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Steve Petzold: Menace or Misunderstood?

| News | March 14, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About Lee Barnathan

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

4 Responses to “Steve Petzold: Menace or Misunderstood?”

  1. Joe Messina on March 17, 2019 @ 12:57 am

    I’ve known Steve for over 15 years. He has approached me MANY MANY times over issues at the district and in the Republican party, sometimes pretty passionate, sometimes pretty mellow… I have never felt threatened by him, ever! I believe he really cares about the schools and city overall. Many times the issues he brings to my attention actually do require some “tweaking” and other times we find ourselves unable to be on the same page and yet we remain civil and able to work together on projects that better the community.

  2. Sharlene Duzick on March 17, 2019 @ 7:56 pm

    I believe that there should always be a checks and balances system in place in many facets of government and business. Too often policies are not followed and systems are not complied with in many realms which in the end cost businesses and tax payers money. I met Steve while running for the Saugus Union School Board. I was candid with him that I felt his points of discussion were valid and did justify inquiries. I was transparent with him that his passion to make a difference could be misconstrued and at times because of his delivery and he may need someone to help supplement his requests. However, one thing that is very consistent with him, his actions are for the positive impact of the community. Steve makes every effort to ask the tough questions many have not taken the time to look into since most households are dual income and lack additional time to do so. In addition, he is willing and feels compelled to offer his time and resources to help you understand what issues he sees and why they need to be pursed.

    I know many may find his persistence difficult, but we certainly need folks like Steve to ensure there are checks and balances and to question how are resources are used.

  3. Greg G Aprahamian on March 19, 2019 @ 8:38 pm

    Steve Petzold is an asset to Santa Clarita, and we need many more like him. When a dedicated member of the public gets involved, it keeps the elected officials on their toes.
    That’s important, and there is good reason many elected officials don’t like the involvement.

  4. Greg G Aprahamian on March 19, 2019 @ 8:40 pm

    Steve Petzold is an asset to Santa Clarita, and we need many more like him. When a dedicated member of the public gets involved in an issue that is important, it keeps the elected officials on their toes.
    That’s important, and there is good reason some elected officials don’t like the involvement.

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