Over the last six months, Ventura Community College District (VCCCD) Board Trustee Art Hernandez couldn’t seem to escape the firestorm over his alleged disruptive conduct on the board, and just recently he put himself right in the middle of it. (Hernandez was voted onto the board more than 10 years ago by Oxnard voters.)

Hernandez’s troubles began when the district’s chancellor, James Meznek, announced his early retirement last November and, via a letter written by Meznek and leaked to the press, insinuated that Hernandez’s behavior could lead to consequences for the district, including the loss of accreditation. In February, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges put the district on probation for deficiencies it failed to fix earlier when it had been given a warning. Hernandez, however, seemed to get most of the blame for the negative status.

Then, earlier this month, the commission, which decided to leave the district on probation, released a report it had written in April that said Hernandez used intimidation and harassment, was not prepared for meetings, inappropriately advocated for specific vendors, and micromanaged campus and district affairs, among other accusations. The report was based on separate interviews with at least two people. Hernandez rebutted the commission’s accusations publicly last week, saying the claims were inaccurate and libelous. He also stated he was never given the chance to respond to the commission directly. Some of Hernandez’s board member colleagues weren’t supportive of Hernandez’s endeavor to clear his name, noting they were concerned about his statements.

“It’s my hope and belief that this won’t be hurtful to all the good progress that’s been made. I wish he hadn’t said (it), but he did,” Stephen Blum, president of the board, told the press.

Fears have now escalated from general concern to the idea that Hernandez’s rebuttal may have increased the possibility of the district losing accreditation. If the commission decides to remove the district’s accredited status based on Hernandez defending himself, then this political animal has become a nonsensical vendetta against a man who has been on the commission longer than any other member and has only been under fire this past year, though his conduct has apparently remained the same throughout his tenure, say sources who have known and worked with him.

Though we admit to having not regularly attended board meetings over the last year, and we haven’t had regular discussions with those who interact with Hernandez, we are suspicious as to why, after 10 years on the board, Hernandez is now the sole focus of the entire district possibly losing its accreditation. Whether one likes or hates him, one question must be answered: How did the frustrating yet seemingly trivial conduct of one man become the main source of malaise for the district?

We neither condone nor reprimand Hernandez for his recent actions, but we must wonder whether something is awry. If the accusations are true, clearly things need to change. If the accusations aren’t true, then apologies are in order, maybe reparations as well. But to continue to place all the blame on Hernandez seems preposterous. If he is as bad as the commission has reported, why hasn’t anyone begun a recall effort? Why has everyone sat idly by until it got to this point and allowed Hernandez to behave in such a way for 10 years? Why has his conduct made headlines only in the last six months? And why have Bernardo Perez and Larry Miller, two of the board members, remained so uncomfortably quiet?

This situation reeks of foul play but the culprit may not be as obvious as everyone is saying. In the end, unfortunately, the most important facet of this whole issue has been almost completely ignored: the productivity and well-being of the students. It’s time for the board and the commission to refocus on what’s important rather than placing everything that is wrong with the district on one man.

Trustee Art Hernandez’s response to the commission’s April report:

July 10. 2012
From: Arturo Hernandez, Board Trustee, VCCCD
To: Faculty Senates, AFT, SEIU, Student Associations and other stakeholders
Subj: Response to Accreditation issues and perceptions

This statement is in response to the recent public accusations against me in the April 16th,
2012 Report from the Accreditation Commission for Community and Junior Colleges,
released by the commission on July 2, 2012. Up until now I have not publicly responded to
the false accusations against me because I felt that the District, students and the community,
were best served by not further alienating the Accreditation Commission. I believed that
defending myself would not be the responsible or appropriate action. The VCCCD has
been placed on probation status and although I deny the items attributed to me, I accepted
the responsibility to work with the ACJCC to return the VCCCD to good standing. Now
that the ACJCC report has been presented to the public and the inaccurate and libelous
accusations made against me have appeared in the press, I believe that I have been defamed
by false accusations and that it is now time to respond.

It was stated in the report that based on “behaviors described by two or more interviewees
in separate interviews” it was concluded that I, as a Board member, had conducted myself in
a manner that is contrary to expected practice for a Board member. The Report included a
listing of twelve items that ranged from “displaying a lack of preparation for board
meetings,” to “continuing to micromanage campus and District affairs.”

For the record, I was not interviewed by the Accreditation Team regarding the comments
and perceptions that were presented to them in April 2012 and, therefore, I had no
opportunity to correct the accusations. Had I been given the opportunity, I would have
responded to the inaccuracies presented. Previous to the April 2012 report, over the course
of my time as a Trustee with the VCCCD, I was never provided a single written item, written
advisory, email, memorandum, or other forms of documentation or evidence advising me of
anything resembling the noted concerns. It is my understanding that if the Accreditation
Team followed their normal process, they made a request to interview certain individuals and
they proceeded accordingly. This does not mean that the Accreditation Team was afforded
the opportunity to interview me and/or other stakeholders, to validate the information
provided to them. Since documented evidence is the guiding principle of the Accreditation
process, in regards to the accusations presented to the Accreditation Team against me, as I
stated, none exists or has ever been presented to me. As Vice Chair of the Board this year, I
either spoke or met with the Chancellor weekly, and at no time did he present any issues or
concerns he had with me or any of my actions or behavior. His retirement letter is the first
time he presented his issues to me and the entire Board.

My statement today is not intended in any manner to minimize my commitment to fully
support and abide by the recommendations of the Accreditation Team. I plan to do that
wholeheartedly and I look forward to working with the other Board members to ensure that
our VCCCD achieves full accreditation compliance. This statement is actually about my
reaffirming my good name and the good work that I have provided to serve and enhance the
the community college district over the course of the 12 years that I have served as Trustee.

In addition to serving on the College Board for the past 12 years, I previously served as an
elementary (5 years) and high school board member (4 years) within Ventura County. In
total, I have served over 20 years as an elected school official. A historical review of my
performance in those roles over the years will clearly show that until these unfounded
accusations, I have never been accused of partaking in any “disruptive and inappropriate”
behavior.

There is probably no district within the community college system where Board members
do not question college and district operations. In our district, over the past ten years, I have
witnessed Board members, time and time again, who routinely contacted the district office
and sometimes the campuses to question certain operations or to make requests of a college
president for intervention on the situations perceived as needing their attention. Based on
findings in the Report it appears that under the previous Chancellor, Board member
questions were acceptable to the Chancellor unless the questions uncovered a lack of
thorough analysis or the questions resulted in a staff recommendation being overturned.
This questioning seems to have resulted in complaints to accreditation officials about that
Board member being “disruptive and inappropriate.” Also, it appears that if a Board
member does not automatically, without question, approve district proposals, and instead
asks for further clarification on the matter, he may wind up being accused of not being
prepared for meetings. As far as I could tell or knew, up until recently the previous
Chancellor did not view me as a “disruptive” Board member. However, that changed when
my questions and stated concerns jeopardize approval of his recommendations because
other Board members agreed with my concerns.

For example, it is public knowledge that during the recent round of cuts for the colleges, I
publicly requested at Board meetings that the college administration share with the Board
the analysis used to validate the proposed elimination of certain instructional programs at
one of the colleges. In other words, I wanted to know if these programs were in demand by
local industry. What was the enrollment history of these programs? How and why were
these programs chosen for dismantling by the college administration? My questions
stemmed from the many calls that I had received from community members, local elected
officials, including members of the City Council, County Board of Supervisors, and from
students, and administrators at the respective campus. I was also informed by one college
administrator, that they were told by senior administrators at the campus that selection of
the programs for elimination was based on the perception that “cutting those programs
would draw the least flak from the community.” Based on this feedback, the decision was
seemingly arbitrary and guided by what would avert repercussions rather than what was
good for students and the college district. The requested information was not and has
never been presented to the Board or to the students, faculty, and administrators of those
programs leaving me unable to respond to or answer the questions posed to me in those
phone calls. This placed me in a bad position as an elected official, and leaves the residents
that we serve without a way to gain answers to their questions in a timely way.

I take my vote on behalf of all communities very seriously. When we are impacting our
student’s future, or our employees positions, it is my duty and responsibility to gain
clarification before voting on the abolishment of programs, jobs or other services. The
college president eventually called a college-wide meeting to present the analysis he used to
select program eliminations. Based on the feedback of those in attendance, it is my
understanding that the president was unable to present any data to support his decisions.

My account of the aforementioned can be fully verified by the various faculty, students, and
administrators who attended the meeting. What it amounts to is that senior administrators
from the one college and the previous Chancellor were prepared to lay off long-standing
faculty and to eliminate long-standing, feasible programs without logical, data driven review
and analysis. Rather, it appeared, that the program was selected because it was assumed that
nobody cared about the targeted programs. In effect, my opposition as a Board member to
eliminating instructional programs without valid analysis to back up that decision was
apparently viewed as inappropriate conduct on my part. I believe that my questioning of the
process caused other Board members to question the process and to be concerned.
Ultimately the staff’s recommendations were not approved. When a recommendation from
staff does not seem to be appropriate, and questions by residents of Ventura County cannot
be answered, I believe as an elected Trustee that it is my fiduciary duty to seek clarification
and logical answers.

Furthermore, much has been said about the previous Chancellor’s decision to retire a year
earlier than he had planned and insinuations that I played a role in that decision. For the
record, I never once stated or insinuated that the previous Chancellor should resign his
position. The majority of the time that the Chancellor and I knew one another our
relationship was positive, professional and cordial, despite the fact that we had some
disagreements along the way.

In summary, I am looking forward to working with our new Chancellor. I believe that the
Ventura County Community College District will achieve full accreditation compliance and I
plan on doing my part to support that process. We all have room to improve, and I accept
responsibility to provide the clarity of my role to the Accreditation Commission as an
elected trustee, while representing the entire District I serve. I would like to ensure students,
faculty, staff, and all concerned members of our entire Ventura County communities that I
will continue to support their best interests.

Respectfully,

Arturo (Art) Hernandez
Trustee, Ventura County Community College District