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Ventura County

Board to Discuss Westin's Future

Colleges: Trustees may reevaluate a new contract given to the Ventura County chancellor whose spending is under fire.

July 10, 2002|AMANDA COVARRUBIAS and MARGARET TALEV | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Trustees for the Ventura County Community College District will hold a closed-door meeting Tuesday to discuss the future of Chancellor Philip Westin, who has come under fire for his spending on car repairs, computer equipment and high-priced meals.

Westin's critics said the meeting will provide trustees with an opportunity to reassert their authority over an administrator who, they contend, has operated without appropriate oversight.

"They could pussyfoot around, but I hope they don't do that," said Hank Lacayo, a longtime Democratic Party and Latino rights activist.

"There's a moral issue here and an image that this group is portraying to the rest of the community and the kids attending the colleges. Mr. Westin should go."

Larry Miller, president of the Ventura County Federation of College Teachers, a union long at odds with the chancellor, also urged trustees to remove Westin.

"If anybody on that board has political ambitions, they'd better see to it that Westin resigns or is fired," Miller said.

Art Hernandez, vice president of the five-member board of trustees, said he called the special meeting to give trustees an opportunity to reevaluate their May decision renewing Westin's contract through 2006 at an annual salary of $203,000.

"What I'm looking for is for all of us to have a discussion in regards to the district leadership," Hernandez said."It's going to have a very serious tone."

Westin's contract guarantees him a $305,000 buyout if board members force him to resign.

Trustee John Tallman, the only board member to vote against the new contract, said he would like the board to authorize an independent, detailed audit of Westin's expenditures since he became chancellor in 1996.

Westin did not return phone calls seeking comment but has said repeatedly he will not step down. Westin has not been invited to the meeting, which will be closed to the public because it involves a personnel matter. The public, however, will have a chance to speak on the topic before the 7 p.m. session Tuesday at district headquarters, 333 Skyway Drive, in Camarillo.

The chancellor came under fire in March, when the Camarillo law firm of Wood & Bender presented trustees with a report detailing $119,000 in expenses the chancellor accrued over four years on such items as meals, computer software and automobile maintenance.

In talks with trustees and in a complaint to the State Bar of California, the chancellor accused one of the law firm's partners, David Bender, of retaliating because Westin had declined to steer legal work his way.

Bender has declined repeated requests for interviews.

His partner, David Wood, maintains the firm did nothing improper, and the state bar has declined to investigate.

Trustees initially sought Westin's resignation but dropped those efforts after an auditor hired by the district cleared him of any criminal wrongdoing. At the time, Tallman complained the audit was not thorough enough.

In May, trustees voted 4 to 1 to renew Westin's contract and raise his salary 16%, saying Westin had done a good job and was instrumental in securing approval of a $356-million construction bond.

Taxpayer advocates, faculty and union members and dozens of residents assailed the board over its about-face. Fueled by reports of restaurant meals and a $130 BMW detailing, more than 100 protesters packed a board meeting last month demanding that trustees remove the chancellor.

Lacayo and community activist David Maron have started an e-mail campaign to oust Westin, and a conservative Republican group is seeking to recall trustee Allan Jacobs, who is not up for reelection until 2004.

Hernandez, Tallman and board President Norman Nagel face reelection in November. Trustee Bob Gonzales, whose term is up in 2004, has said he does not intend to run again. He has not been targeted for recall.

Westin has set new limits on his meal expenses, and trustees have vowed to impose stricter spending guidelines and oversight, but a majority of the board has stood behind the chancellor.

Hernandez, however, said he acted hastily when he cast his vote in May and that he and his colleagues should not be afraid to reconsider their decision.

"It's the board's right and responsibility to look at the chancellor any time they want to, even a month after they renew his contract," Hernandez said. "That's what people want."

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