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Ventura County | COLLEGE DISTRICT IN TURMOIL

'I Believe I Have the Confidence of the Trustees'

July 14, 2002

Under fire over charges of excessive spending, Community College District Chancellor Philip Westin is battling to keep his job. Trustees are expected to decide his fate at a special closed-door meeting Tuesday. The following are excerpts from an interview Westin had with The Times last week.

Question: Will you resign if asked?

Answer: Absolutely not. We have a lot of work ahead of us in this district. We have a new bond that's been passed. We have some extremely important issues facing us. And I believe it's critical that the leadership team continue to work with the faculty, staff and managers as well as the board of trustees and community to put these things in place.

Q: Do you believe you have the confidence of the public and a majority of the trustees to lead this district?

A: I believe I have the confidence of the trustees. I believe the confidence of some parts of the public has been shaken, but I have had many people reach out to me. That gives me a strong belief that the vocal minority may be being heard, but I believe that the large majority of the public is fully interested in working with me.

Q: According to the district's own records, you were reimbursed for more than $119,000 in business-related expenses from 1997 to 2001. Do you think your spending has been excessive?

A: If you talk about the things that were purchased, computer software and that sort of thing, it was for district business. It was an actual and necessary business expense. In terms of the meals, I think that a limit on meals is appropriate, and I think limits and restrictions on who meals are purchased for is appropriate. On the other hand I do believe it is important and appropriate to have business meals and business travel as part of my job.

Q: Do you understand why the public is outraged?

A: Yeah, I think I understand why they are outraged. It is a large number of dollars over what I believe was a four-year term. People see that and react to that, which is OK, although I'm not sure that people have necessarily taken the time to think through what are the appropriate costs for any person who is in a position similar to mine.

Q: Should the chancellor be allowed to police his own spending?

A: Hindsight is 20/20. Certainly the answer to that question, in light of the last few weeks, is no. There would probably be much less outrage if these things had gone to the board directly.

Q: Have you ever violated the board's or district's policies in any way?

A: No, not to my knowledge.

Q: You said that the $356-million bond measure approved by county voters in March is the most important thing that has ever happened in the district's history. Do you think voters would have approved that bond measure if they had known about your spending practices?

A: I believe the answer is yes. The bond passed with a two-thirds vote. What we found prior to the measure being put on the ballot is that the colleges have positively affected many of the citizens who live in this county. I believe that the two-thirds vote reflected that. They weren't voting for any one college or for me or for any board member. They were voting for the future of the students in this county.

Q: Do you think you deserve a $30,000 pay raise?

A: The studies that we did would indicate that my salary level is somewhat above the middle for people who are chancellors of multi-college districts when looking at their total compensation. If I were not here, I believe this board would pay at least that or more in order to attract and retain someone in this position.

Q: If you were allowed to attend the board's closed-door meeting on Tuesday where they are expected to decide your future, what would you tell them?

A: First of all, I would tell them very sincerely that their leadership for this district has been superb. I would tell them that I believe that I made some mistakes but I have never purported to be anything but human. I do believe that if we want to work together that the colleges and the community would benefit with my continuing to lead this district.

Q: Do you think you can get a fair hearing with a board that includes three members up for reelection and one up for recall?

A: Absolutely. I know each of these gentlemen on a professional level. They are thoroughly committed and have always demonstrated their ability to work together, even when they have disagreements, for the common goal of serving students.

Q: What have you learned from this experience?

A: I've learned humility, pain. I've learned a lot about pain. I've relearned how important it is to be honest with myself and my family. I've learned that although there are critics, there are also people who are kind and are supportive and caring.

Q: You have suggested in the past that if you are fired or forced to resign, you might sue the district. Is that still the case?

A: First of all, I would hope that I won't have to go there, because, to the best of my knowledge and conscience, there is no cause. On the other hand, I have a mortgage and a family and a four-year contract. I haven't really allowed myself to put all of those things together in terms of directly answering that question, because it is my belief that it won't go there.

Q: Would you consider some type of buyout?

A: I would be willing to talk about it. Certainly if the board believes that it is time for me to go, as a practical matter, it would be better for us to have that conversation than raising the specter of a lawsuit, for instance, or termination without cause. So I guess the critical question is: Does the board still want me here?

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