Board Split Over Adding An Interim Tiebreaker

Mt. SAC trustees were 3-3 in discussing what to do during Jay Chen’s military leave

Vice+President+Rosanne+Bader+and+Trustee+Manuel+Baca+listen+to+arguments+for+and+against+adding+an+interim+trustee+during+Jay+Chen%27s+absence.+Photo+credit%3A+Joshua+Sanchez%2FSAC.Media.

Vice President Rosanne Bader and Trustee Manuel Baca listen to arguments for and against adding an interim trustee during Jay Chen’s absence. Photo credit: Joshua Sanchez/SAC.Media.

While Mt. SAC President William Scroggins said that it is unlikely for any significant controversial decisions to come to the board before Trustee Jay Chen returns, newly appointed Board of Trustees President Laura Santos asked her fellow board members for discussion on what should be done during the trustee’s absence.

Chen represents area five, which includes parts of La Puente, City of Industy and the unincorporated area of Hacienda Heights, and he also serves as a lieutenant in the United States Naval Reserve. As a result of his service, he was deployed and has missed the Aug. 14, Sept. 11, Oct. 9, Oct. 26, Nov. 13 and Dec. 11 meetings. He was only compensated for the first two meetings as allowed under board policy 2725, and his Aug. 16 out of state deployment absence was approved on Jul. 10.

Despite his deployment, he has made efforts to try and attend what community events he could, including one of the Wedgeworth town halls, during the opportunities he has had in between flights.

He is projected to return by July of next year and no later than Aug. 16, but in the meantime, the board was not in agreement on what to do during his leave.

According to government code 1064, the board is allowed to appoint an interim replacement until Chen returns because members are not allowed to be absent for more than 60 days unless they fall into an exception. Chen qualifies under 1040(c):

“(c) For federal military deployment, not to exceed an absence of a total of six months, as a member of the Armed Forces of the United States or the California National Guard. If the absence of a member of the governing board of a school district or community college district pursuant to this subdivision exceeds six months, the governing board may approve an additional six-month absence upon a showing that there is a reasonable expectation that the member will return within the second six-month period, and the governing board may appoint an interim member to serve in his or her absence.

If two or more members of the governing board of a school district or community college district are absent by reason of the circumstances described in this subdivision, and those absences result in the inability to establish a quorum at a regular meeting, the governing board may immediately appoint one or more interim members as necessary to enable the governing board to conduct business and discharge its responsibilities.

(d) The term of an interim member of the governing board of a school district or community college district appointed pursuant to subdivision (c) may not extend beyond the return of the absent member, nor may it extend beyond the next regularly scheduled election for that office.”

Due to the possibility of an interim replacement for Chen, the board directed staff to advertise the position following the Nov. 13 meeting. The position was advertised via a posting on the Mt. SAC website, the La Puente City Hall and the Hacienda Heights Improvement Association. Two applications were received.

Karen Chang, Chen’s wife, and Michael Crespo applied for the $750-a-month trustee position before the Dec. 4 timeline by providing an application, a letter of interest and a detailed resume. Should an interim be appointed, they would serve until the return of Trustee Chen or the next election.

The board then discussed whether or not to appoint either of the two applicants at the Dec. 11 meeting in their single discussion item.

Gary Chow, who was appointed to David Hall’s seat on June 13 of last year before being elected on Nov. 6 after several forums, said he did not believe it was necessary to appoint a temporary replacement. Hall had died on April 22 after a battle with multiple myeloma, leaving area two, which includes parts of Covina, West Covina, San Dimas and the northern section of Walnut vacant for two months.

Chow added that all members of the board represent the entire district and said that Santos and board member Manuel Baca provide adequate coverage of the area in Chen’s absence.

“For me, it’s a little problematic. I’m concerned that there is going to be criticism from outside people saying that it has an appearance that it’s not an arms length transaction,” Chow said. “For that reason, my position on this thing is that I do not feel we should move forward and appoint the replacement for trustee Chen’s position.”

Trustee Judy Chen Haggerty agreed with Chow and said there is extensive training needed to get trustees up to speed. She added that she felt the process was not efficiently advertised and that she was concerned about the interim appointment backfiring.

Chen Haggerty later added that several people think Chen is still here because of his Facebook account. While Baca contended that was beside the point, Chen Haggerty held that there was not enough advertising and transparency of the process, meaning she would not agree with going ahead and appointing either candidate.

Trustee Rosanne Bader said she was ambivalent to the decision, but added that the board worked well with five in the past and later agreed with Chen Haggerty that the process was not wide enough.

Student Trustee Maricela Vazquez Aviles even weighed in by stating that if the board wanted it, the board would have likely appointed someone by this time, but added that she could understand if the area did not feel represented.

During the trustees’ discussion, Scroggins added some background and said that he did not see any controversial decisions to come to the board before Chen gets back. He also said that although trustees can be appointed, an elected trustee is far more representative.

The other concern is that if two board members are unable to attend a board meeting while Chen is deployed, the meeting will be cancelled due to a lack of quorum, which means there would not be enough members for the board to handle business.

On the other side, Trustee Robert Hidalgo mentioned that Chen’s area is in the paper a lot and that it is important for it to have representation. Hidalgo represents district four, which includes parts of West Covina and Valinda. Both border La Puente.

Hidalgo also added that the position was publicized, even though there were only two applicants.

Santos said that Chen’s district is large and diverse and that she would support giving the district a voice by offering someone the opportunity to serve until Chen returns.

Baca, for his part of the discussion, said that he felt it was important to have a full board. He also said that the full process would be important if it were for someone who was going to replace another member permanently, as Chow had, but that he did not see it as important for an interim position.

Hidalgo and Baca both conceded at the end of their comments that the board would need to be in consensus to appoint an interim and that it appeared they were not.

“There’s an equal argument that benefits the idea of having a full contingent of seven, which is what the district has asked for,” Baca said. “I think it’s equally important, though, to have a consensus on this, so I am concerned that this issue of the interim, and it is a different one than the one that brought you [Chow] into the trusteeship because that was a permanent appointment or at least an appointment that had permanency associated with it.”

Despite the divide, the board members joked that the position was to avoid a situation like this.

Santos, finding a lack of consensus and noting the item was only a discussion item, decided to adjourn the meeting after Baca asked to wish everyone a merry Christmas and happy holidays.

The only current result of Chen’s absence from the board is his current removal from the ceremonial rotation of positions. Chen was set to become the president of the board before deployment, but in his absence, the board has become the first all-female-led board with Santos as president, Bader as vice president and Chen Haggerty as clerk.