Our View: Fortine, Jenkins for COC board

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Editor’s note: Early versions of this editorial had incorrect information regarding the years Edel Alonso served the college as a counselor. She was a counselor for 16 years.

Two seats will be decided in November in College of the Canyons’ first-ever by-district Board of Trustees vote. A third seat on the five-member board, that held by Steven Zimmer, was uncontested, so Zimmer will remain on the board for another four-year term.

Only those who live in the Trustee Areas 2 and 4 will receive ballots for Nov. 8. The switch to trustee-area voting was made to settle a lawsuit that alleged the college district’s previous balloting system violated the California Voting Rights Act.

Area 2

Area 2 Trustee Bruce Fortine is seeking re-election in the zone that takes in western Valencia and runs northwestward across the valley to encompass both San Francisquito and parts of Bouquet canyons in Saugus. He is being challenged by Edel Alonso and Ronda Baldwin-Kennedy.

Alonso is leading an aggressive campaign for the seat. She was a counselor at the college for 16 years, served on the Academic Senate and said she has an effective working relationship with Chancellor Dianne Van Hook.

Running on a student-first platform, she expressed concern during a Signal Editorial Board meeting about disabled student access to the two COC campuses and suggested the issue may have been mishandled in the past. She said steps need to be taken to ensure academic programs are being treated according to student need and demand.

Baldwin-Kennedy is an attorney for the Law Office of Rose Baldwin Kennedy. She called for greater transparency from the Board of Trustees, greater outreach from the college and more diversity on the board.

Fortine also called for greater transparency and is running on a platform based on fiscal oversight and stability, campus and classroom modernization and partnerships with business and community.

As an example of a business partnership, Fortine pointed to a program that would allow COC students to earn an electrician’s certificate from the college, while being paid, by taking classes at an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers facility.

He said he initiated the program with the IBEW, and the college is proposing to join with the William S. Hart Union High School District in launching it. He also has proposed a program for cyber-crime fighting through COC’s business or computer department.

Area 4

Trustee Michele Jenkins represents Area 4, which takes in Canyon Country and eastern Newhall as well as a stretch of Saugus alongside Soledad Canyon Road. Jenkins, an alumna of COC, is being challenged in her re-election bid by Canyon Country businessman Jerry Danielsen.

Jenkins has represented COC well at the state and federal levels and has been a leader in fundraising. She points proudly to her substantial fundraising for the University Center and to the fact she was on the Board of Trustees that hired Chancellor Dianne Van Hook in 1988.

Danielsen is also a COC graduate. He graduated from CalArts and now runs a recording studio in Canyon Country and teaches music.

A Santa Clarita Valley resident since 1972, he is enthusiastic about giving back to the community and offers what he calls a new perspective on the board, urging it to “embrace changes in the job market as they emerge through new technology.”

Both Fortine and Jenkins have served on the Board of Trustees for lengthy periods. Fortine was on the founding board when the college was established in 1967. He resigned five years later to take a paying position at COC but returned as a trustee in 1992 and has served ever since then.

Jenkins has served as a trustee continuously since 1984.

As Jenkins argued during a recent Editorial Board meeting at The Signal, longevity in public office allows board members a depth of knowledge and experience that can make them more effective in serving their constituents and in generating new understandings that can lead to innovative solutions.

We agree.

But we have also seen – on some elected boards and councils around the Santa Clarita Valley – longevity in office leading to elected officials losing touch with their vote’s effect on constituents; to a stale approach in governing; to squabbling over minutiae; and at times to exhibitions of outright entitlement.

We at The Signal are also concerned about the lack of young people rotating into positions of leadership in local government as those in office age.

But we will not advocate blindly tossing out decades of wisdom and experience represented on some of those boards and councils, including the COC Board of Trustees.

In the case of Jenkins, we publicly chide her for her unseemly display of entitlement in an email exchange with the COC Faculty Association president that was forwarded to other members of the COCFA.

Any faculty union can be expected to endorse candidates it believes will best serve its members’ interests; unprofessional outbursts over union endorsements can serve only to rupture the partnership required between policymakers, administrators and faculty required to keep a college running smoothly.

Final terms

We urge voters in Trustee Area 2 to return Fortine to office with a condition: That during this term in office he take action to ensure a smooth transition of institutional knowledge and that he mentor potential young leaders to succeed him and his colleagues. It is unlikely we will endorse him again.

We applaud Fortine for his continuing innovative vision for College of the Canyons and his drive to see through to the end those ideas.

We also endorse the incumbent for Trustee Area 4, Jenkins, but with two emphatic conditions.

We ask that she, too, commit to the transitioning of institutional knowledge and understanding to new leaders in the Santa Clarita Valley. We have reason to believe she would be particularly skilled in doing so and invite her to bring all she can to the table with this goal.

We believe Danielsen and others interested in serving on the COC Board of Trustees, or other boards and councils in the Santa Clarita Valley, could benefit from the counsel of these veteran board members.

It is unlikely Jenkins will again receive our endorsement; it is time for our valley to look forward to not just 2020 but to 2050 and beyond.

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