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Frogue Recall Drive Fails to Get Enough Valid Signers

Education: Community college trustee, under fire for board actions, vows to stay in position.

November 13, 1998|CHRIS CEBALLOS and NANCY CLEELAND | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The campaign to oust community college trustee Steven J. Frogue has failed for lack of valid signatures on the recall petitions, county election officials said Thursday.

"I'm disappointed but I'm not shocked," said Peggy Thomas, director of the committee formed last year to recall Frogue, a trustee with the South Orange County Community College District. "If the worst thing to come out of this is that we've raised awareness of Mr. Frogue and his dealings, then we've been very successful."

At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Frogue lashed out at his critics, accusing them of orchestrating a "vicious, bitter smear campaign . . . fraught with lies, slander and outright hate." The two-term board member, whose current term expires in 2000, reiterated that he will not resign his post.

Frogue angered students, faculty and Jewish groups last year when, as college board president, he advocated holding a seminar on the John F. Kennedy assassination that would have featured speakers who have been characterized as anti-Semitic. Controversy over the seminar proposal was part of the reason for the recall effort.

Frogue, who teaches history at Foothill High School in Tustin, was also accused of minimizing the Holocaust. He has repeatedly denied the allegations and has said the recall was orchestrated by a small group of professors unhappy with recent staffing changes mandated by the board at the college district's two campuses, Saddleback College in Mission Viejo and Irvine Valley College.

Recall leaders last month turned in petitions with about 50,000 signatures, more than the 37,947 needed to force a special election. But county election officials said Thursday that they could validate only 32,322 of those names.

Rosalyn Lever, county registrar of voters, said many signatures on the petitions were duplicates, and others did not belong to registered voters. Though it is common to find invalid signatures on petitions, she said, the rejection rate was somewhat higher than usual in this case. A common rule of thumb is to gather 30% more signatures than are needed, she said.

"Generally if people go through the trouble of circulating a petition for a recall, they make sure they have enough signatures," she said.

The effort to recall Frogue had drawn widespread bipartisan support and was endorsed by the state Republican Party as well as the Orange County Democratic Party.

The recall committee met late Thursday and decided not to challenge the registrar's findings, Thomas said. Instead, the group will focus its attention on raising money defeat Frogue if he seeks reelection.

Thomas said the recall drive was stymied by a shortage of funds. She said the committee spent about $110,000 but that the money came in too late. "Money is what has always been our enemy," she said.

Frogue, elected to the board in 1992 and reelected in 1996, has accused the recall committee's paid petition gatherers of harassing students and improperly gathering signatures.

The entire community college board has come under criticism recently. In a review by state accreditation officials last month, Frogue and other board members were chastised for micromanaging college affairs, rather than setting broad policies. The examiners warned college district officials that Saddleback and Irvine Valley could lose their accreditation if the trustees do not change their style.

A series of controversial management decisions last year provoked Roy Bauer, a professor at Irvine Valley, to file a lawsuit that is scheduled for a final hearing on Nov. 20 in Orange County Superior Court.

At issue are the appointment of Irvine Valley College President Raghu P. Mathur and the reassignment of nine department heads at IVC--including Bauer--to classroom duties. They were replaced by administrators from Saddleback College.

Bauer's lawsuit alleges that in both instances the trustees acted in closed session in violation of the Brown Act, the state's open meeting law.

But the board majority has said that the reassignments were necessary to save money in the financially troubled college district. To counter the criticism in the lawsuit, the trustees have held special public meetings, most recently this week, to vote again on the administrative changes, with the same results.

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