Bitter race develops for Sierra College trustee
October 28, 2008
GRASS VALLEY ” The campaign to represent Area 7, which includes Nevada County, on the Sierra College board of trustees has turned into one of the most contentious local races – pitting incumbent Aaron Klein against Nevada City lawyer E. John Vodonick.
Vodonick’s ethics, business acumen and political ties to a group targeting Klein’s unsuccessful recall in the past have come under fire. As for Klein, his role in Sierra College’s accreditation proceedings and his own board alliances have fallen under criticism.
The campaigning comes at a critical time for Sierra College, which has to grapple with state budget cuts, as well as improve the quality of classroom instruction.
The college is improving its finances and its instruction and is not in any danger of losing its accreditation, said Sierra College spokeswoman Sue Michaels.
But Vodonick has focused on the accreditation issue, pointing to a report that placed Sierra College on a warning list, stating some deficiencies. The report was issued to other community colleges as well.
Vodonick said he considers the warning “a terrible, terrible thing. No one has given me a cogent reason why this has happened.” He places the blame on three board members: Jerry Simmons, Scott Leslie and Klein.
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“My concern is that the board of trustees has become a political football to advance certain political and personal agendas,” he said. “The board should be less about politics and more about academics.”
Vodonick’s critics said he is not a good choice to manage the situation, citing some of his past business dealings.
Though a licensed attorney, he has twice been placed on probation by the state bar for cases involving restitution of clients at his law firm – once in 2000 and again in 2004.
“I was placed on probation on the condition that an agreed payment schedule was made to the client,” said Vodonick.
He also was asked to take an ethics class by the state bar. He is pursuing a master’s degree in ethics and social theory, but he said it is not related to his legal matters.
In addition, Vodonick was a partner in the Stonehouse restaurant in Nevada City that recently closed. Vodonick said he was a partner in the restaurant for a year and left before the owners filed for bankruptcy.
Klein said he’s worked hard to keep politics out of the board room.
“John is the one who has spent a small fortune on a political consultant,” Klein said.
Klein said his campaign is “just me and volunteers. When he throws that ‘politics’ charge, I find it humorous.”
Klein said he’s worked to balance the college’s budget and to grow the reserves from $6 million to $8.1 million during his tenure, and increase students by 18 percent since he took office.
“That’s a record I’m very proud of,” he said.
The rancor between the two candidates and their supporters goes back a while.
An attempt to recall Klein was launched by Sierra College instructor Kent Pollack in 2005, shortly after Klein was elected to the board of trustees of Sierra College. It stemmed from the trustee’s efforts to oust former college President Kevin Ramirez. Ramirez was offered a settlement after serving as the college’s president for more than a decade.
The attempt to recall Klein was abandoned shortly thereafter. A second attempt to recall Klein and Simmons was launched in Placer County in 2006. The second attempt was never formally accomplished, either.