Grand jury blasts Sierra trustee Klein – copy of report included
The former president of Sierra College Friday said he feels vindicated the Placer County Grand Jury has found him not responsible for any political wrongs involving a 2004 bond election.
The Placer County civil grand jury said charges that Kevin Ramirez laundered donations to help pass several college bond measures were “utterly without merit.” College Trustee Aaron Klein issued the charges to the grand jury in October 2004 during his successful run for the college board post representing Nevada County, and called for Ramirez to step down after being elected.
The grand jury recommended that Klein and the full Board of Trustees apologize for Klein’s filing unfounded charges that partially led to Ramirez taking an early retirement. Ramirez announced he was leaving in January 2005 after intense negotiations with the college board over his severance package.
“I feel vindicated,” Ramirez said from his Applegate home Friday afternoon. “It’s an exoneration for all the very good people at Sierra College and myself.”
Ramirez said he has forgiven Klein for the attack and has moved on. He is currently consulting for various junior colleges, helping raise his grandson and playing golf, all of which, “is bringing balance to my life.”
Ramirez, 58, said he was extremely grateful to the grand jury. “They chose to take on a tough issue and it completely exonerated me. It’s not often you get to see wrongs corrected like this.”
Ramirez said he will not file any legal actions against Klein in the interest of healing. “It’s time for the college to be relieved of this,” he said.
Tina Ludutsky-Taylor, who will step down as provost of the college’s Nevada County campus in June said, “If absolutely feel it is a vindication of Dr. Ramirez and those involved in the bond campaign, including myself. I knew all of the allegations were absolutely groundless.”
Klein had claimed that Ramirez was at the top of a scheme that allegedly laundered up to $105,000 in donations for the bond campaign through the college’s foundation. The grand jury said Klein presented the charges before fully investigating them and, “the facts speak in total opposition to the complaint.”
The grand jury said the foundation failed to report all of the donations, but did so out of “inexperience, inattention to detail,” and not because of a conspiracy.
Klein responded to the grand jury statement with a fax, while not returning two phone calls to his office from The Union.
“The grand jury is absolutely correct when it agreed with my complaint that public disclosure laws were not obeyed,” Klein wrote. “It is their conclusion that these violations were in any way minor that I must respectfully disagree with.”
Klein said he hopes a complaint filed with the state’s Fair Political Practices Committee will fully investigated and doubted the panel would come to the same conclusion at the grand jury.
“I’m hoping for a full vindication from the Fair Political Practices Committee,” said Bart Ruud, a 31-year teacher and counselor at the college who backed Ramirez throughout his ordeal. “I don’t think through this whole process that there was any criminal intent.”
As for Klein, Ruud said, “I think he ought to resign and Jerry Simmons should too.”
The grand jury found that much of Klein’s complaint was based on a conversation overhead in a men’s bathroom by Simmons, the board chairman who supported Klein in the push against Ramirez.
Klein called for Ramirez’ resignation in December 2004, less than two months after being elected to the college board.
From the beginning of the controversy, Ramirez agreed that some Sierra College Foundation money had been donated to campaigns to pass three bond measures.
At the time, the tax code allowed the non-profit foundation to spend up to 20 percent of its effort on lobbying. Donors were encouraged to support the bond measures by contributing to the foundation for tax purposes.
“Everybody knew the money was going to the bonds,” Ramirez told The Union at the time.
Voters approved one of the bonds, Measure G, to raise $44.4 million to build 100,000 square feet of new classrooms, training facilities and common space. It allowed for the first major expansion of the Nevada County campus since it was built in 1996.
Klein also had criticized Ramirez for spending $500,000 on bleachers for the Rocklin campus football stadium at a time when classes were cut.
The grand jury said the situation was an “unjustified factor,” in Ramirez’s decision to take an early retirement in January 2005 after 12 years on the job, but not the only reason he left.
At the time of the 2004 election and the subsequent Ramirez controversy, Ramirez supporters accused Klein of having ambitions for higher office. He had run for office with fellow Republican Scott Leslie, 38, son of Assemblyman Tim Leslie of Tahoe City.
Both Klein and Scott Leslie were elected with the help of $40,000 donated to their campaign advertising by the Placer County Republican Assembly, according to research by The Union.
Klein and Scott had campaigned on a platform of fiscal accountability at the college.
Ramirez’ total severance package included paying 18 months’ pay on a yearly salary of nearly $168,000 (coming to about $225,000), payment of 3-1/2 years of additional credit in the state teachers retirement system, $2,000 to attend conferences, a payout for his unused vacation time and free tickets to all home athletic events.
The same month Ramirez retired, college staff started an effort to recall Klein, but the campaign quickly fizzled when backers faced the cost of gathering signatures.
Sierra College educates about 20,000 students at campuses in Grass Valley, Roseville, Rocklin and Truckee.
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