LBCC files court petition to bar trustee from meetings about misconduct investigation

Long Beach City College has taken legal action against a trustee who it alleges has refused to leave closed-door discussions about an investigation into her misconduct.

According to a document filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday, Trustee Sunny Zia has “repeatedly refused to recuse herself” from four closed-sessions board meetings regarding an outside investigation into accusations of misconduct by Zia and former LBCC President Reagan Romali.

LBCC alleges that Zia has a conflict of interest because she is a subject of the investigation. The college is seeking an injunction barring her from participating in any closed sessions related to the investigation.

Zia in a statement said she has a right to participate.

“I have no conflict of interest and there is no valid legal basis for me to recuse myself from closed session,” Zia said. “More concerning, I am being asked to leave constituents of District 3 unrepresented in the Board’s consideration of all aspects of the report and its response thereto even though the bulk of the report does not concern me at all.”

Romali, who now serves as vice president at LA Mission College, was fired from her LBCC position in March after months of tension with some board members. The board last year hired an outside consultant called Benchmark Investigations to look into Romali for possible misuse of public funds, bullying, making false statements and other allegations. The investigation later expanded to include Zia.

Benchmark completed its investigation on Aug. 18, according to court documents. The Post has a pending public records request for results of the investigation, but administrators have not provided the report.

However, the court document filed this week revealed some new details of the investigation.

Among other accusations, attorneys for LBCC wrote that the investigation found:

  • Romali “inappropriately used staff for personal errands and tasks,” including having staff shop for food and clothing, take her car for service and babysit her children during a board meeting.
  • When applying for a job at Miami Dade College, Romali “exaggerated and provided false information” about allegedly negotiating a gang truce when she worked at Truman College in Chicago.
  • Zia inappropriately solicited campaign contributions from a contractor at the Port of Long Beach, where she works as a program manager.
  • Zia worked “hand in hand” with Romali to spread false information about other board members and failed to share a letter with human resources and other trustees concerning Romali’s alleged abusive behavior against the executive director of the Long Beach City College foundation.

Romali did not respond to a phone call and text message Friday. A spokesperson for LBCC declined comment due to the pending litigation. 

Zia in her statement denied any wrongdoing and said the investigation is retaliation by some board members. She called it an “ill-defined political investigation” that cost an estimated $220,000 in public funds.

“This is an example of the extent some members of this board are willing to go in abusing their position and wasting taxpayers money for a political fishing expedition and witch hunt,” she said.

Zia said other board members are also involved in the investigation and, under their argument, should similarly recuse themselves for conflicts. The legal document released Monday did include significant analysis of allegations made by Romali against three other board members, Uduak-Joe Ntuk, Doug Otto and Vivian Malauulu.

Zia singled out Ntuk as retaliating against her for not going “along with his political agenda.”

Ntuk declined comment due to the litigation.

Zia also questioned why the report has not yet been made public.

“The public deserves to see the investigation report in its entirety and see how their tax dollars are being misused,” she said. “Why is the report being withheld and instead they are choosing to breach its confidentiality by disclosing some of the findings and not all?”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with more detail from Sunny Zia’s statement.

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Kelly Puente is a general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. Her prolific reporting has taken her all over Southern California—even to the small Catalina Island town of Two Harbors. She is a Tiki mug collector and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Cal State Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected].
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