‘Blatantly blasphemous behavior’: LBCC board president blasts fellow trustee, recommends censure

The president of the Long Beach City College District Board of Trustees lodged a blistering four-page complaint against a fellow trustee on Friday, and is recommending a public censure at the board’s meeting next week.

Vivian Malauulu, who became president in July, said fellow trustee Sunny Zia mocked Malauulu’s Christian faith twice during a recent board meeting, and also used her position while board president to bolster her chances of landing a promotion at the Port of Long Beach, where Zia works.

Zia often exhibits “passive aggressive behavior and bully tactics against her fellow board members,” Malauulu wrote in the letter, addressed to LBCC Superintendent-President Reagan Romali.

“Too many times meeting discussions about college operations have been overshadowed by Trustee Zia’s callous, inappropriate, and rude remarks to her colleagues. … I am very concerned by her ability to serve the college community impartially and without prejudice.”

Malauulu is recommending Zia be publicly censured at its meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 28, and be required to attend training offered by professional associations for trustees. Zia was elected in 2014 to represent the Downtown area on the board that governs LBCC’s two campuses. She is now in her second term, which expires in 2022.

Zia said that Malauulu’s letter is politically driven and attributes it to her not siding with other board members’ political agendas. In a rebuttal letter, Zia said that she feels the complaint was precipitated by, among other things, her not signing on to support Trustee Uduak Ntuk’s wife in her attempt to win a City Council seat in next March’s election and her disagreeing to fire an employee who had allegedly insulted Ntuk.

“I was voted to represent the voters and the constituents which are our students, not to promote their agenda and settle their political scores,” Zia said in an interview Friday evening.

Zia, who is Jewish, added that she has been the victim of antisemitic behavior by current and past board members with previous boards refusing to move meetings off religious holiday dates and Malauulu’s efforts to institute a district-wide Christmas party over Zia’s objections that the district should not recognize a singular secular holiday.

‘Good Christian’

Malauulu in her letter references multiple instances where she said Zia violated parts of the board’s code of conduct, including two instances during the board’s July 24 meeting.

In two exchanges during that meeting, Zia referenced Malauulu’s faith. When disagreeing over who had the floor to speak, Zia said, “Oh you’re very kind. You’re a good Christian. You’re a good Christian.” Zia then referenced a passage in the New Testament book of Matthew: 

“Take the beam out of your own eye before you remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

About 30 minutes later, Zia, while addressing a guest speaker, apologized for the behavior that had transpired earlier in the evening.

“I’m embarrassed you had to see some less than champions in character conduct by people who claim to be holier than thou,” Zia said. “They resort to name calling their colleagues and scoff and laugh at their colleagues and I don’t think that’s up to par with good Christian behavior or good trustee behavior.”

Malauulu said Zia’s comments have not only set a bad precedent that could lead to others openly criticizing people based on their faith but could lead to a lawsuit being filed against the district by a third party whom Malauulu said could have felt discriminated against by her remarks.

“An individual’s religion has no business being mentioned during a public board meeting that has been televised on free public access channels numerous times, and that is available for the public to view via our easily accessible social media channels,” Malauulu wrote. “Given the political climate of our country at this time, which Trustee Zia often mentions, I believe that she deliberately endangered me, my family, and our college community by making a public reference to my religion during a Board meeting.”

Zia countered that earlier in the July 24 meeting, Malauulu had become aggressive, laughing with Ntuk, calling Zia “antagonistic” and declaring that as president, she would run the meetings with more maturity that her predecessor (the comments come at 3:31 in the full video.)

The letter from Malauulu states that Zia’s behavior had been problematic for some time. Malauulu alleges that that Zia has threatened one other trustee personally and had suggested denying meeting stipends for her and another trustee because they had to leave a meeting early for board related travel.

Malauulu said that Zia has violated the board’s code of ethics by not conducting herself in a responsible manner, not meeting the high standards of ethical conduct of board members and by failing to avoid conflicts of interest.

The latter was allegedly breached when Zia, who preceded Malauulu as board president, unilaterally decided to honor officials from the Port of Long Beach, where she works as a senior civil engineer.

Malauulu said that the move was dubious enough since it was Zia’s employer, but potentially had darker intentions as Zia was at the time an internal candidate for a promotion to the director of government affairs at the port.

“Having both the Executive Director and the President of the Harbor Commission present to receive this random and unannounced award is an example of Trustee Zia putting her personal interests ahead of the Board, the college, and our students,” Malauulu wrote. “To me, she was not acting in the best interest of the entire community, but solely in her own best interest. That is a violation of our Ethics Code and potentially the law.”

Zia would neither confirm nor deny if she was, or currently is, a candidate for another position at the port, but stated that she has never used her position as a board member to benefit personally.

Regardless of what happens Wednesday, Zia vowed to continue her work as board member and pledged to do so in an amicable fashion.

“I’m not interested in petty politics or weaponizing our policies,” Zia said. “I’m merely responding and it’s unfortunate it’s come to this. This is not a restorative approach, it’s a retribution approach.”

A spokeswoman for LBCC confirmed the board would be discussing both letters Wednesday. She said neither the college nor the board would have further comment in order “to respect the integrity of the process.”

The letter is scheduled to be discussed at the board meeting, which begins at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Liberal Arts Campus, 4901 E. Carson St.

Vivian Malauulu’s complaint letter:

Sunny Zia’s response letter:

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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