Deal close for Sierra College chief?
January 17, 2005
Sierra College trustees presented a proposal Monday to embattled President Kevin Ramirez that could settle a dispute about his employment at the community college.
Trustees met for the third day in closed-door negotiations with lawyers for the 12-year president of Sierra College in hopes of reaching an agreement on the future for Ramirez, who has been asked by newly elected trustee Aaron Klein to resign his post.
After meeting in closed session for five hours, trustees voted 6-1 to present a proposal to Ramirez. Terms of the proposal were not made public, and Ramirez and his attorneys declined comment through a college spokeswoman.
Klein voted against the proposal hammered out by trustees Monday and declined comment. The closed session is expected to continue at 3:45 p.m. this afternoon in Rocklin, in advance of the college board of trustees’ regularly scheduled meeting.
“We appreciate the patience of the college community as we seek an outcome that is in the best interests of Sierra College and Dr. Ramirez,” trustees said in a joint statement released Monday afternoon.
At issue is a dispute between Ramirez and Klein, who has said that the president’s mishandling of campaign money for the college’s failed March bond drive violates campaign finance laws.
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Klein alleges that Ramirez funneled $100,000 in political donations through the college’s nonprofit foundation to political committees associated with Measure E, the $384 million systemwide bond measure that failed last spring.
Klein on Dec. 20 asked Ramirez to resign for a number of reasons, including Klein’s allegations that Ramirez used $500,000 designated for repairs to the Rocklin campus to purchase bleachers for the football stadium.
Ramirez and the college have emphatically denied Klein’s allegations. Ramirez, who earns $159,526 annually, was not present at closed-door sessions held Thursday and Monday. His contract runs through June 2007.
Supporters of Ramirez have presented documents suggesting that the college president’s actions – essentially taking money from the Sierra College Foundation and placing it in accounts to pay for lobbying efforts for Measure E – were legal under the federal tax code and that the proper protocol had been followed. According to the tax code, up to 20 percent of the nonprofit’s efforts can be spent on lobbying.
Nevada County Campus Provost Tina Ludutsky-Taylor said she’s surprised at the timing of the closed-door sessions, considering the broad support for Ramirez.
In November, voters in Truckee and western Nevada County approved two separate bond measures for the Nevada County and Truckee campuses.
“This is a very challenging and sad time for Sierra College,” said Ludutsky-Taylor, who will oversee new construction provided by the passage of Measure G, a $44.4 million bond measure. The spring semester begins in one week.
“It’s time to have this resolved as quickly as possible,” she said.
At the board’s last public hearing Jan. 11, more than three dozen students, teachers and staff spoke favorably of Ramirez, who replaced Jerry Angove as president of the community college district in 1993.
Since last week, a small but vocal band of teachers and staff have camped out during the closed-door sessions in the halls of the Rocklin administration building, voicing their support for Ramirez.
“This is the saddest day in my 30 years at the college,” Sierra College counselor Bart Ruud said Thursday at the conclusion of the second closed-door meeting of trustees.
Ruud and those waiting for word of the president’s fate placed blame for the president’s troubles on the shoulders of new trustees Klein, a 26-year-old small business owner, and Scott Leslie, 37, the son of state Assemblyman Tim Leslie, R-Tahoe City. They respectively replaced 20-year-incumbent David Parker of Nevada City and retired school administrator Robert Tomasini of Roseville, who served one term.
Both Leslie and Klein have ties to Placer County Republican causes. The Placer County Republican Assembly, for example, gave each candidate in excess of $20,000 for advertising during the campaign.
“In my opinion, they were elected on the coattails of the Republican machine,” Ruud said. “Without that kind of funding, they wouldn’t have a chance.”
At one point, supporters lined the halls of the administration building wearing buttons mocking Klein.
Nearby, someone placed a sign over a metal human sculpture Thursday, admonishing those who walked by to “recall Simmons,” referencing board president Jerry Simmons, an ally of the new board candidates.
Ramirez, who began his Sierra College career in 1990 as a vice president, has widespread support from the college community, said college planning director Woodrow Wilson.
“He’s done an exemplary job,” said Wilson, who has been at the college since 1997. “Every evaluation he’s had by his board has confirmed that.”