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Ventura County

College Trustee Candidates Call for Change

The race for the district board in Ventura County is colored by a financial scandal involving the former chancellor.

November 02, 2002|Amanda Covarrubias | Times Staff Writer

Accountability. Credibility. Honesty. That is the mantra of 13 candidates running for the Ventura County Community College District Board of Trustees, including two incumbents fighting to keep their seats.

In the aftermath of a spending scandal that forced former Chancellor Philip Westin to resign last week, all the candidates agree that change is needed to restore public confidence in the 34,000-student district and to ensure that such costly mistakes don't happen again.

Westin spent $119,000 in public money over four years on meals, car repairs, computers and other electronics, and was accused of mismanaging thousands more. An internal investigation showed that he broke no rules or laws, but the results came too late to repair the institution's battered reputation.

The controversy catapulted normally low-visibility races onto county taxpayers' radar. But voters have short memories, and Westin's departure may mark the end of public interest in the board, said Herbert Gooch, chairman of the political science department at Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.

"I think it would be more significant if it had happened the weekend before the election," Gooch said. "It's reminded people that there's a problem out there, but now it looks like the problem is solved."

The winners of the three open seats will help select the next chancellor, balance a shrinking budget and decide how to spend a $356-million bond to improve the district's campuses in Ventura, Oxnard and Moorpark.

Trustees Art Hernandez and John Tallman -- the only board members to oppose Westin's settlement last week -- are up for reelection Tuesday.

Three Challenge the

Incumbent in Area 1

Voters hungry for reform may not remember that Tallman warned the board about Westin years ago, the trustee said.

"People seem to want to paint us all with the same brush," said Tallman, 71, of Ventura, who was first elected to the board in 1994. The retired district vice chancellor of instruction was the only trustee to vote against awarding a $30,000 raise to Westin in May, two months after the board had asked him to resign for allegedly abusing his expense account.

But his challengers in Area 1, which covers parts of Oxnard, Ventura and Port Hueneme, said it is time for a new perspective.

"Although he has a lot of knowledge about the inner workings of the district, I think there's a rebuilding that's necessary that you can only do with a fresh set of eyes and ears," said Mary Anne Rooney, 41, of Oxnard, who teaches English to adults in the Oxnard Union High School District.

Kevin Laird, 29, a Ventura accountant, said the Westin controversy has kept the board from dealing with important issues, such as how to spend the bond approved by voters in March and how to build a strong relationship with the new Cal State Channel Islands campus.

"I was concerned about the way the board was running its operations, turning over its power to the chancellor and the abuses that were happening," Laird said, explaining why he chose to run.

David L. Norrdin, a movie theater attendant from Ventura, said he wants "justice for taxpayers," particularly senior citizens on fixed incomes. If elected, he wouldn't spend "one penny" on meals and travel and he would work to rescind expense accounts for the chancellor and trustees.

"They're not congressmen," said Norrdin, 43. "They need to stay in the district."

Nagel Not Seeking Reelection in Area 2

In Area 2, which covers Thousand Oaks, Oak Park and the Ventura County portion of Westlake Village, five Thousand Oaks residents are vying to replace trustee Norman Nagel, who decided not to seek reelection.

Carroll Bowen, 81, a retired professor of political science and public administration at Cal Lutheran University and USC, said the board needs someone with his background to help steer it onto the right course.

"The recent shortcomings which the district has experienced had a bad combination of operating philosophies -- a hands-off board and an executive who at best needed hands-on control," said Bowen, a Thousand Oaks city councilman from 1970 to 1978.

Cheryl Heitmann, 56, a fund-raising consultant for nonprofit agencies, said the board should create an independent auditing committee to review programs and spending, and should take back the authority it gave the chancellor for hiring and spending. She said the board's decision on the bond money is crucial.

"The board ultimately has the final say on how that bond is spent," said Heitmann, who served on a bond oversight committee for the Conejo Valley Unified School District. "It has to be spent wisely and equitably among all three campuses. They all should share in this. It's really crucial that it's used the way it was intended by voters."

Sandy Patrizio, 66, a retired Beverly Hills firefighter, said he is most concerned about improving the district's vocational education program and training young people for jobs with local businesses.

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