After weeks of public scrutiny and a special public hearing last week to explain the revised parameters of a communication policy aimed at bettering engagement with the communities it serves, the Long Beach Community College District Board of Trustees approved the policy last night, but not without more last-second revisions.
The board voted 4-1 to adopt the new policy, keeping in large part the guidelines laid out during last week’s public hearing, but opted to change the section that outlined the time frame that community meetings would be barred from districts up for re-election from six months to 60 days.
The request to amend the section came from Trustee Dr. Virginia Baxter, who claimed that she could be negatively affected by such a policy, considering Long Beach City College is located in her district. She said a six month ban on hosting community meetings in her district would exclude her from being present from campus events, including ribbon cutting ceremonies, if she were to run for re-election.
Trustee Sunny Zia, who had fought for the six-month blackout because she believed it could serve as a misappropriation of public funds to finance campaigns, said although she believes the document as a whole serves as a great victory for the people and the democratic process, she had to vote against the policy because of the move to reduce the blackout to 60 days.
“The argument was made that ‘we can’t do ribbon cutting and ceremonies;' that’s just not the same thing as having a community meeting and having the area’s constituents attend,” Zia said. “The college is in Trustee Baxter’s district, I get that, but ribbon cutting and ceremonies are far different from having a concerted effort to have community meetings and having them in an area that’s up for re-election. We just shouldn’t do it.”
Attempts to contact Baxter for comment went unreturned.
The original document was the subject of public criticism because of its perceived infringement on the First Amendment rights of both the trustees and the public, due to its insistence that Superintendent-President Eloy Oakley’s office be privy to all media requests by trustees and that trustees inform his office of on-campus constituent meetings. Those articles were amended to reflect a less obligatory tone, and a chapter that sought to govern trustees’ use of social media, while engaging the public was removed entirely, drawing comments of appreciation during last week’s hearing.
Zia contends that the sixth-month period would provide for a “cooling off” period if a community meeting were to be scheduled in a district up for re-election and would minimize opportunities for potential abuse of such scheduled meetings. Her original disagreement stems from a community meeting being held in Trustee Irma Archuleta’s district in the middle of Archuleta’s campain for election—Archuleta was appointed to her current term. Board President Doug Otto is also seeking re-election.
She said that the last-minute revision robbed the public of a chance to speak out against it, as they were under the impression that the board would be adopting the guidelines discussed during last week’s public hearing.
“I feel like the public has a right to know and has the right to opine and be able so say ‘this is good, this is not good,’” Zia said. “We are their representatives.”
John Pope, the school’s director of college advancement, said the schedule for upcoming meetings has yet to be determined, but one would be set by his office in coordination with Otto within the next few weeks. Pope said the sites will be selected by his with the help of the trustee for the district hosting the meeting, and may partner with neighborhood groups or community organizations. The order in which the districts will host is also to be determined.