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College District Trustees Vote to Put Westin on Leave During Probe

July 17, 2002|MARGARET TALEV and AMANDA COVARRUBIAS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Trustees of the Ventura County Community College District voted unanimously Tuesday night to place embattled Chancellor Philip Westin on administrative leave while they evaluate his performance and investigate his expenditures.

The board's decision came hours after a law firm announced it had filed a lawsuit against Westin and the district seeking to nullify his contract.

"It's time we give the community college district back to the taxpayers and the students," said Greg Ramirez, an attorney with the Ventura law firm, announcing the suit at a news conference outside the Camarillo auditorium where the trustees met.

Carrying signs that said "Taxpayers Give Trustees Straight F's" and "Adios Phil," dozens of protesters turned out to demand Westin's resignation during the public speaker's portion of the board meeting. Westin is on vacation and could not be reached for comment.

The chancellor, who was recently awarded a new four-year contract and a $30,000 pay raise, has been under fire over revelations that he charged the district more than $119,000 in business-related expenses from 1997 to 2001.

Alan Rosin, a Camarillo resident and former government studies instructor at Ventura College, told the trustees that he used to tell his students that the board set a good example for governing.

"I made a mistake," Rosin said. "You are an example I would use as bad government. Whether you ask for Westin's resignation or not, either way it's a bad decision. It's going to cost the district if he leaves, and it's going to cost the district if he stays."

Jayna Call, an 18-year-old student, said that she and her friends at Ventura College had only recently paid attention to the Westin ordeal but were concerned about the fallout.

Westin's expenditures "come out of my paycheck," Call said. "These are educators. They are supposed to be teaching us, but what are they teaching us? Embezzlement? Misuse of power?"

The lawsuit filed against the district on behalf of Ventura County taxpayers asks to immediately rescind Westin's $203,000-a-year contract, alleging trustees approved the agreement under "fraudulent representations" and inadequate information.

The lawsuit demands that the district stop paying Westin, and seeks to bar it from paying the chancellor the $305,000 necessary to buy out his contract "because he is guilty of willful misconduct."

It also asks for restitution of an undetermined amount of money, alleging Westin and district officials squandered thousands of taxpayer dollars on unnecessary trips and perks and engaged in unethical practices.

Following is a list of some of the allegations outlined in the lawsuit:

* Westin and board President Norman Nagel charged the district $3,000 for a trip to Cuba.

"Both Westin and Nagel knew, or had reason to know," the lawsuit states, "that they were not allowed to have the district reimburse them for this expense, as the trip did not involve any business of the district, and did not benefit the district in any way."

* Westin charged $1,976 to the district to rent a Pontiac Grand Prix for his personal use in September and October 2001, while paying him for mileage, automobile repairs and other related expenses for his personal vehicles.

* Nagel charged $1,515 to the district to rent a Pontiac Bonneville for two months in the fall of 2001.

* Westin was reimbursed $1,600 for an outdoor lighting system purchased for his home.

* Westin and Vice Chancellor Michael Gregoryk awarded a $5-million contract to an electrical firm while failing to follow the district's bidding policy.

In return, the contractor "gave Westin and Gregoryk an all-expense paid trip to the Golf National Championships in Augusta, Ga."

* Westin approved the use of Ventura County Community College District Foundation money to pay for a golf membership at Spanish Hills Country Club for Gregoryk.

During Tuesday's board meeting, Nagel said he wished to address some of the allegations made in the lawsuit but was advised against speaking on a pending legal matter.

At an earlier news conference, Ramirez was joined by Gerald Leavitt, a retired probation officer, and Gerard Kapuscik, a county employee, both of whom are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit along with county taxpayers.

Ramirez's firm represents Paula Munoz, a Ventura College counselor who sued the district after she was suspended without pay earlier this year. Her lawsuit has yet to be resolved.

The Westin controversy erupted in March when the Camarillo law firm of Wood & Bender presented trustees with a 3-inch-thick report detailing the chancellor's expenditures.

Of that amount, $46,000 was listed as questionable, essentially those expenses lacking receipts or adequate documentation.

Included were $22,300 for car repairs, $12,700 for equipment and supplies, $7,600 for computer software, $1,600 for travel upgrades and $1,700 for miscellaneous.

Expenses Found Legally Permissible

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