Stephen C. Petzold | Did Public Funds Back Measure E?

Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor

In June 2016 the Santa Clarita Community College District placed bond Measure E on the ballot. The voters in the district approved future bond financing of up to $230 million. The repayment of this debt , along with previous bond measures, is reflected on the tax bill of each property owner in the district.

The Yes on Measure E campaign raised over $400,000 in their effort to support passage. Much of the money was raised from contractors with close ties to College of the Canyons. “Pay to Play” may not be ethical, but it is legal. The Measure E campaign ranks as one of the most expensive ever seen in the Santa Clarita Valley. 

During the subsequent years I have originated numerous complaints with the California Fair Political Practices Commission regarding campaign finance and reporting violations. The complaints were made against contractors, the college district, the college foundation and the recipient committee.  Most of the complaints (over a dozen) were determined to be meritorious, and referred to FPPC staff for investigation. 

The FPPC investigations of the college and the foundation are ongoing and still pending by the FPPC Enforcement Division.

The campaign committee, led by foundation member Robert McCarty, agreed to a stipulation, approved by the commission in June. Mr. McCarty admitted to four separate and distinct violations of campaign finance regulations. You may do a search for FPPC Case 17/287 should you be inclined to read the 13-page report of findings.

Of continuing interest to me are three donations of $50,000 (totaling $150,000) made to the campaign committee that were reported on official forms as originating from the nonprofit auxiliary, College of the Canyons Foundation. To my surprise, it is legal for nonprofits to contribute to bond campaigns so long as the money is properly sourced and reported accurately. Despite diligent effort, it has been difficult for me to ascertain the source of the funding used by the foundation to make the $150,000 contribution to the committee.

On Nov. 19, I received a number of documents from the COC Foundation obtained through the Richard McKee Transparency Act. To my surprise, there were three warrants (checks) drawn against the Santa Clarita Community College District account held by the Los Angeles County Treasurer for the benefit of the district.

In short, it appears to me the COC Foundation IS NOT the true source for the contribution. Instead, it appears the Santa Clarita Community College District used public funds to make a contribution to the committee.

It is well-established law that public agencies like the Santa Clarita Community College District are prohibited from using public resources to support or oppose a bond measure campaign. The approval of funding and contribution to the Measure E campaign may constitute a misuse of public funds.

Over these years, the college board of trustees has been reluctant to exercise its authority to begin an independent internal investigation of the complaints that have been accepted for investigation by the FPPC. I am asking the trustees to hire an independent accounting company and law firm to do a thorough review of the internal accounting of the funds contributed by the college/foundation to the Yes on Measure E campaign.

In my opinion, it is important for the administration of the college and the foundation, along with the board of trustees, to be held accountable for the proper and legal expenditure of public funds, especially when they may have been used to influence the voters’ decision on a bond measure.

Stephen C. Petzold

Santa Clarita 

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