‘I messed up’: LBCC Board of Trustees censures colleague

The Long Beach City College District Board of Trustees voted 3-2 Wednesday evening in favor of censuring Trustee Sunny Zia due to repeated incidents of unprofessional behavior toward colleagues.

Trustees Zia and Virginia Baxter voted against the item.

Before the board voted on the issue, Zia read a prepared apology owning up to her behavior.

“Quite frankly, I messed up,” Zia said. “In a fit of frustration, I lost my temper and said a number of things I should not have said.  And I definitely very much regret saying it. From the bottom of my heart, I apologize.”

The recommendation to publicly censure Zia came from President Vivian Malauulu after an exchange during a July board meeting in which Malauulu said Zia mocked her Christian faith.

Unable to play a clip for the audience, Malauulu instead repeated the words Zia used to mock her.

“The comments that were made to me were, ‘Oh you’re a good Christian, you’re a really good Christian and holier than thou’ and if I said that to any other faith on this dais, my family would disown me,” Malauulu said.

Malauulu said the decision to file a complaint was a difficult one that caused her considerable anxiety.

“This is not an isolated incident,” she said of Zia’s behavior. “There have been other incidents, but we did not have a board policy in place that allowed us an opportunity to present them as agenda items and now we do.”

Malauulu said the problems on the dais over the years had been witnessed and brought up to her by administrators, community members, staff and students.

She called it an issue that has gotten “progressively worse and will continue to escalate unless this board takes action.”

Malauulu said that while Zia tried to apologize the day she filed the complaint she felt it was disingenuous because of how late it came.

“Trustee Zia, I appreciate your apology and wish you would have apologized sooner,” Malauulu said. “I did sit on the complaint for almost 30 days.”

Trustee Doug Otto, the only other trustee to speak in favor of the censure, said the decision was not an easy one.

“But it is my opinion, given the evidence of dysfunction in this board, not just on the 24th of July but over an extended period of time, something must be done,” Otto said. “I support the motion. I hope that it will lead to better behavior and this board can start to function as one and not as five individuals.”

A handful of residents also spoke on the censure, some defending Zia and calling the move an extreme action motivated by politics.

One man was less forgiving, considering Zia’s July 24 comments “a subtle bashing of faith” and calling on the board for some “measure of discipline.”

This is not the first complaint filed against Zia.

In a complaint dated Nov. 2, 2018, Trustee Uduak-Joe Ntuk alleged then-President Zia violated portions of the trustee code of conduct.

“She has not maintained an atmosphere of harmony and cooperation in which controversial issues may be presented fairly, nor has the dignity of each individual been respected,” Ntuk stated in a letter addressed to LBCC Superintendent President Reagan Romali and then-Vice President Vivian Malauulu.

The letter focused on Zia’s actions during an Oct. 23 meeting, during which Ntuk alleged she personally attacked him and Otto and verbally threatened Ntuk and Malauulu, among other claims. The full video is available here.

[Editors note: A previous version of this story stated that Malauulu had accepted an apology from Zia the day the complaint was filed. They did not discuss the matter until the August 28 board meeting when the censure item was discussed.]

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Stephanie Rivera is the immigration and diversity reporter for the Long Beach Post. Growing up as one of six kids in the working-class immigrant suburb of South Gate, she was taught the importance of civic engagement and to show compassion for others. After graduating from CSULB with a degree in journalism, Stephanie worked for Patch Latino and City News Service before coming to the Long Beach Post in 2015. An avid Harry Potter fan, Stephanie now lives in Bixby Knolls with her boyfriend and their bearded dragon, Austin.
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