Board of Trustees candidates navigate through allegations and alliances

Correction: A quote was added in the sixth paragraph to provide context.

This election cycle, the open Board of Trustees seats at El Camino College have been hotly contested.

When the election began, the faculty union at ECC, the El Camino College Federation of Teachers (ECCFT), rushed to get involved with the election process so they could endorse a candidate who would represent labor values, so they sent out a call for stakeholders to suggest people to run, according to ECCFT officials.

“I think historically, we haven’t been actively, really vetting and building relationships of clear communication with our trustees. And so, [a] big part of I think, negotiations going the way they have historically, and kind of like the contentiousness during that process is because we don’t have full support from our trustees,” Kelsey Iino, faculty union representative, said. “And so part of the process moving forward, was to really do our due diligence and research to support candidates that we believe would at minimum, provide more transparency.”

Though Iino claims the recruitment process provided every candidate with a fair shot at the endorsement, BOT candidate Siannah Collado Boutte, candidate from Area 3 disagrees.

“I was given the impression that I was going to this interview, given a fair shot. But in looking at the minutes, they had already decided who they were going to recruit and vet. So the lack of transparency was disheartening to be honest,” Boutte said.

The minutes she is referencing say, “Ali and Juli have been able to assemble good candidates for all seats that are up in the BOT this election.” and “Jessica Ulstad, CFT campaign advisor, is going to work with us in running/helping to run candidates. Finally, we’re planning to align our endorsements to create a labor slate for this election. Ali pointed out that if we cannot push our agenda now, it’ll only get harder later. Accordingly, we should recruit several people from each department to meet regularly to move this forward.”

Iino, however, believes that Boutte, Trisha Murakawa, Area 3 candidate, and every other candidate who asked to be endorsed were, in fact, given the same treatment. She confirmed that candidates they ultimately endorsed were recommended to them by other faculty and community members, but all candidates had an equal opportunity at their official support.

“Before we endorsed any candidate, we interviewed all of the ones that asked for endorsements. We invited all faculty members that contribute to participate in this interviewing process. And then we voted. We asked them the same questions. We didn’t deviate from anything. No one had prior information to what the questions were.” Iino said.

The word, “recruited” has been tossed around with negative connotations from the side opposing candidates endorsed by the Faculty Union, but Iino believes this is simply the results of a semantic judgement she made in an email to Boutte where she mentioned the word “recruited.”

Because the faculty union has endorsed certain candidates, those with the ECCFT behind them have been called “hand-picked puppets” on social media by Kenneth Brown, a candidate from Area one. Kenneth Brown and David Kartsonis have endorsed each other and Siannah Collado Boutte on Facebook.

“Just because I received the endorsement of the ECCFT doesn’t mean [I’m] only going to represent union interests. I firmly believe in shared governance. I believe that all stakeholders should have an opportunity to weigh in on important policy decisions that the Board of Trustees will take a position on,” Murakawa said.

Candidates acknowledge they seem to have split themselves into two groups, one side is the candidates endorsed by the faculty union and the other includes those who are not.

Katherine Steinbroner Maschler, however, didn’t ask for any endorsements and because of that, has not been involved in the back and forth.

“There are essentially two major groups. And I think we differ in a lot of ways,” Kartsonis, candidate from Area 4, said.

Kartsonis has had a few claims against him as well, including that he’d like to privatize the college, he wants to see ECC go completely online and that he only prioritizes the “richer” students. Kartsonis says these are all falsehoods.

“Privatized would [be] to take El Camino, a public institution and turn it into like a Devry or an ITT Tech, which is a private business. Which, first off, I don’t even think I could do as a trustee. It’s not really within my power. And if I could, I wouldn’t, because it doesn’t [make] any sense. [Another one] is that I want to replace our staff with private contractors. And that’s again, another thing that I’ve gone publicly on the record saying I don’t want to,” Kartsonis said.

Kartsonis also assures claims regarding which students he caters to are lies as well.

“And then another one that I heard is that I [only] care about rich students from Torrance, which is crazy. Just because I live in Torrance does not mean that. And I think my over a decade of experience on the foundation, funding both need based and merit based scholarships shows that.”

Though there have been strong differences of opinion during the election, candidates say that internal cohesion within the board post-election will not be impacted.

“I think that when we have a real conversation about the things that are important, I think that our priorities are similar.” George A. Turner Jr, candidate from Area 1 said.

Editor’s note: Kenneth Brown, incumbent candidate for Area 1 was contacted three times via email by The Union, but did not respond.

Correction: A word was deleted in the eighth paragraph.