The Citrus College Board of Trustees admitted violating a provision of the Ralph M. Brown Act governing discussion of employee salaries March 5, when they voted 3-2 to agreed to settle a four-month-old lawsuit filed by San Dimas resident Gil Aguirre.
While the terms of the settlement required the board to admit wrongdoing and pay Aguirre approximately $14,000 in legal fees, a raise to superintendent/president Geraldine Perri salary remains valid.
“Unfortunately, the reality of life is that the Board of Trustees has the authority to pay superintendent Perri whatever they want. What they can’t do is do it in secret,” Aguirre said. “Would I like to have the ability to overturn the raise? You betcha. But that will be up to the voters come election time.”
The suit stemmed from the controversial July 17, 2011 meeting of the board, where a heated discussion over awarding college superintendent/president Geraldine Perri a four year contract worth more than $300,000 annually led board member Patricia Rasmussen to direct the following quote towards fellow member Edward Ortell:
“Things were discussed, thoroughly discussed, after every board meeting and everyone had an opportunity to give insight. It is bad boardsmanship to come back after the fact and deny what is approved in closed session,” Rasmussen said.
The exchange got the attention of Aguirre, who had previously successfully filed suit against the Pomona Unified School District board in 2010 for similar violations.
“It was very clear that this decision had been reached prior to the meeting taking place,” said Aguirre about the handling of Perri’s raise.
He would go on to send the five-member board a letter Aug. 16, chiefly demanding they rescind Perri’s raise and admit violating the Brown Act. The letter also gave the the board a 30-day deadline to comply.
However, the board denied any wrongdoing in a response letter four weeks later, leading Aguirre to file litigation against the district Oct. 1.
Since the passage of the raise, the board has been noticeably split along gender lines on important issues. Woods and Ortell were also on the losing side of a 3-2 vote that will strip the two of lifetime health benefits if they do not retire or resign before their next term.
Woods especially has been frustrated with the board’s recent actions, as he claims to have been denied the opportunity to review the settlement before the board voted to accept it. He made similar claims in regards to the release of the Sept. 14 response letter to Aguirre.
“I’m not real happy with the board,” Woods said. “I’ve been on [it] since 1983, and we’ve never had a split board—until this president came along.”
“So to some extent, I’d say that I’m not real happy . . . since she’s come on board I don’t believe the board has benefitted by it. It’s never benefitted a president to have a split board.”
Board president Sue Keith doesn’t see it that way.
“The majority of our votes are 5-0,” Keith said. “We have some that are 3-2.”
Keith chose to spoke little about the settlement aside from maintaining that the violation was an honest accident, but would say that she hopes to move on from the incident.
“I’m glad it’s over, so we can focus on getting the highest quality education for our students,” Keith said.
Kelly Aviles, the lawyer representing Aguirre, wasn’t quite ready to write off the violation as accidental just yet.
“It’s troubling that when we pointed that out initially that they wouldn’t review their policies at that time and agree to comply,” Aviles said. “I understand that sometimes there’s a little bit of face-saving involved, but really, we believe if you make a mistake you admit to that mistake and move past it. I think that will remain to be seen, with [the board’s] future compliance.”
And Aguirre says he’s not done making sure the college isn’t making any more potentially illegal mistakes.
“Once I started this litigation, I began really looking into this school,” Aguirre said. “I’m going to be putting in additional public records requests. There are a variety of things that on initial look really concern me.”