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Vote Split for 2 College District Trustees

Early returns show Art Hernandez headed for victory in Area 5, and John Tallman falling behind challenger in Area 1.

November 06, 2002|Amanda Covarrubias | Times Staff Writer

Voters angered by a scandal that forced the resignation of former community college district Chancellor Philip Westin spoke with two voices Tuesday, apparently reelecting one incumbent while leaving the fate of a second up in the air.

Oxnard-area trustee Art Hernandez appeared headed for victory in early results over his closest challenger, Sylvia Munoz Schnopp.

But trustee John Tallman, a longtime Westin critic who represents Ventura, was falling behind challenger Mary Anne Rooney in early results.

"I would have thought it would have gone the other way," said activist David Maron. "Maybe there was a mix of candidates that are splitting the vote against Hernandez."

Cheryl Heitmann was winning a seat to represent Thousand Oaks on the board, replacing retiring trustee Norman Nagel.

In other school board races, Oak Park voters apparently avoided a quandary by not reelecting incumbent Bob Kahn, who died Monday. Kahn's death as he was running for a fourth term had raised the possibility of an appointment or special election.

In the Oxnard Union High School District, incumbents Irene Pinkard and Robert Valles appeared headed to victory in early results, although Valles was embroiled in a controversy after a board majority fired former Supt. Bill Studt last year. Socorro Lopez Hanson was poised to take the third seat.

In the community college races, voters had a chance to express their opinions about the financial scandal that forced Westin's resignation.

Hernandez and Tallman faced a field of challengers running on a platform to clean up the five-member board after it was revealed that Westin spent $119,000 over four years on expensive meals, car repairs and electronics.

The incumbents up for re-election were the only board members to oppose Westin's resignation settlement, which will pay him a salary of $203,000 for another year and gives him lifetime health benefits.

Westin resigned even though an internal investigation found he had broken no laws or district rules. But critics said change is needed anyway to restore public confidence in the 34,000-student district and to ensure that unchecked executive spending doesn't happen again.

The new trustees 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.

In Area 5, representing most of Oxnard, El Rio and Port Hueneme, Hernandez did not appear dogged by his vote in May to extend Westin's contract and to give him a $30,000 raise, even though Hernandez and the other trustees were aware of Westin's spending habits.

In Area 1, which covers Ventura and parts of Oxnard and Port Hueneme, Tallman was the only trustee to vote against the Westin raise, which was awarded two months after the board had first asked Westin to resign for allegedly abusing his expense account.

Around the county, voters were poised to determine the outcome of other key school board races.

In the Rio Elementary School District campaign that was couched as a referendum of its top administrator, voters were splitting their support. A slate of three candidates backed by county Supervisor John Flynn vowed to oust Supt. Yolanda Benitez, Flynn's political rival. But others on the ballot for three open seats said Flynn had no business interfering with a local school board race.

At the Oxnard High School District, a key issue the new school board will face is whether to allow Camarillo and Rio Mesa high schools to leave the district and join the Pleasant Valley School District.

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