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Trustee Calls Recall Effort 'Witch Hunt'

Education: Steven J. Frogue, whose proposed Kennedy assassination seminar provoked anger, denounces opponents who plan another bid to unseat him.

March 14, 1998|ROBERT OURLIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MISSION VIEJO — College Trustee Steven J. Frogue, facing a second recall campaign over his controversial views and battles with faculty members, denounced the effort Friday as a "witch hunt" and "McCarthyism in plain view."

Frogue, a trustee and former president of the South Orange County Community College District, predicted the second effort would end in failure, despite recall proponents' plans to use paid petition gatherers through a firm specializing in political campaigns.

Answering reporters' questions for the first time in months, Frogue also said he would not consider resigning from the board, even if doing so would ease the swell of controversy and help resume the flow of money from contributors who have shied away from the district's two colleges, Saddleback College in Mission Viejo and Irvine Valley College in Irvine.

"This isn't a recall. There has been no malfeasance in office," Frogue said, speaking in soft tones but using highly charged words. "This is a campaign of harassment and intimidation. The public isn't buying their lies. Now they have to hire . . . paid signature bounty hunters."

Frogue was accompanied at a news conference by John S. Williams, president of the college district's board; members of the college administration, including acting Chancellor Kathleen O'Connell Hodge; and representatives of the Faculty Assn., which bargains on behalf of faculty members.

Williams said that with Frogue's help, a 4-3 majority on the college board had instituted streamlining that has redistributed $2 million in the district budget, returned faculty to classrooms and enabled higher enrollments. But he added that the changes have hurt relations between campus groups and have affected contributions to the colleges.

"Effecting meaningful change has been difficult," Williams said. "You'll be opposed at every move."

Frogue has been a proponent of the changes, at one point Friday flipping through the pages of a 6-inch-thick computer printout that he said contained the names of students on waiting lists for required classes. The district's three other trustees, along with a vocal group of faculty members and students, oppose the changes.

Frogue last year provoked greater community outrage, however, by proposing a three-day seminar, which he wanted to teach, concerning the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The seminar would have required the colleges to pay for expenses of three out-of-town speakers, two of whose views are questioned by Jewish groups and civil rights organizations.

Frogue contends that the flap over the Kennedy assassination seminar has been exploited by faculty members opposed to college streamlining who are "manipulating" Jews to gain their support.

"The faculty malcontents and their cohorts are using the worst of McCarthy tactics: Take innuendoes, build lies on them, get quotes in the newspapers, then quote from the lies," Frogue said, also lashing out at the press. "This, in intelligence parlance, is called 'blowback.' It's the journalistic equivalent of sharing dirty needles."

Frogue said he would consider rescheduling the Kennedy assassination seminar, but he added, "I would need an invitation now. Once burned, twice cautious."

If successful, the next recall campaign would place the question of Frogue's ouster on the November ballot. Frogue, first elected in 1992, is scheduled to remain in office until 2000. But three other posts on the board are up for grabs in November.

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