk presentations. This is only a glimpse at the exciting lineup that library staff has procured for all ages to enjoy!

To learn more about the Summer Reading Program and upcoming library events, please visit SantaClaritaLibrary.com. Residents are also encouraged to monitor Santa Clarita Public Library social media accounts for updates on library operations, event schedules, eResources and more. If you have any questions, please contact the library at [email protected]

Budding Flower Business has Landlord Woes

| News | June 4, 2020

Stories abound online about landlords demonstrating generosity toward their tenants in COVID-19 times. Vivian De Leon thought she was going to experience the same thing.

Then she got the lawyer’s letter demanding on-schedule payments.

De Leon, the owner of the recently opened Vivian’s Flower Market on Sierra Highway in Canyon Country, has been able to come up with the rent despite not having much business in the first nine weeks of the county’s safer-at-home order.

She said business has been looking a little better, but the insecurity remains.

“The letter was demoralizing,” she said.

De Leon, a Canyon Country resident and single mother of a 6-year-old, said it was a dream to open a flower shop, and she sunk her life’s savings into it. The Feb. 1 opening, in time for Valentine’s Day – one of the two biggest days of the year for flower shops – was one of the happiest days in her life.

“It’s a different concept than your normal flower shop,” she explained. “In most flower shops you have a florist who does 10-15 arrangements and puts them in refrigerators. We’ll have just two or three. When I get called by someone, I get their idea and get to know who they are and what kinds of flowers they like. We personalize their arrangement, even if it’s a bouquet.”

Like any new business, it takes time to build up a client base. The problem was the coronavirus took away that time.

She knew from watching the news that San Francisco was ordering a lockdown. She called her landlord, Mo Monfared, to ask what would happen if the entire state shut down. She said he told her that he would call her back.

The next day, the entire state shut down. On March 16, De Leon had to close her doors. She again called Monfared and pleaded for patience while she tried to get the money. She said he told her that she was like family.

The cancellations poured in: four weddings. The flowers were ready, but with no celebrations, she had to get rid of them. It was March 26.

As she went to throw them out, she saw a letter attached to her door from attorney Marcelo Di Mauro, addressed to “Dear Tenants.”

“This is to inform you that in spite of the difficult times we are living, contracts are still valid and business transactions continue as normal, therefore, we expect our business relationship to continue as it has been and per the terms of our agreements,” it said.

The rent is due on the 5th day of the month. On April 5, Monfared called about the rent. Fortunately, De Leon has another job, as a property manager. She used money from that job to pay her full rent: $3,000 a month.

“The day I dropped it off, he cashed it,” she said.

Calls to Monfared and Di Mauro went unanswered.

The irony was not lost on her: She made deals with many of her tenants to make payment plans.

“I’m telling my 123 tenants they don’t have to worry about it,” she said. “ ‘I’d rather you have food on the table.’ ”

For several weeks, Vivian’s was closed, like so many businesses. De Leon said she didn’t apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan because she didn’t meet the requirements.

“I had to start paying out of pocket,” she said. “The profit margin was small. We’re trying to get our name out.”

But it’s hard to get your name out when your business is closed.

De Leon said the first month of the closure, people were afraid to leave their homes. She spent time at the shop making sure the refrigerators were still working.

“We didn’t get a single order for five weeks,” she said.

By the sixth week, people started ordering arrangements, so she started ordering fresh flowers again. Normally, she gets deliveries every two days.

Fortunately, she was able to reopen three days before Mother’s Day – the other of the two biggest days of the year for flower shops.

It was a challenge. By the time she reopened, distributors didn’t have flowers, causing her to scramble and pay higher amounts, though she insists she wasn’t gouged. She had bought some furniture, which required moving things around to fit it in. Unfortunately, one refrigerator’s temperature had accidentally changed during the moving, causing 500 rose stems to freeze. She had to throw them out.

Because her philosophy is to custom-make everything, she couldn’t prearrange. But since she was the only flower shop she knew to be open on Mother’s Day, she had 10-15 people trying to get flowers at the last minute. She had to complete pre-orders before tending to the line.

“A lot of them were patient. They were willing to wait an hour,” she said.

She was able to pay the rent in May and fully expects to pay on time this month because business is looking up. So will the rent in the fall, to $3,900 per month.

“People are coming, and they’re happy we’re hanging in there,” she said. “We’re glad we could hang on.”

Balls are Not Having a Ball

| News | June 4, 2020

Th11-Paper money

Chris and Krissy Ball said they have given up hope that their former bookkeeper will ever be prosecuted for allegedly stealing more than $1.5 million. They’re now trying to recover the funds through the courts.

But they are finding little satisfaction in their search for money and justice.

“Who’s going to put a sweet, little old lady in jail right now with COVID (happening)?” Krissy Ball lamented. “If anything happens, she’ll get a slap on the wrist or three to four years (of) probation. She’ll be dead.”

“It’s very, very frustrating,” Chris Ball said. “We have sued five national banks and three merchants.”

The Balls allege Neilla Cenci misappropriated, embezzled, converted and/or diverted $1,586,732.06 from their construction business between 2006-18. Cenci, now 71, was arrested and released in 2018 and soon after declared bankruptcy. The Balls almost never use Cenci’s name, instead usually calling her “the criminal.”

The Balls are focusing on spreadsheets, transaction reports, bank statements and 84 canceled checks, copies of which they provided to the Gazette, that they claim shows Cenci didn’t declare $133,433.09 in income she received and deposited into her accounts after filing for bankruptcy. If proven true, that would prevent Cenci from having her debt wiped out and make her liable to the Balls.

Various subpoenas to Citibank, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Discover and Chase, plus Home Depot, Best Buy and Macy’s, have produced the proof, they said. They also said these subpoenas show Cenci used stolen money to pay back her 401(k) that she borrowed against to buy and furnish her Avenida Terraza townhouse.

“She has committed perjury. Also tax evasion,” Chris Ball said. “We’re going to pursue that with the bankruptcy judge, the proof that she filed a false bankruptcy declaration.”

Cenci declined comment, saying. “I’ve got nothing to say regarding them. I don’t want to be involved with their back-and-forth. Let him write whatever he wants to write. I don’t care.”
Not that bankruptcy has been a breeze for the Balls. In an attempt to force the five banks’ hands, the Balls sued, alleging that the banks engaged in money laundering by accepting the money Cenci allegedly stole. The Balls claim they have documentation that Cenci deposited between $6,000 and $20,000 in small amounts.

“They accepted my check hundreds of times over a 10-year period,” Ball said. “The banks turned a blind eye. The banks have a duty, and computer, to look for money laundering, and they failed.”

Chris Ball said Discover and Chase attempted to file the matter in federal court but failed, the resolution taking four months. Ball said the banks now are under a 30-day requirement to respond to the suit, although Bank of America already has issued a denial, he said.

“The banks have unlimited resources to defend this case, so we’re expecting all kinds of crap to be thrown at us before the courts force them to pay damages,” Ball said.

The Balls also have attempted to have Cenci prosecuted by the county district attorney’s office.

“This case has been trial-ready for a year,” Chris Ball said. “We have been completely unable to get any prosecution or arrest. Meanwhile, we are the victims of a crime, and our rights under the California Constitution are being trampled by the laziness and incompetence of (District Attorney) Jackie Lacey’s office.”

The attorney in charge of the case, Adewale Oduye, does not have any contact information on the D.A.’s website. The Gazette requested the media relations department forward an email to Oduye; no response came.

“He’s a gutless, cowardly civil-service employee who doesn’t want to be found,” Chris Ball said. “He’s a cockroach under the rug.”

Ball also has complained to state Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office with no success. In fact, Deputy A.G. Michael Keller wrote a letter in January stating he believes Lacey’s office is handling the case “with diligence and professionalism.”

“Although I understand your frustration that the criminal case has not been filed yet, embezzlement investigations often take longer than a member of the public would likely expect,” Keller wrote. “This is especially true when the embezzlement occurred over a period of years.”

Krissy Ball has done much of the research and documentation. These include bank statements, credit card statements, emails, attachments, computer files and social media posts. From these, she’s aware of Cenci’s happenings. For example, Ball knows where and when Cenci gets her hair cut, that she recently had surgery, that a granddaughter recently graduated Saugus High.

“Trust me, I monitor their social media like a hawk,” she said. “I’m on top of it. It’s a daily thing for us.”

And it hasn’t stopped for two years, even as the hope dwindles.

Henry Mayo: Pandemic Woes

| News | May 28, 2020

The layoffs at Henry Mayo Hospital are understandable, but had the two highest-paid employees cut their pay further, it could have prevented more pay cuts, one nurse alleged.

The hospital announced that starting May 31, all non-union staff would have their salaries cut by 10%. Each staff member also is being furloughed one day a week until May 30. The hospital previously laid off nine management-level employees and several other unnamed staff positions.

The nurse, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of being fired, said if hospital President/CEO Roger Seaver and Senior Vice President Larry Kidd would just cut their salaries 10% more, it could save 100 non-union employees from having to take a pay cut for three months.

She based that on the following: Seaver and Kidd earned almost a combined $1.5 million, according to the hospital’s 2017 tax forms, the most recent ones available. Ten percent is almost $150,000. The average non-union salary is $15,000 for three months; 10% of that is $1,500, or one-hundredth of $150,000.

“You’re barking up the wrong tree” in requiring this across-the-board pay cut, the nurse said. “Why don’t you ask the top two to take a pay cut to save your employees?”

Hospital spokesman Patrick Moody said he couldn’t confirm that the nurse’s salary numbers were correct because of the time it would take to calculate it. Seaver made it clear during a May 13 employee forum that he wasn’t interested in cutting his salary further. In a YouTube video widely circulated through Henry Mayo but password-protected to the general public, Seaver responded to a question about why he isn’t taking a larger pay cut.

“Why should I do that? My gosh,” Seaver muttered before answering that the dollar amount he is forfeiting is larger than anyone else’s. “I understand your question. I’m not sure I can answer it to your satisfaction,” Seaver said on the video.

Moody said Seaver regrets making that statement during the four-hour forum, and Moody said he regrets that the video has been circulated, which was why it became password-protected.

The nurse also said that a 10% pay cut for an employee making $13 an hour would drop the pay below the state-mandated $12 an hour minimum wage. Moody said all employees would make at least minimum wage.

The nurse said the two unions, the California Nurses Association and the Union of Auxiliary Workers Local 1004, have suffered 94 layoffs, including 35 nurses. Moody said he cannot comment on personnel matters.
The fact remains that the hospital, like so many around the country, is struggling. The nurse said she knows why: People are afraid to go to the hospital out of fear of catching COVID-19 there. She told of a patient who came in suffering from abdominal pain for nine days. It turned out the patient’s appendix had burst; had the patient come sooner, complications could have been averted.

It’s an issue Moody said management is currently addressing. The hospital website’s home page announces that all elective surgeries are once again available, but Moody said it’s going to take time to get the numbers of patients back up to where they were pre-pandemic. Hospitals make about 48 percent of their revenue from these surgeries, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Henry Mayo’s tax form said it brought in about $360 million in non-contribution income in 2017. Forty-eight percent is about $172.5 million.

The nurse said in her department, there are typically at least 15 elective surgeries each week. Now, it’s more like six.

Moody said that next week the hospital would launch a new campaign to try and get people to feel safe enough to come when needed. Called “Safer in Our Care,” it will include banners, social-media posts, print advertising, short videos showing the safety precautions the hospital takes as well as other to-be-determined tactics.

The nurse said she hopes no more jobs will be lost, but it’s an uphill battle.

“I don’t know how to get people to trust the hospital,” she said, adding she’s heard people say nobody has caught the virus inside the hospital, though she can’t verify it herself. “If it’s true, it’s a great testament.”

Likelihood of District Elections in November Grows Slimmer

| News | May 28, 2020

The chances the city council will hold district elections in November became very unlikely Tuesday after the council did not vote to adopt a schedule that would have completed the process by June 30.

Instead, by a vote of 3-2, the council delayed setting a schedule until after the county Department of Health Services OKs large gatherings.

Its justification was Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order he issued in March that freezes the timeframes a city is required to meet to remain in compliance with the California Voting Rights Act and not be subject to litigation.

For example, a city normally has 90 days to hold the necessary five public hearings required by law. City Attorney Joe Montes told the council that since Newsom’s order came one day after the council voted to move to district voting, it technically has 89 more days to complete the process.

Councilmember Bill Miranda, who voted with fellow members Laurene Weste and Bob Kellar, said there was no way to hold all the public meetings, approve the map and submit it to the county registrar-recorder by June 30, the date the county set to ensure the ballot could be properly printed and distributed in time for the Nov. 3 election.

Miranda said if the council tried to do things quickly, citizens might sue the city over a lack of public participation. If it does nothing, Scott Rafferty, the Northern California attorney who threatened legal action in the first place on behalf of a group called Neighborhood Elections Now, likely would file suit.

“We’re gonna get sued if we do. We’re gonna get sued if we don’t,” Miranda said during the council meeting. “So, since we’re gonna get sued, let’s do it right.”

Mayor Cameron Smyth, who with Marsha McLean voted against the decision (although McLean quickly said she wished she could change her vote), reaffirmed the city’s commitment to moving to district elections. “We’ll see what happens,” he said.

Rafferty called the decision “comically irresponsible. This is going to backfire on them. They know they can’t pay me $400,000 to go away like last time. I’m not going away. I’m not giving up.”

Before the council’s decision, Rafferty expressed confidence that virtual meetings would be more flexible and effective in allowing people to participate if they can’t (or aren’t allowed to) get to City Hall for a council meeting. Zoom provides a method for the public to submit comments, thereby meeting the public-participation requirement, he said.

Now, the council seems to have forced Rafferty’s hand. He could go to court, but the courts are closed until at least June 10, according to the Superior Court website. Since the county’s stay-at-home order does not have an expiration date, there remains the possibility the courts also won’t open.

The courts are subjected only to Newsom’s executive order.

“My client doesn’t intend to challenge the governor’s ability to close the courts, but that could change,” Rafferty said. “What if the courts reopen … after June 1 but before Election Day?”

The election is going to happen Nov. 3, but courts typically declare the results null and void and order a special election. It happened in Palmdale in 2012 after a judge found the city in violation and ordered a new election; it took until 2016 for that case to be settled.

It also happened in October 2008 when a judge ruled in that the Madera Unified School District board election would not count. The seat was decided the following May.

“That’s not what we want,” Rafferty said. “That’s the only outcome. (But) I’m not rushing to court.”

In fact, Rafferty said, he has had settlement talks with Montes that included deferring district voting until 2022 provided an independent districting commission is put in place. Montes didn’t return calls to confirm.

“Joe Montes has been honest and straightforward,” Rafferty said. “There’s still a basis to negotiate. Obviously, they’ve got a high card. I’d rather it happen in 2020.”

Jonathan Ahmadi, who heads the 11-member Santa Clarita Independent Districting Committee that drew up three potential district maps before deciding on one, said he would support the city creating an independent districting committee.

As for the council’s decision Tuesday, Ahmadi called it “reckless and irresponsible and really unnecessary. … They potentially put themselves in a worse legal position.”

The council’s actions seemed to make moot local activist Steve Petzold’s intent to circulate a ballot measure calling for at-large elections in November.

Petzold has long favored district elections, but he said he was doing this because he wants other issues addressed as well: a directly elected mayor, council primary elections and term limits. “A comprehensive approach to government reform in Santa Clarita” is how he termed it.

“I don’t believe a judge is going to let an attorney sue the city and get fees if the people want (an at-large election),” Petzold said. Rafferty currently is entitled to $30,000 if the city moves to district elections by November; that amount would increase if the city doesn’t.

The council could have placed the question of moving to district elections at any time but chose not to. Asked if he would lead a charge to put the question on the November ballot, Kellar said Wednesday, “If I could cause that to happen, I would do it in a heartbeat.”

Smyth said he welcomes the policy discussion but refused to bring it up himself because it’s a low priority. “I’m going to run in whatever the election looks like.”

Besides, he said, since city council candidates don’t have to file until July, there remains time to put the district-election question before the voters. But he warned it would be non-binding.

Rafferty, naturally, opposes this. Since this is a presidential election, turnout is expected to be much higher, and those elected will have a say in drawing district lines for the next decade. “They can perpetuate the status quo,” he said. “You can’t have politicians elected in the 20th century decide city district lines until 2030.”

Wilk Urges Governor to Let Locals in LA County Call the Shots on Reopening

| News | May 21, 2020

Senator Scott Wilk, representing the 21st Senate District, and Assemblyman Tom Lackey (R, Palmdale),on Wednesday, May 20, 2020, submitted a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom urging him to give north county cities in Los Angeles County the ability to create their own Regional Recovery Plan and move to the next stage of his Resilience Roadmap and reopen.

Wilk issued the following statement:

“One size does not fit all when it comes to COVID19 and the communities it has impacted. The governor already acknowledged that reality when he allowed counties to create their own recovery plans. Today we are requesting that the governor apply that same logic in Los Angeles County – which is the size of Michigan. The high desert portion of the County, which we represent, is being unfairly impacted by LA County’s continuing stay at home order.  The cities of Lancaster, Palmdale and Santa Clarita are more rural and sprawling then their highly populated counterparts to the South and should not be held hostage while the City of LA works to get control of the virus. The Resilience Roadmap lays out a path for safe and responsible reopening of the state. North LA County should be able to use this Roadmap and call the shots on a safe and responsible reopening.”

Assemblyman Tom Lackey issued the following statement:

“I support a balanced, science-based approach to managing the consequences of this severe pandemic. The high desert portion of Los Angeles County is dramatically different than the basin in the landscape, transportation considerations, and population density. Our region deserves a separate timetable for reopening.”

Leona Cox Teacher of the Year

| News | May 21, 2020

Marisa Rosenblatt firmly believes that all children should be fully included in education, regardless of ability. The sensory garden and rock path within Leona Cox Community School in Canyon Country – and the honor she received from her peers – indicates she has support.

Rosenblatt, a pre-kindergarten teacher specializing in mild to moderate disabilities, led the building of a sensory garden to help her kids learn about the smells, sights and textures of various plants, but it ended up helping everyone better understand that all children are entitled to the same educational opportunities.

As a result, her fellow teachers selected Rosenblatt as her school’s Santa Clarita Valley Education Foundation teacher of the year. Her principal said the vote was close to unanimous.

“I’m a preschool teacher on an elementary school campus,” she said. “I didn’t expect it. Preschool is different. I was very touched.”

Rosenblatt, 38, has a master’s degree in early childhood special education and aspires to be an inclusion specialist in a state preschool program. She overcame learning disabilities dyslexia (reading disorder), dysgraphia (difficulty learning how to write) and dyscalculia (informally known as “math dyslexia”).

She has been at Leona Cox for 11 years, and she said it has the Sulphur Springs School District’s largest special-education population.

She said she was hired specifically to increase the amount of inclusion between the special-education kids and the typically developing ones, but desire only goes so far. Teachers have to be trained in how to seamlessly integrate children with special needs into the regular curricula; and money, or lack of it, is always a factor.
Rosenblatt knew there used to be a garden on campus that was built by an Eagle Scout, but it had lain dormant for many years. She decided a sensory garden would work. It would include garden beds, a sensory hopscotch pit and a sensory wall, among other features.

The project got a real boost last year after the Saugus High shooting. Life Scout Tyler Nilson got a group of classmates to volunteer with the designing and building of it as part of his Eagle Scout project.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony took place last year. There are three raised garden beds that grow various flowers, plants and bushes to help kids use their senses of smell and touch. The largest bed is the “mini-orchard” that grows fruits.

The sensory wall features all kinds of fabrics and toys that introduce kids to various textures and help develop fine-motor skills and hand-eye coordination. It also helps children relax when their minds focus on one sense.

Rosenblatt also got a bunch of rocks donated and turned them into a painted path in a dirt patch near the front of the school. Each teacher received enough rocks for each student. While the students painted, they were given a questionnaire with the theme, “What makes you, you?” Students paired up and answered one question based on a die roll. She said she hopes the project becomes perpetual.

The garden opened early this year, and its effect went beyond the intended group of kids. A group of fifth and sixth graders regularly work in the garden. Others just go sit there and relax.

“You would assume they would screw with it, but they find peace,” Rosenblatt said.

Many of them visit her class during recess or lunch and ask why her kids behave the way they do, or what disability they have. She calmly explains, and then they later bring a friend and explain what they learned.

The end result is more kids have an understanding of such conditions as autism, which breeds acceptance and understanding.

Principal Heather Drew said she’s a believer in a proactive approach, so if some older kids are having trouble, they can go to Rosenblatt’s class and work with her kids by acting like role models.

The end result is the behavior changes. Drew told of four fifth-grade girls who took turns being mean and alienating to each other. After Drew put them in Rosenblatt’s class, they not only helped the pre-kindergartners, they learned how to respect and trust each other.

“If we saw an issue, by providing a positive opportunity, that’s when we’d pull Marisa in,” Drew said. “They pay it forward by being a role model.”

Rosenblatt’s fellow teachers noticed. When it came time to vote for a teacher of the year, an honor the SCV Education Foundation bestows on one teacher in each of the 53 area public schools, she got almost every vote, Drew said. Only the teachers vote; the administration has nothing to do with it.

The principal even devised a creative way to tell Rosenblatt that she’d won. At a staff meeting, she told everyone she had given everyone the same gift, so everyone should open his or her gift bags at the same time.

Everyone pulled out a white T-shirt, except Rosenblatt, whose shirt was black. Drew even recorded the moment. At first, Rosenblatt looked confused, but then it dawned on her as many shrieked in delight.

“She’s a great person overall,” Drew said. “She cares about her kids, and her (kids’) parents.”

Crazy Otto’s Canyon Country Opens … and Closes

| News | May 21, 2020

For one day last week, Crazy Otto’s in Canyon Country operated like a real restaurant. Then came the threatening phone call.

Co-owner Adam Finley couldn’t take the chance and went back to take-out only.

“We had one good day,” he said.

That was Saturday. Finley, 37, knew that the Valencia Crazy Otto’s, an entirely different franchise owner, had opened with inside dining, choosing to ignore county and state guidelines out of economic necessity.

“I got a family of four, and one on the way,” Finley said. “This is killing me.”

With his sales down 85%, Finley knew he had to do something, even though he said that 15% was enough to pay the bills for now. So, he tried a different approach to his Valencia counterparts.

He opened his restaurant to outside dining. Tables were at least six feet apart. Staffers wore masks and served food in to-go boxes and to-go cups. All the tables and menus were nonporous and were cleaned and disinfected after each party left.

“Even if we’re open 25% of capacity, you know how much that will help us,” he said before admitting that the outside dining was probably closer to 10% of capacity.

The staff was excited. Two customers thanked him.

And then came the phone call.

Finley said it was an anonymous person threatening to close the place if it stayed open. He didn’t know if the caller had any connection to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Services.

He also didn’t want to take any chances. On Sunday, Crazy Otto’s in Canyon Country was back doing take-out only.

It could have been worse. The county completely shut down the Valencia location the same day. A health department spokesperson said it was because the restaurant committed social-distancing violations by offering inside dining, not having the staff wear masks and not having the tables set up at least six feet apart.

The county spokesperson also said she had no report about the Canyon Country location.

Finley said he made the decision to rescind outdoor dining unilaterally. Of his other two partners, he said one took issue and one was fine with it.

But he’s still worried about the future. He wishes there were better guidelines in place, and that those guidelines would be updated faster.

“If L.A. wants to make this last until July, a lot of businesses are going to go under,” he said. “I’m worried. We’re drowning.”

Children’s Bureau Offering Online Foster-Adoption Orientation – Urgent need for Resource Families to Help Children in Foster Care

| News | May 14, 2020

May is National Foster Parent Appreciation Month. Children’s Bureau is inviting the community to celebrate by applying to become a resource parent and fostering or foster-adopting siblings. Children’s Bureau is now offering an online foster-adoption orientation for individuals and/or couples who are interested helping children in foster care while reunifying with birth families or to provide legal permanency by adoption.

The current health crisis has accelerated the need for resource parents (foster and adoptive) to help local at-risk youth stay in their communities. In Los Angeles County alone, the foster care population exceeds 21,000 children with 200 of those foster children waiting for an adoptive family. Many of these children are siblings in need of families who are willing and able to keep them together. In fact, Children’s Bureau turns away at least 10 sibling sets weekly due to lack of families.

“Being a resource parent lets you help someone in their time of need. You’re the support system for a child and for their parents,” said Brittany, who with her husband Jeremy, foster-adopted two sibling children. The couple has three biological children and knew that fostering was something they wanted to do. “Children’s Bureau has been there to help get us through the challenging times and to celebrate the special moments, especially when the adoption of our two children was finalized,” Jeremy added. See their story https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rfGZvaVDihE&feature=youtu.be

Children’s Bureau welcomes every individual regardless of race, age, religion, disability, marital status, ethnic background, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression to become a resource for children. Qualifying families receive training and support throughout their journey. For questions and/or to get started, call 800-730-3933 or visit the website https://www.all4kids.org/programs/family-foster-care-and-adoption to complete a quick inquiry form.

Since 1904, Children’s Bureau has been a nonprofit leader in protecting vulnerable children through prevention, treatment and advocacy. The agency helps more than 50,000 at-risk children and parents each year throughout Los Angeles and Orange Counties with services that include school readiness, parenting classes, family resource centers, support groups, mental health counseling, foster care and foster-adoption and more. To learn more about the agency and/or its foster care and adoption program, visit the website https://www.all4kids.org. Licenses: Los Angeles FFA 197805422, Palmdale FFA 197800281, Adoption (All) 197805428.

Garcia Wins

| News | May 14, 2020

Now that Republican Mike Garcia won the May 12 congressional special election over Democrat Christy Smith, Garcia will only have about six months to prove to the voters he should win a full two-year term.

College of the Canyons political science professor Lena Smyth said Garcia has one major advantage when the two face off again Nov. 3.

“Incumbency has the most advantages,” Smyth said before the election, “because whomever gets elected is now the incumbent. That seat is labeled. The (Republicans) will want to protect the incumbent, even if it’s only six months.”

Garcia is the first California Republican to flip a House seat since 1998, giving the GOP more than enough motivation to try and hold it.

Smyth said that Garcia, as the representative, and Smith, as Assemblywoman, have records to run on – or one the other can criticize. For example, House Democrats have proposed a $3 trillion stimulus package that Republicans find too expansive and expensive; how would Garcia vote?

He released this statement Wednesday: “For too long, the people of our district have not had representation, and it’s time their voice is heard in Washington. These are difficult times, and too much is at stake – our small businesses, our workers and our families need all the help they can get.”

Smith already has a voting record as Assemblywoman, and Garcia used that in his attacks. But with the state expecting a $54 billion budget shortfall, Smith might have some difficult votes to make regarding how to close that.

“Both have decisions to make that will be difficult, and that will follow both to November,” Smyth said.

It’s also likely Smith will attack Garcia for being closely aligned with President Donald Trump. Although the president’s name is largely absent from Garcia’s campaign website, Trump endorsed Garcia and tweeted words of congratulations on his apparent victory. Also, Garcia often invoked Trump’s name and support for him in speeches.

In her concession statement to Garcia, Smith hinted at the points on which she plans to campaign: “This is only one step in this process, and I look forward to having a vigorous debate about the issues in the upcoming November 2020 election, from healthcare access to job creation, aid for working families, investments in local classrooms to wildfire protection, women’s rights and more in the months ahead.”

How likely the GOP holds the seat also depends on the winning margin. Smyth said the smaller the margin of victory, the more likely the Democrats will pump more money into the race to try and retake it in November. Too large a margin of victory might cause the Democrats to decide to commit resources elsewhere, perhaps in Alabama to help Sen. Doug Jones keep his seat.

“If he holds (the lead) in double digits, in a plus-six Democratic district, that’s cause for concern for Christy,” Smyth said. “I think that will cause the party to pause.”

That isn’t to say Garcia is guaranteed to prevail in November. Smyth said much could happen between now and then. A close election certainly gives the Democrats hope, but it also depends on what’s happening in the country: How did Trump handle the COVID-19 crisis between now and November? How did Joe Biden fare?

“Down-ticket races are very affected by presidential races,” Smyth said. “Trump’s not going to win California, but the Republican Party is going to get out the vote to give Mike Garcia a chance to be elected.”

The same could be said about the Democrats getting out the vote to help Smith. Presidential elections always mean higher voter turnouts. Smyth said that means more people vote, but they aren’t as educated about the issues. Midterm elections typically are smaller, but the voters are more in tune with the issues and candidates, Smyth said.

What does that mean for this race? Smyth isn’t sure.

“Political science is not an exact science,” she said. “It’s a science of interpretation. We make our assumptions, we make our theories based on knowledge, but we don’t know until Election Day.”

But she is sure in the advantage of incumbency.

“I don’t see a negative to winning in May,” Smyth said.

Future of Patriots Luncheon is Uncertain

| News | May 7, 2020

Bill Reynolds thought he was going to own and control his beloved Patriots Luncheon. Instead, his ire with the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce leadership, specifically John Musella, grew.

Reynolds, a Vietnam War veteran who wrote about veterans for The Signal and now does for KHTS, said he felt he had a handshake agreement that his organization would take over the annual summer luncheon that honors local veterans. But the memorandum of understanding he received required it being licensed from the chamber, and he turned it down.

“We were dumbfounded by the MOU Musella sent over,” Reynolds said. “We were getting ourselves cranked up, figuring out where we’d have it, what we’re going to do. We won’t be buying a table this year.”

Musella emailed a statement: “I do not pretend to understand why the Veterans Memorial committee chose not to take ownership of this event to honor Veterans. But what I can tell you is that it will continue to be the Chamber’s honor to salute our Veterans.”

The chamber, in coordination with the nonprofit SCV Veterans Memorial, Inc., of which Reynolds has been president for the last five years, put on many of the nine previous Patriots Luncheons.

Reynolds was deeply involved in the first seven. He said he typically helped nominate and select honorees, preferring combat veterans, and secured participants such as honor guards, military bands or bagpipers and national-anthem singers.

For the 2018 luncheon, Reynolds missed the message indicating a venue change from a committee member’s office to the chamber headquarters, so he went to the old location and there received a call wondering where he was.

It took about 15 minutes to reach the chamber, but by the time he got there, the honorees had been chosen.

“Isn’t this a selection meeting?” Reynolds said.

“‘Well, you were late,’” Reynolds said Musella told him.

It appeared to Reynolds that Musella wanted to honor veterans associated with Homes4Families, a nonprofit that builds affordable housing for low-income families, including veterans. It regularly sponsors the luncheon. One of its major benefactors is the state Department of Veterans Affairs, or CalVet, and CalVet Secretary Vito Imbasciani served as honorary luncheon chairman that year.

“I was stunned,” Reynolds recalled. “(The list of honorees) was pre-selected before (the meeting) started. There were 20 nominations, if not more. I voiced my disapproval at their kicking some of my nominees to the curb.”

That night, still fuming, Reynolds wrote what he called “a scathing email to everyone in the selection process.” Musella responded by offering to meet for coffee in a few days.

Having calmed down by then, Reynolds recalled Musella promised him that the 2019 luncheon would be different.

When it was time for the committee to meet, Reynolds couldn’t attend because he was on a cruise. Then the date got changed again, causing several other committee members to not attend.

“Everyone’s vote on the selection committee is treated equally and everyone has an opportunity to speak and share their thoughts,” Musella said. “If a member of the selection committee is not able to attend the meeting in person, we make calling in an option, as well as providing the committee your thoughts and suggestions in writing in advance. It is a committee member’s responsibility to actively participate in the selection process.”

Later, Reynolds learned from the luncheon chairman that people in then-Rep. Katie Hill’s office were invited to attend the meeting, and they were involved in choosing the honorees, and he was not happy about that.

One of those people was Jonathan Ahmadi, Hill’s district representative. He said he received an invitation from luncheon Chairman Peter Warda, vice president of Evolve Business Strategies, which manages the chamber (Musella is a partner, and Musella’s husband, Ivan Volschenk, is managing partner).

But invitations also were extended to Democratic Assemblywoman Christy Smith and Republican state Sen. Scott Wilk’s offices. Ahmadi said he attended, as did Ryan Valencia from Smith’s office, Warda, Volschenk, luncheon Honorary Chairman Fred Arnold and two others, although Ahmadi couldn’t recall if Musella was there (no one from Wilk’s office attended, Ahmadi said; Musella said he was there).

Ahmadi said he received a packet from Warda that included a list of nominees and an explanation, from either the nominees or the people who nominated them, why they should be chosen. He said the committee tried to pick honorees from every available war, and the seven chosen included veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War and Iraq War.

Reynolds said two of his nominees, Mario Aquilani and Toshiaki Watanabe, were selected, but Veterans Memorial committee member Bob Kellar’s nominee, Mike Garcia, was not (Garcia now is running for Hill’s seat against Smith; Musella said chamber policy forbids honoring any candidate actively running for any political office).

“Since this was a chamber-sponsored event, we looked at how they gave back to the business community and how they were involved,” Ahmadi said. “We tried to do the best job we could in the selection committee based on the criteria the chamber provided.”

But Reynolds, again annoyed, wrote a scathing email. A couple of months later, Musella called offering an informal chat about the 10th Patriots Luncheon.

The two met for coffee on Sept. 16, and Reynolds said Musella told him that he didn’t understand why the chamber had this event, that it was important for a veteran’s organization to run it, and would he like to take it over?

Reynolds said he had to ask his organization, which said yes enthusiastically. Then Musella said he had to get chamber-board approval, which he got but came with two conditions: Reynolds’ group would return the luncheon to the chamber when it no longer wanted to operate it, and Reynolds would sign a memorandum of understanding to that effect. Reynolds said he didn’t need his organization’s permission to agree.

He expected a simple one-page document; in February, he got three pages of legal language that said the chamber would own the event and license it to Reynolds’ organization.

“Wait a minute. This is supposed to be a gentlemen’s agreement,” Reynolds said. He reviewed the document with Kellar, who agreed it should not be signed. Instead, Reynolds sent Musella an alternate MOU that detailed his version of their conversation. Musella said the board couldn’t accept that.

Musella said the chamber “simply sought to protect the long-term success of the event. We didn’t ask for any financial benefits, nor did we request the event continue to be branded as a Chamber event.”

Reynolds thought this showed a lack of trust between his veterans group and the chamber. Kellar only said, “They put in parameters that did not fit. … It would’ve been a nice fit for the Veterans Memorial committee, but then again, I understand the chamber came up with it, and it’s a great program.”

The date for the 10th Luncheon has not been announced, though it’s typically the second week in July. Musella said in an email it’s being rescheduled due to COVID-19 and promised unspecified changes.

“He misled me. I feel I was misled right out of the gate,” Reynolds said. “Retaining ownership, that wasn’t part of the conversation. … I wished it didn’t go down that way.”

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Doug’s Rant – Video Edition

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