By Debra Moore
Even via Zoom the tension is palpable, but that’s probably to be expected when a board wants to censure one of its own board members, and that member isn’t going down without a fight.
Such is the case with the Feather River College Board of Trustees and its decision to consider the censure of fellow Trustee Trent Saxton. But there’s a process to follow and in the midst of that process, Saxton notified the trustees that he intends to sue them if they censure him.
The trustees are discussing Saxton’s censure due to public complaints regarding inflammatory social media posts. However, Saxton’s letter threatening to sue the trustees, includes a list of grievances that go beyond what he considers infringement of his First Amendment rights.
Thus, the Oct. 15 FRC board meeting began with a closed session. Board President Dana Ware read the following statement: “We are going into closed session under Item #3 on the agenda to discuss potential litigation against the College under Government Code section 54956.9(d)(2). The College has received a written communication asserting potential litigation by Board Member Saxton against the college regarding a community complaint made against Mr. Saxton. The written letter is available for public inspection upon request.”
Plumas News made such a request and obtained the letter. (It can be read in its entirety below.)
The letter from Saxton’s attorney lists a cluster of grievances, including a steel building (worth $26,793) that was never built. Saxton, through his attorney, claims that the college tried to circumvent the state’s building process. “Those attempts to circumvent were not limited to the purchase of the steel building that currently remains unconstructed on their property but also involved the construction of dorms and other critical infrastructure.”
He also questioned why the funds for the steel building were given to an independent foundation (The Feather River College Foundation) … “so that California law could be circumvented.”
“When this Board failed to uphold its fiduciary responsibilities, Dr. Saxton had no alternative but to report this conduct to the appropriate authorities,” his attorney, Steven Bailey, of the law firm of Bailey and Romero, wrote.
Dr. Saxton reported the conduct to the Plumas County Grand Jury and District Attorney, who in turn contacted the California Division of State Architecture.
When asked for comment Oct. 20, District Attorney David Hollister said, “We do not have anything pending against Feather River College.”
The California Division of State Architecture, the entity that oversees school construction, sent a note to Saxton which read: “Current status is that FRC’s architect is expecting to submit plans for approval to DSA, within a month or so, for already built buildings without a DSA approval. The DSA approval process may take a few weeks to months to complete. Metal building mentioned in your email has not been built and DSA does not know if FRC plans to build it or not. All purchasing/financial matters are beyond DSA’s jurisdiction.”
In the letter, Bailey goes on to claim that Saxton is a “classic whistleblower” and he is being retaliated against for his efforts.
He also asserts that the board is attempting to suppress Saxton’s right to free speech. The move to censure Saxton arose after members of the public complained to the board about racist, homophobic comments Saxton made on social media.
After the board voted to begin the censure process, the first step was for the president of the board of trustees to talk directly with Saxton, but according to President Dana Ware, he declined to talk with her.
In that case, the rules called for an adhoc committee to be formed. Trustee Guy McNett was appointed to lead that committee Oct. 15.
According to the last sentence of Bailey’s letter: “This letter is intended to serve notice if this Board attempts to censure Dr. Saxton, he will sue.”
A little history
Feather River College Trustee John Sheehan asked his fellow trustees to consider disavowing and censuring Trustee Trent Saxton for the latter’s comments on social media.
Sheehan made the request near the conclusion of the FRC board of trustees meeting June 18. “I believe trustees should disavow Trustee Saxton,” Sheehan said. “We should censure Saxton for racially-charged comments.” Sheehan said that he would bring a motion to the next meeting, which was scheduled for July 16.
Sheehan wasn’t the only one to challenge Saxton’s comments. During public comment, a Quincy resident said Saxton’s behavior was extremely inappropriate — voicing “racist and fascist ideals while serving on the board of a public institution funded by public money.” She suggested that he resign.
During the July 16 meeting, two members of the public, Stephanie Leaf and Pastor Kendrah Fredricksen, presented an agenda item officially asking that Trustee Trent Saxton be censured and/or request his resignation pursuant to board policy. Their presentation followed impassioned speeches that came during public comment including from FRC’s football coach Nick Goulet and Matt Warren, representing the associate faculty.
Goulet read a statement that he said represented himself, his coaching staff and players. “This is about human decency. I lead a group of young, impressionable men,” Goulet said near the beginning of his remarks. After talking about the need of working for the collective good, he added, “If any one of my players had taken the liberty of posting such hate speech on social media, that player would most certainly be reprimanded by our administration. Our students deserve to have better examples.”
Goulet who is responsible for recruiting and coaching, as well as guiding his student athletes as they transition into college life, asked, “How is it that am I going to be able to recruit student athletes of color, which is responsible for the majority of the diversity on this campus knowing that the district does not support their interests. They need to be able to feel comfortable and secure on this campus and community.”
Warren, speaking on behalf of his colleagues, said, “We, as a unit, feel there’s no place for the racist, bigoted, homophobic remarks of Trustee Saxton and while we recognize the First Amendment rights of all of our community, freedom of speech is not immunity from consequences.”
At the conclusion of that meeting, trustees decided to seek legal counsel.
During the Aug. 13 board meeting, the trustees voted to begin the process as outlined by legal counsel, with the exception of Saxton. He voted no.
The process was to begin with Trustee Ware contacting Saxton, but during the Sept. 10 meeting, she reported that due to health issues she was unable to do so. During that meeting, Saxton asked her if she had received a letter from his attorney, to which she responded she had not.
By the October meeting, she had received the letter and had attempted to contact Saxton.Dr. Saxton Notification of Intent to Sue letter received 09-10-20