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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / COMMUNITY COLLEGE

South O.C. Seats Have 10 Trading Hostilities

How much say teachers should have in running the colleges is a key issue in race for four seats.

October 31, 2000|JEFF GOTTLIEB | TIMES STAFF WRITER

This is a campaign with more angles than even a geometry professor could calculate.

While some school races go begging for candidates, this one has 10 scrambling for four seats. There are investigations of wrongdoing and anonymous political fliers. One candidate is the head of the Orange County Republican Party, seeking his first elected office. One incumbent is steaming that another board member encouraged a slate of candidates to run against him and his allies.

All this for a seat on the South Orange County Community College District Board of Trustees, a nonpartisan office that pays $400 a month.

Contentiousness is nothing new in the district, which runs Saddleback and Irvine Valley community colleges, attended by about 33,000 students from 24 cities in southern Orange County. Dueling between the faculty and the administration is the most popular sport on campus, with internecine battles among factions of the teachers' union a close second.

Comes the election, and the warfare moves to the campaign.

There is open hostility between two camps of candidates, one aligned with the teachers' union (it calls itself the Clean Slate) and the other with the board majority.

There are three other community college board elections in the county, but they are comparatively low profile. The South Orange County Community College District, the largest in the county, is a roar echoing through the canyons from Santa Ana to San Clemente.

"There's these incredibly bad feelings between the two sides [of candidates], and it's just awful," board President Nancy M. Padberg said.

There are four seats up for election--two with two candidates each, two with three candidates each.

* In Area 1, in a rerun of the 1996 race, businessman Don Davis is challenging David B. Lang, the incumbent and a member of Clean.

* In Area 3, incumbent Dorothy J. Fortune is being challenged by William Shane, executive director of the Orange County chapter of the National Conference for Community and Justice and a member of Clean, and Dave Colville, a retired educator.

* In Area 6, longtime County GOP chairman Thomas A. "Tom" Fuentes, appointed to his seat in July, is running against Robert D. "Bob" Loeffler, a member of Clean who served as Irvine Valley College's vice president for business services for a decade before quitting two years ago.

* In Area 7, incumbent John S. Williams, a retired sheriff's deputy, is running against Bill Hochmuth, a businessman and member of Clean, and John L. Minnella, a business consultant.

Most of the candidates agree the key issue dividing them is how much say teachers should have in running the colleges, with the union and Clean wanting a return to "shared governance" that gives them greater input. The teachers also want a return to a system that gives them "release time" to opt out of some teaching duties to perform administrative duties, such as curriculum development.

But beyond that, the issues get muddled. Williams said the election is a battle between "ultraliberals" and conservatives like himself. But the slate he describes as "ultraliberal" includes Hochmuth and Loeffler, both lifelong Republicans who are voting for George W. Bush for president. On Williams' "conservative" slate is Fortune, a registered Democrat until February, when she changed her registration to undeclared.

The campaign is the latest in a series of storms that have settled over the community college district in the last several years.

Much of the past controversy swirled around trustee Steven J. Frogue and allegations he was an anti-Semite. He resigned in June after 7 1/2 years on the board and surviving two recall attempts. The board appointed Fuentes to replace him.

There was also the district's war with the community college accrediting agency, which placed the district on warning status and called it "wracked by malfunction." Irvine Valley and Saddleback did gain accreditation in February.

Misleading Fliers Seem Par for Course

Through it all, there have been nonstop battles between the administration and the faculty, with disputes often ending up in court and the district typically being ordered to back off and pay its opponents' legal fees.

This history sets the stage for the current contentious campaign.

For example, four single-page anonymous fliers are circulating, filled with misinformation and inflammatory language that portray the Clean candidates as supporting domestic-partner benefits and a gay and lesbian studies program.

These have been sent out with no return address, stuffed in mailboxes and even faxed to some people. It is difficult to tell how widely they have been distributed.

The candidates named in the mailers said the subject is not even an issue in the campaign. Board President Padberg, who is part of the board majority, agreed. "I have no knowledge this [domestic partners] is going to be coming to the board," she said, adding it won't be up for discussion for at least two years, when a new contract is negotiated with teachers.

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