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College District to Buy Out Chancellor

Probe of spending by the Ventura County educator finds no wrongdoing. But the controversy spurred taxpayer outrage.

October 23, 2002|Amanda Covarrubias | Times Staff Writer

The Ventura County Community College District will buy out Chancellor Philip Westin's contract -- rather than fire him -- because an internal investigation of his questionable spending practices found no wrongdoing, college board President Norman Nagel announced late Tuesday.

The settlement, which pays Westin his full $203,000 annual salary until next July and a reduced amount for four months after that, would end Westin's six-year tenure and gives him the right to seek employment elsewhere. Westin, 56, has resigned as part of the deal.

"We conducted a confidential investigation into the allegations, and the investigation concluded that the claims have no merit at all," Nagel said. "The board wishes him well on his future professional endeavors."

Trustees also granted Westin the title of chancellor emeritus, an honorary designation he had requested, but he has no official duties.

Even in settlement, however, the trustees were divided. Nagel, Al Jacobs and Bob Gonzales voted for it, while the two trustees on the Nov. 5 ballot for reelection -- Art Hernandez and John Tallman -- voted against it without comment.

The internal investigation by a Los Angeles law firm found Westin broke no laws nor district rules when he spent $119,000 over four years on car repairs, computer equipment and expensive meals. But critics of the college board said the buyout is too little, too late.

"It's hard to know if this was the best decision because we've been cut out from the process," said community activist David Maron. "I think it's clear the investigation was very limited in its scope and did not fit the spirit of what we were promised back in July. The buyout reflects what happens when a public board is concerned only with its own self-interest, as opposed to the community's."

The decision brings to an apparent end an ongoing financial scandal that has rocked the 35,000-student district since last spring and inspired a bevy of candidates seeking to reform the five-member board. Three board seats are being contested in the election.

Westin first came under fire in March, when the Camarillo law firm of Wood & Bender presented trustees with a report detailing his expenditures from 1997 to 2001.

Trustees initially sought Westin's resignation but dropped the effort after an auditor hired by the district cleared him of criminal violations.

In May, trustees voted to renew his contract through 2006 and raised his salary by 16%, saying he had done a good job and was instrumental in securing voter approval of a $365-million construction bond.

But taxpayers and faculty union members were livid when they learned of Westin's spending and his new contract.

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