By Debra Moore
An audit, a new CFO and student financial aid topped the January meeting of the Feather River College Board of Trustees, but the proceedings became rather testy when the topic turned to an update on the process involving an ethics violation charge made by the board against fellow Trustee Trent Saxton.
The trustees voted last summer to begin the censure process against Saxton for his social media posts that were considered by members of the public and his fellow trustees to be racist and homophobic. Saxton threatened to sue via a letter from his attorney, saying that the censure was in retaliation for his being a whistleblower.
The letter listed 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. 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.
In the letter, Bailey goes on to claim that Saxton is a “classic whistleblower” and 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. 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.”
The trustees consulted with an attorney and have been moving through the process established to censure a trustee for an ethics violation. 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 in October 2020.
During the Jan. 21 meeting, Board Chairm Dana Ware said the trustees were proceeding cautiously through the investigation process but offered no other details. Trustee McNett, who is leading the investigation on behalf of the board, was not present. When Saxton pressed for more information, Ware deferred and said, “This is Guy’s report.”
“Once again you’ve shut me down. I’m as elected to this office as you are dear,” Saxton responded before adding, “I will sue you individually. You can move on now Karen.” He repeated “Karen” again, and then following a long pause, said “Oh, I mean Dana.”
Ware responded, “That was cruel,” before moving on to the next agenda item.
According to dictionary.com and other sources, “Karen” is “a pejorative slang term for an obnoxious, angry, entitled, and often racist middle-aged white woman who uses her privilege to get her way or police other people’s behaviors.”
Though he didn’t elaborate during the meeting, in a followup interview, Saxton acknowledged he knew what the term Karen meant and said, “She will be Karen to me from now on,” referring to Dana Ware.
Financial help for students
Finish Line for Scholars is a program designed to meet the financial needs of second year students.
McCarthy said that the full pledge of $100 million for California Community Colleges to be distributed over 20 years is the largest in the nation. FRC’s share this year is $128,000. Students apply for the funds and thus far the college has received 150 applications.
“There is definitely a need,” McCarthy said. The maximum award is $18,000 per student. The money can be used for medical, childcare, rent, in addition to tuition.
“It was a clean audit,” said auditor Jennifer Richards. “It was a clean opinion.” She added that there were no disagreements with management and described it as a “great process” despite having to perform the audit remotely due to COVID. “It was very consistent with the prior year,” she added.
The trustees voted 3-1 to approve a contract with John Ives, the new Vice President of Business Services/Chief Financial Officer for the college. Trustees Bill Elliott, John Sheehan and Dana Ware voted to approve; Guy McNett was absent and Trent Saxton voted, “No, but no malice.”
It was the same phrase he would utter, when the trustees voted to appoint Ives to a joint powers authority representing the college, and when they voted to authorize him to sign on Plumas Bank accounts.
Saxton didn’t elaborate on his vote during the meeting, but when called for an explanation, he said he couldn’t vote to approve “someone that he had never met” thus he voted no, and added the phrase “but no malice.”
Ives actually began work Jan. 11 on a one-year contract for $138,571, with the possibility of annual extensions.
“He has worked at small private schools, long doctoral programs and community colleges,” FRC President Kevin Trutna said of Ives’ experience.
“I’m very pleased and excited and happy to be here,” Ives said after being introduced. He said he had over 20 years of experience in the field, most recently in North Carolina. “I’m happy to be back in California.” While his formal education is in accounting, he also has managed IT, human resources, and construction projects.
Emergency Operations update
FRC is working on rolling out a new emergency communication system that doesn’t rely on Internet access.
“There’s a problem with relying on Internet reliability,” said Carlie McCarthy who is in charge of student services. “We’ve looked through products and how to streamline the process.”
The result is a Cloud-based platform that only requires two clicks to activate and generates messages to go out via text, phone or email.
The platform is being tested on staff before being rolled out to teachers and students. Others could also opt in for the notifications including parents.
FRC has adapted a collection of classes to meet a new graduation requirement adopted by the California State University system. The classes will be ready for Fall 2021.