An uncomfortable nexus
Budget won't keep Ruiz from N.Y trip:
Yesterday: Coast Community College District Trustee Armando Ruiz is shamelessly running for re-election.
So after engineering one of the great double-dipping schemes of all time in 2004, what has Ruiz done for taxpayers and students since? Well, let’s just take the past year.
In June, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges … sent the district’s Orange Coast College a letter saying it was in danger of losing its accreditation.
Among the problems was a purely administrative one, one within the trustees’ purview: It wasn’t clear what the differences were between the district office’s job and those of the administrations of the three colleges – Coastline, Golden West and Orange Coast. If the district didn’t fix all the deficiencies within a year, accreditation would be yanked.
The letter also stated that the letter must be given to the board of trustees. Ruiz was, and is, the chairman, and knew of the problem early. But at least two other trustees were not told, according to Trustee Jerry Patterson. He learned about it the next month – and not from the chairman or administration, but from a teacher who’d heard about it and dropped the bombshell at a public meeting.
“It’s going to be OK,” Patterson told me, referring to correcting the problems, “but it’s the process (that’s the problem). It was all behind the scenes.”
Want more? In May, several board members, including Patterson and Ruiz, were approved to go to a conference in New York City this fall, at a cost of about $3,000 each for almost a full week. Then the district’s budget tanked and Patterson and some other trustees decided it wouldn’t be wise to attend.
But as of this week, Ruiz was still intending to go to the conference, which is the week before the election. This comes as district faculty is being told that scores of classes are going to be cut because the district won’t have the money. In the OCC English department alone, according to an internal memo I obtained, 30 already scheduled sections will be have to be cut for spring semester.
I assume that Ruiz intends to come back from the conference with the knowledge necessary to turn around the district’s academic, administrative and fiscal problems, and that this isn’t merely a way to spend some of the taxpayers’ money on a Manhattan junket.
Ruiz has always been one to go out and obtain knowledge this way. An analysis of travel between 1999 and 2004 showed that Ruiz spent more than two times as much on travel ($43,349) as the next highest trustee.
More? While it isn’t illegal and many politicians do this, there is an uncomfortable nexus between companies that do business with the district – or have sought to do so – and those that appear on Ruiz’ campaign-finance statements. In other words, some appear on both lists: Keenan & Associates ($3,500), Cordoba Corp. ($2,000); The Seville Group ($5,000) and Gafcon Inc. ($2,000).
All this was more than Lorraine Prinsky could stomach, and the Cal State Fullerton sociology professor decided to run against Ruiz. She has a solid resume – B.A. and Ph.D. from U.C. schools – has garnered significant support from the CCCD faculty unions, has shown a willingness to campaign hard and has a dastardly opponent in Ruiz.
But, as happened last time, there’s a third candidate in the mix. Conventional political wisdom is that in such a three way race, the incumbent won’t get a majority but, as Ruiz did last time, he’ll get the necessary plurality as the two challengers split the anti-incumbent vote.
The third candidate is Don Apodaca, an optometrist at Kaiser and a part-time wrestling coach at Segerstrom High. Rumors were rampant that Ruiz got Apodaca to run. Not true, says Apodoca. “I don’t even know who Armando Ruiz is,” he told me. (Ruiz, in keeping with his policy, did not return my call.)
Apodaca said he was urged to run by some college district coaches who were upset about reductions in the athletic department budget. Apodaca hasn’t done much campaigning – he didn’t even pay for a ballot statement – but he easily could play the spoiler.