Trent Saxton, through his astonishing reported Facebook comments (“we don’t need… this Black lives matter crap in this county”), has shown that he is unsuited to serve in the Feather River College trustee position to which he essentially appointed himself. His responses to media questioning about those comments remove all doubt as to the matter. As the parents of a recent FRC graduate who live in Mr. Saxton’s Area, we believe that for the good of the College he must be both censured and recalled.
Clearly, Mr. Saxton’s comments were vulgar and offensive, but they were also divisive, demeaning and dismissive. Many might say they were racist. They clearly betrayed the ignorance of this trustee, who seems unaware that Black Lives Matter is a legitimate, non-violent civil rights movement that today transcends national borders. His statements have damaged FRC’s reputation and no doubt offended black (and other) members of the FRC student body. He has likely made more difficult the task of achieving a more diverse campus at FRC, something that 71 percent of FRC students and 90 percent of FRC employees said is important in FRC’s 2019 Campus Climate Report.
Others have rightly pointed out that Mr. Saxton violated Section 2715 of the FRC Board Bylaws. He has also violated the standards set out for all college trustees in the Trustee Handbook, which specifies appropriate ethical conduct of community college trustees, including Mr. Saxton. The Handbook requires that ethical trustees maintain “civility, decorum and consideration for others.” It also advises, “Ethical trustees practice responsible self-restraint and set a good example for others by communicating thoughtfully and representing the college well in their interactions with others.” Handbook, p. 52. Mr. Saxton abjectly failed to observe these basic standards.
These public statements were bad enough to warrant censure and possible removal of this trustee, but his written responses to the press reveal other fatal shortcomings in temperament and knowledge that are of equal concern for a public official, particularly one associated with a public institution of higher learning. When confronted with similar accusations in a similar context, most temperate and thoughtful individuals would either apologize for having spoken rashly, or indicate how their statement might have been misconstrued by the audience. Mr. Saxton apparently did neither. In so failing, he implicitly conceded that his comments could have been or were construed as racist by many, but he apparently doesn’t care about that. The fact that what he said might have been hurtful or injurious to FRC students and faculty and to the reputation of the College seems not to be a priority or to have even crossed his mind.
Instead, focusing on himself while attacking his colleagues and the institution that he purports to represent, he alleged in his written response that they had denied him his First Amendment rights. Mr. Saxton’s attempts at lawyering are both offensive and nonsensical, and ignore his role as the trustee of a public educational institution. Mr. Saxton is free to express whatever misguided and odious opinions he wishes—no one attempted to block his speech—but he does not have the right to say whatever he wants and continue to serve as the trustee of a public educational institution, where the content of that speech violates appropriate standards of behavior or causes injury to that institution. (He also attempted to defend himself based on his observance of the Hippocratic oath. This is undoubtedly the first time in over 2400 years that anyone has tried to use that as authority to justify the expression of offensive comments by a public official.)
In his rather disconnected and emotive response, he also managed to mislead County residents by saying, “[s]ince we are all elected officials…”. While that may be true for all of the other trustees on the FRC Board, Mr. Saxton overlooks the important fact that he himself was never elected by the voters of this County. This is due to an unfortunate flaw in our state and local election laws. Mr. Saxton was apparently the only person from his area (Area 1) who asked to become a trustee on the FRC Community College District Board, before the last election. Where there is no second declared candidate in local elections, the matter is not submitted to the vote of the electorate and the sole candidate is awarded the position, without benefit of an election in which write-in candidates might be offered. This rule presumably exists for cost savings reasons, but, as seems to be the case here, it potentially allows unsuited persons to essentially appoint themselves to county positions, which could well prove more expensive to the county in the end.
In our view, Mr. Saxton should never have been in the position of trustee of a community college district, and his recent conduct reveals that he should not be allowed to remain in that position. His intemperate and intolerant rants (for this is what they are) show that he lacks the requisite temperament, civility and consideration that should be the hallmarks of a college trustee, and show that he is unable or unwilling to put his personal opinions aside for the good of the institution as to which he is a fiduciary.
The fact that Mr. Saxton harbors “strong opinions” (as others have noted) is no excuse for disregarding his duties as a trustee, and undermining the institution that he represents, while offending members of the FRC community and many of his constituents. By petitioning for a recall election, Plumas County citizens will finally be able to express their views as to this official.
In the meantime, Mr. Saxton should clearly be censured by the FRC Board itself.
Bill & Susan Harvey