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Ventura County

Buying Out Chancellor an Expensive Notion

July 07, 2002|AMANDA COVARRUBIAS and MARGARET TALEV | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

If the embattled Philip Westin is forced out of his job as chancellor of the Ventura County Community College District over allegations of excessive spending, the district will have to pay him more than $300,000 to buy out his new, four-year contract.

The provisions are laid out in an agreement approved in May that pays Westin $203,000 a year to run the three-campus district. If the board asked Westin to resign, his contract allows him to collect 18 months' salary, or $305,000.

But at least one board member said it might be worth it, noting that it is more important to ensure that a recent voter-approved bond measure and subsequent construction plans are administered without the swirl of controversy surrounding Westin.

"We've passed a $356-million bond," said trustee John Tallman, a longtime critic of Westin and the only board member who voted against renewing his contract. "Three-hundred thousand dollars is a very small amount compared to that.

"We have to look at it in terms of, 'Are we really set up with the right people to do the right job on that bond?' "

Westin, 57, could not be reached for comment. But he has said repeatedly that he has no intention of resigning.

District counsel Jack Lipton noted that any termination of the chancellor's contract would have to come with Westin's consent, unless the board could show cause.

"The contract is very simple," Lipton said. "It's not meant to be tricky."

To show cause, the board would have to prove one of the following: that Westin violated the contract; that he failed to perform his duties competently; that he had a physical or mental disability that prevented him from performing his job; that he habitually neglected his duties; that he engaged in willful misconduct; or that he was convicted of a felony or any crime involving moral turpitude.

Trustee Art Hernandez said last week that he wants the five-member board to reconsider Westin's contract because of public outrage sparked by recent revelations of the chancellor's spending habits. During a four year period, Westin was reimbursed more than $119,000 by the district for business-related expenses, according to district records.

Board President Norman Nagel could not be reached for comment, but trustees Bob Gonzales, Allan Jacobs and Tallman said they would be willing to discuss the issue at a future board meeting.

"I don't think we need to revisit the contract, but I think we need to review all the expenditure issues and the policies we have and see if there's more that needs to be done," Jacobs said. "I think the chancellor has done a very good job for the district. There have been some glitches along the way, which you are always going to have if you're a public figure like that."

The board voted 4 to 1 in May to extend Westin's contract and award him a 16% raise, even though it had been informed of immense expense reimbursements two months earlier.

After Westin's expenditures were made public, however, taxpayer advocates, faculty union members and the public responded by calling for the chancellor's resignation. More than 100 people showed up at last month's board meeting, demanding that the chancellor and trustees step down.

Hernandez said the public outcry prompted him to ask Nagel to call a closed-session meeting to discuss Westin's future with the district. He said he was under pressure and acted hastily when he voted to renew the chancellor's contract.

"We have to revisit the contract--that's what the people want," Hernandez said last week. "I just want to show some leadership.... I'll take responsibility for my vote."

Hernandez said it would be premature to discuss the potential costs of buying out Westin's contract.

Tallman said that before reviewing the chancellor's contract, the board should hire an independent auditor to thoroughly examine Westin's expenses. Earlier this year, the board hired an auditor chosen from among a handful suggested by Lipton's law firm. Tallman objected at the time, saying the auditor was not truly independent.

"This [previous audit] cost something like $6,000, it only took about a week and they only used one person," he said.

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