Tensions ease at board of trustees

Things seemed to have calmed down for Citrus College’s board of trustees since the July 17 meeting that left board members hurling accusations at one another, but resulted in a raise for superintendent/president Geraldine Perri.

Perri, whose base pay was about $215,000 over the 2011-12 school year, now stands to make an additional four percent in pay each year until 2016, contingent on a positive work evaluation. In the final year of her contract, Perri is expected to make close to $251,000.

In addition, Perri would receive 2.83 vacation days a month, with an option to cash out at the end of the year at a rate of about $1000 a day.

Classified staff members were the largest group in attendance at the meeting, but nine out of the 10 speakers who shared public remarks before the meeting began—including students and community members—voiced their opinion against the raise.

When trustees Susan Keith, Patricia Rasmussen and Joanne Montgomery all voted in favor of the and overrode dissenting board members Edward Ortell and Gary Woods, most of the classified staff members in attendance got up and walked out of the meeting.

The legality of the raise was called into question a month later by San Dimas resident Gil Aguirre, who sent a demand letter to the board of trustees alleging that board members violated the Brown Act—California’s version of open government law—and stipulated that the board rescind the raise and admit to making the violations.

Aguirre said that after reading the Clarion’s coverage of an exchange between trustees Rasmussen and Ortell during the July 17 meeting, his alarm bells started going off. Rasmussen accused Ortell of “grandstanding in front of the public” for voting no. “It is bad boardsmanship to come back after the fact and deny what is approved in closed session,” she said.

In the demand letter, Aguirre points to California Government Code 54957, the section of the Brown Act that states, “Closed sessions held pursuant to this subdivision shall not include discussion or action on proposed compensation except for a reduction of compensation that results from the imposition of discipline.”

Aguirre says he has no relationship with Citrus College and is just “an open government advocate.” But this is not the first time he has been involved with a school district and the Brown Act.

On Aug. 16, 2010, Aguirre and attorney Kelly Aviles sent a similar demand letter to the Pomona Unified School District. Pomona Unified would issue a statement from their legal counsel later in the year acknowledging the infractions, which involved placing information items on the board meeting agendas.

The Citrus College trustees confirmed that they have received the letter, which came with a Sept. 17 deadline for action.

“We will take [the letter] under advisement with our attorney,” Rasmussen said. “Until then, we will take no further action.”

Less than a week after the demand letter was submitted to the board, an Aug. 21 meeting was abruptly canceled less than a day before it was scheduled when the board agenda was not posted more than 72 hours beforehand.

Though the provision of the Brown Act that sets agenda policies has been suspended, most public offices continue to abide by the law.

“It’s kind of unbelievable,” said trustee Gary Woods. “I’ve been on the board since 1982 and that’s never happened before.”

As a result, the trustees met Aug. 24, the same date of Citrus College’s convocation. This version was much more muted than the July 17 meeting, as the biggest action item was approving the hires of various employees.

Aguirre did not say whether or not he would attend the next meeting of the board.

“The ball is in their court,’” Aguirre said. “The next step will be largely dictated on how they respond.”

The next board meeting is Sept. 11, 4 p.m. in CI 159.