Angry faculty has forced a special election to fill a vacancy on the board of the South Orange County Community College District, nullifying an appointment that trustees made to fill the vacancy.
The short-lived trustee, Eric Norby, was not specifically targeted in the petition drive calling for the election. The brother and chief of staff for Orange County Supervisor Chris Norby, he can seek election to the post.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday December 20, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
Trustees vacancy -- An article in the Dec. 6 California section mistakenly reported that South Orange County Community College District trustees interviewed candidates for a vacant seat on the board in closed session. The session was open to the public.
The date of the election has not been determined but will come after the statewide primary March 2. The petitions were certified too late to allow the district election to be held in conjunction with the primary.
The vote will fill the post only through November, when the seat will come up for regular election.
Suzanne Slupsky, assistant registrar of voters, said that in her 18 years on the job she could not recall another instance in which an appointee was removed in favor of an election.
Lewis Long, an English professor and president-elect of the South Orange County Community College District Faculty Assn., said teachers opposed the process of board members appointing a trustee without outside comment. They also worried that the appointee might be in line with board members' agenda, "which we regard as anti-faculty," and benefit as an incumbent when running for reelection.
The Orange County Department of Education will pick an election date Monday. The election is expected to cost the college district $400,000 to $800,000.
Don Wagner, president of the board, said he was sorry the district would have to spend the money on the election. "I think Eric would be an outstanding member of the board," he said.
This is the latest battle pitting district faculty against the administration and trustees, who govern Irvine Valley College in Irvine and Saddleback College in Mission Viejo.
There have been faculty votes of no confidence in a college president, Raghu Mathur, whom trustees then appointed chancellor over both colleges; faculty and student lawsuits against the administration over free-speech issues; and ongoing fights over everything from class scheduling to faculty appointments.
Tensions have worsened amid contentious negotiations over a contract that expired about a year and a half ago.
The teachers union and its supporters turned in more than the required 6,500 valid signatures, representing 1.5% of the district's registered voters.
Long said the union will endorse a candidate, but he wouldn't say who. Norby could not be reached for comment.
The vacancy on the conservative-controlled board occurred with the resignation in September of trustee Dorothy Fortune amid allegations that she had moved out of the district.
Norby was appointed in October after 10 candidates were interviewed.
Long said the union proposed that candidates for the opening be interviewed by a committee representing the community, students, faculty, administration and nonprofessional district employees. The committee would have recommended three candidates and the board would have chosen the new trustee.
The board instead interviewed candidates in closed session and selected Norby.
Long said the union began collecting signatures after learning that Fortune would resign.
"We honestly don't have a problem with Eric Norby," Long said. "He may be a perfectly good trustee. But the process reflects the arrogance of the board that they don't feel they have to answer to anyone."