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Cameron Fired in Board Compromise : School Superintendent Makes Bitter Allusion to McCarthyism

April 28, 1985|BOB WILLIAMS | Times Staff Writer

REDONDO BEACH — In what was termed a political compromise designed to bring peace to warring factions in three communities served by the South Bay Union High School District, the school board has ousted Supt. Hugh Cameron--even though three of the five trustees said they could find no "fair and just grounds" for his dismissal.

The compromise, reached at a board meeting Wednesday night, satisfies the demands of Trustees Armando Acosta and Lyn Flory for new leadership in the troubled 4,800-student system, but leaves Cameron's three supporters on the board with the power to select his successor and control district policy--at least until the next board elections in November.

Cameron will remain as superintendent until his replacement is found, probably by July, and then he will be reassigned as the district's personnel manager. As part of the compromise, Acosta and Flory withdrew their earlier opposition to granting Cameron a scheduled pay raise--from his current $53,000 salary to an estimated $61,000.

Board President Josh Fredricks, in proposing Cameron's demotion, said he was concerned that the superintendent would become a major issue in the November elections and thus divert voter attention from educational and financial problems faced by the underenrolled district.

Fredricks, Flory and Trustee Noel Palm will be up for reelection in the district, which serves high school students from Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach.

Controversies over the closure of Aviation High School in north Redondo Beach and the subsequent sale of a major portion of the site to a private developer have kept the communities in turmoil for several years.

The generally low-key firing ritual Wednesday began with Cameron's supporters praising his 30-year record of service as a district teacher and administrator.

"I could offer a litany of things showing that our superintendent has done a good job (during his five-year tenure)," Fredricks said. "But that's not the point now."

The point, he said, is that Cameron can no longer be an "effective leader or produce positive results when his integrity and ability have been publicly maligned. We must now remove the superintendent . . . not for what he has done, but for what has been done to him."

The damage to Cameron's reputation, Fredricks said, resulted largely from earlier suggestions by Acosta that the superintendent may have discriminated against several developers by rejecting their bids for the Aviation site, which was later sold for $14.5 million. Those allegations, Fredricks said, "are both untrue and reprehensible."

Palm and Trustee William Beverly also chastised Acosta for raising the charges at the March 6 meeting, when Acosta, joined by Flory, went public with a bid to dismiss Cameron. Acosta coupled the Aviation issue with a wide-ranging criticism of Cameron's performance, branding the superintendent "an expert wheeler-dealer" who had not served as "the educational leader sorely needed by our district."

Before agreeing to Cameron's demotion, Palm said he wanted to make it "absolutely clear" that the decision was not based on any evidence of improprieties on the part of the superintendent.

"It seems inconceivable that trumped-up charges could lead to this result," Palm said later. "Justice has not prevailed . . . but I had to vote on the basis of what I feel is best for the district."

Beverly dissented in the 4-1 roll call, after noting that his vote would not change the outcome. "In spite of the fact that Mr. Cameron has done a good job," Beverly said, "if he's slandered, then we must fire him for having a bad reputation."

The firing ritual ended with Cameron, his voice choked with emotion, reading a two-page statement in which he said he accepted the board's conclusion that he could not effectively serve out the remaining three years of his contract as the district's superintendent.

Turning to Acosta, Cameron said, "You, sir, have created a situation that has done irreparable damage to my future. . . . Let me recall for you what Joseph Welch (a defense attorney in the 1950s Senate hearings on alleged communists in the federal government) once said to Sen. Joseph McCarthy: 'Have you no sense of honor, sir, no sense of the damage you do with your lies?' I ask you the same question."

Cameron concluded by telling the 28-year-old Acosta, "I have not lost because I know that I have served this district as teacher, administrator and superintendent, honorably and honestly for 30 years, which, sir, is longer than you have lived on this earth."

Confident of Position

Acosta appeared unruffled, saying later that he remained confident that his position accurately represents a substantial community desire for new district leadership. He said he had no specific evidence of wrongdoing on Cameron's part, but had merely raised "concerns" which he felt should be checked out.

Acosta said he decided at the March 6 meeting to "provide my own evaluation" of Cameron's performance as superintendent after the board majority had refused to go along with his proposals for a regular annual evaluation of the superintendent and an inquiry into the "concerns" expressed by the unsuccessful bidders on the Aviation property.

"I am hopeful that the crisis in confidence we have suffered will now subside and we can get on with the business of educating the children," Acosta said.

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