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Letter to the Editor

| Opinion | May 9, 2019

I want to thank the Santa Clarita Gazette and reporter Lee Barnathan for the coverage of legal fee reimbursement to Chancellor Dianne G Van Hook from public funds.

There are a number of suspicious circumstances that require an independent investigation of this reimbursement to determine whether it was justified by Dr. Van Hook’s employment contract, and whether policy and procedure was followed by the District Trustees and the college’s administrative staff.

The true reason for the Request for Civil Harassment Restraining Orders (CH-100) was suspect in and of itself. The filing for case (PS018322) in Los Angeles Superior Court was ostensibly to protect Dr. Van Hook from “psychological stress and anxiety as a result of his (Steve Petzold) actions.

However, the filing had many elements of a SLAPP suit (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation). Dr. Van Hook engaged Brian Koegle Esq. as her attorney. At the time, Brian Koegle was the Co Chairman of the Yes on Measure E Committee.

In addition Brian Koegle and Chancellor Van Hook served on the COC Foundation which donated $150,000 to the Yes on Measure E campaign.

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It was in the strategic interest of the Yes on E Committee and the COC Foundation to file the suit, and silence me with an emergency restraining order one week before the election.

It is noteworthy that on June 22, 2016 Judge Loomis determined that the video which I placed on Facebook and supposedly caused “psychological stress and anxiety” for Dr. Van Hook was informational in nature and not cause for extending the temporary restraining order.

The question on the table now is whether Dr. Van Hook was entitled to reimbursement from the District for the legal fees paid to Brian Koegle’s law firm Poole & Shaffery.

There is no evidence on record that the Trustee’s prior approved her legal action, and her contract limits the District obligation to indemnification for actions taken against the college or Dianne Van Hook acting in the capacity of the Chancellor.

If Chancellor Van Hook feels that the District was responsible for the legal fee, why didn’t she have Shaffery & Poole submit the bill for $15,099 directly to the District?

Instead Chancellor Van Hook wrote a personal check six months after the billing and applied for reimbursement.

On the Direct Payment Voucher there is a cryptic message Jonathan, “Pls use this as invoice for req. # 0075826 & process ASAP. Thank you. Rosie.” One questions whether this is within the policy and procedure of the college.
It is understandable that someone would not want the billing from Poole & Shaffery scrutinized because it devoid of detail regarding dates, services provided, individuals providing the service, time worked or the billing rate. In my opinion, the amount charged is grotesquely excessive. Poole & Shaffery should have been asked to document the amount charged to Dr. Van Hook and paid by the college.

On July 12, 2017 the reimbursement to Dr. Van Hook of $15,099 was placed on the consent calendar for approval by the Board of Trustees and categorized as “General Institutional Support Services,” seemingly to avoid scrutiny by the Trustees or other interested parties.

The Board of Trustees is ultimately responsible for expenditures made by the Santa Clarita Valley Community College District.

The taxpayers deserve an independent investigation of this expenditure and the particular circumstances that led up to its approval for reimbursement.

If it is determined that Dr. Van Hook was not entitled to reimbursement for this personal legal expense, and/or that normal procedures for reimbursement were not followed, Chancellor Van Hook should reimburse the District.

Steve Petzold

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