The Backroom: ‘What is wrong with this board?’

The Backroom is a column by the staff of the Long Beach Post with notes and analysis, along with bloops and blunders, from the city’s political scene. It runs every Thursday. To contact us, email [email protected]. For questions or concerns, please contact Managing Editor Melissa Evans: [email protected] or 562-437-5814. 

What the hell is going on with the Long Beach City College Board of Trustees, you ask? We have no clue, but it sure is entertaining.

Mounting tension on the five-member board exploded last week when newly-appointed president Vivian Malauulu lodged a scathing four-page complaint against fellow trustee Sunny Zia, who responded in-kind with her own blistering retort.

This spat had everything: religion, politics, accusations of conflict of interest, bullying, name-calling and even a reference to “public flogging.”


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Malauulu’s complaint stemmed from a few stomach-churning exchanges at the July 24 board meeting, one of which involved Zia offering an “apology” to the unfortunate guest at the podium, Bill Husak, the newly-appointed interim athletic director who was fumbling for words like a Thanksgiving dinner guest who just strolled in with a bundt cake the moment Dad announced he’s leaving Mom for his 22-year-old Crossfit coach.

The only member of the board not mentioned in the dueling complaints was Virginia “Ginny” Baxter, a beloved cheerleader of LBCC who seemed flummoxed by all the fuss. Without a doubt the most entertaining moment of the meeting—your mandatory comic relief in any good drama—is the wide-eyed expression on Baxter’s face, a stunning mixture of terror and amusement, as Zia is slathering syrup on a stack of passive aggressive pancakes; that’s about as vicious as Baxter gets.

Naturally we reached out to Baxter in hopes of yanking her, willing or not, into the fracas. Naturally, she responded by saying her “number one concern is Long Beach City College.”

Oh, come on Ginny—the college is fine! Join the fun!

“I hate to see this,” is all she would offer. “I never remember things being this heated.”

We of course fact-checked the latter statement, and found it to be utterly false. Back in 1994—a time when the Press-Telegram still had a team of reporters, Gerrie Schipske’s political career was budding and Mayor Robert Garcia was a Republican just learning to drive—a well-written report in the crosstown paper contained this lead: “Like a dysfunctional family going into therapy, trustees of Long Beach City College sat down Monday with a mediator to sort through a tangle of strained relationships and hurt feelings.”

Schipske, then a trustee, told the paper that prominent business leaders were coming up to her and asking: “What is wrong with this board?”

What is wrong, indeed.

Our heart’s a-flutter

We love meetings. When City Council is dark the last week of the month, we sit at home and pick the peanuts out of Mom’s homemade Chex Mix while trying to decode Bill Pearl headlines. This week, though, we availed ourselves of a bevy of alternatives, including the LBCC trustees meeting on Wednesday night, which was surely awkward; a Beer & Politics event featuring Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce and a gaggle of angry gadflies debating the Broadway Corridor; and a police and fire gathering on Tuesday night about the recent closure of Fire Station 9 in the Bixby Knolls area.

To our surprise and delight, the whole gang was there: Both chiefs, a quorum of councilmembers and an ever-stoic team of city staff led by the Assistant City Manager and soon-to-be Acting City Manager Tom Modica.

While Police Chief Robert Luna and Fire Chief Xavier Espino fielded a majority of the questions, Modica, the Human Budget Book, hung in for several hours, answering increasingly specific questions from residents long after the forum ended.

We admit our heart fluttered a bit listening to him rattle off answers about mold abatement, cost estimates and building entitlements. We were downright flush last week when we asked about cable franchise fees from utilization of public rights of way in a post-DIVCA world, and he schooled us without cracking open the 500-page budget book behemoth.

If it feels like we’re slobbering so be it. We’re allowed to have a fleeting crush every now and then.

Deafening silence

For those of you keeping score at home, Mayor Garcia has endorsed every incumbent who is facing competition in the March 2020 council race—except one, Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce.

This is strange, namely because Pearce is largely seen as an ally of the mayor. She has championed his causes, and has been backed emphatically by the muscle of organized labor.

Is she perfect? No, she is not perfect. But the mayor, we guess, cares most about getting votes in support of his priorities. Pearce has been reliable in that category.

We know that the mayor and Pearce had breakfast the morning of Aug. 17. (Don’t ask us how we know that; we just do).

We asked Pearce whether they talked about her endorsement. She only said she hasn’t announced her endorsements yet, that she’s honored to have the support of those she has, and “I will send campaign announcements when I’m ready.”

Fine.

We got the mayor on the horn, but he didn’t say much, either: “I haven’t endorsed in the 2nd District; it’s not a decision I have made.” He likewise didn’t want to comment on the substance of the breakfast conversation.

The silence continues …

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