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Ventura County

College District Expected to Name Interim Leader Today

Chancellor: Officials say the job was offered to a former president of the Moorpark campus.

July 18, 2002|MARGARET TALEV and AMANDA COVARRUBIAS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Former Moorpark College President James Walker, who earned a reputation for diplomacy with faculty union leaders, is expected to be named today as acting chancellor of the troubled Ventura County Community College District.

The district's five-member board of trustees must appoint a temporary replacement for Chancellor Philip Westin, placed on paid administrative leave while the district investigates allegations he misspent thousands of taxpayer dollars.

Several district officials confirmed Wednesday that Walker, 66, was offered the post and has accepted. Walker could not be reached for comment.

Walker retired July 1 after a decade at the helm of Moorpark College. He served as interim district chancellor following the death of Chancellor Thomas Lakin in late 1994. He served until Westin was hired in 1996.

Larry Miller, president of the Ventura County Federation of College Teachers, said Walker's appointment would promote goodwill between trustees and a faculty union distrustful of the current administration.

"He doesn't have an ego that requires feeding on an hourly basis," Miller said. "He would make an excellent chancellor and would treat everyone fairly."

Community activist David Maron said placing Westin on leave and appointing a popular interim chancellor were positive steps but not enough. "The community is holding its breath and waiting to see what the board does," Maron said. "The community believes that putting him on administrative leave is just the first step toward getting rid of him, but we need to know that the board is not going to cower."

Westin could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

If the board asks Westin to resign, his contract allows him to collect 18 months' salary, or $305,000. Termination of the chancellor's contract would have to come with Westin's consent, unless the board could show cause, according to the college district's attorney.

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

In recent weeks Westin has acknowledged poor judgment concerning some of his expenditures and imposed voluntary limits on meals, but has repeatedly denied breaking any laws or knowingly violating district policy. He has stated repeatedly he would not resign.

Trustees planned to announce an acting chancellor at the conclusion of a private meeting scheduled for this morning. They are expected to begin the process of selecting an independent counsel and an auditor to guide them through weeks of research that could help determine Westin's fate.

In coming weeks, trustees said, Westin will not be permitted to enter his office. Meanwhile, investigators will have access to Westin's files and computer equipment and are expected to interview district employees, from administrators to secretaries to technology experts.

Westin has been under fire since March, when the Camarillo law firm of Wood & Bender presented trustees with a report detailing $119,000 in expenses the chancellor charged the district between 1997 and 2001 for meals, travel, car maintenance, computer software and other expenses.

Trustees initially sought Westin's resignation. They changed course after an auditor hired by the district said the expenses appeared permissible.

Westin alleged that one of the law firm's partners, David Bender, had prepared the report in retaliation because Westin would not steer lucrative legal work his way. Bender has denied the allegation.

Nevertheless, the board of trustees voted 4 to 1 in May to renew Westin's contract through 2006 and grant him a $30,000 raise, bringing his salary to $203,000. Trustee John Tallman cast the only dissenting vote.

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