Published : Thursday, September 27, 2018 | 5:43 AM
The Pasadena School Board board is set to vote Thursday on whether to remove the volunteer chairman of a bond spending oversight committee over his public opposition to a ballot measure with the potential to inject millions of dollars into the cash-strapped Pasadena Unified School District.
A report prepared by district staff endorses rescinding the unpaid volunteer position of Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee Chairman Quincy Hocutt. It cites his public opposition, and authorship of a ballot argument, against Measure J on the city’s upcoming November ballot.
“Staff recommends removal of Mr. Hocutt from membership on the Citizens’ Oversight Committee for cause as his actions above stated clearly show that he is not acting in the best interests of the District or our students,” the staff report concludes.
The proposal at issue is related to the city’s three-quarter-cent sales tax increase ballot measure, known as Measure I. Measure J would call for a third of the anticipated $21 million in new annual revenue to be directed to the PUSD.
Hocutt serves as Chairman of the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee, which is meant to provide independent oversight and advice on the district’s spending of about $350 million in Measure TT bond funding.
Hocutt refused to sign a resignation letter presented to him by district officials last week. He said the letter stated his resignation was for “personal reasons.”
After his refusal, Pasadena Unified Board President Larry Torres announced that Hocutt had been “removed” from his position as oversight committee chair and thanked him for his service.
But Torres then soon clarified that no formal action had been taken, and the matter would be brought up at a board meeting.
Hocutt said he was merely exercising his political rights as a private citizen. Some School Board Members didn’t see it that way.
Board Member Michelle Bailey said because he signed his ballot argument with his title as committee chairman, he was inappropriately using his position and attempting to speak on behalf of the entire committee without its permission.
But Hocutt said he included his title on the ballot argument solely to identify himself. In the City arena, a Committee in favor of the sales tax measure clearly identifies its founder as “Mayor Terry Tornek” even though Tornek is in acting as a private citizen.
And Hocutt added that the board did not have the authority to remove him for political activities.
Both Torres and Hocutt said the ballot measure issue was just one reason of several they wanted to see Hocutt go.
Torres wrote in a Sept. 19 op-ed that Hocutt spent too much time arguing with staff over “minor issues” and “too often strayed from oversight into advocacy in violation of the COC’s own ethics policies.”
Bailey described the COC under Hocutt’s leadership as “dysfunctional.”
Hocutt penned an op-ed of his own on Sept. 20.
“I do not concur that any of my research, or opinions, or insights, or statements within the COC have hampered the COC’s ability to work as a cohesive group, nor prevented it from engaging in productive discussions,” he wrote.
Hocutt encouraged community members to review COC meeting records and make up their own minds.
Other Committee members apparently disagree with the School Board and support Hocutt.
Five members reportedly signed a September 19 letter supporting Hocutt and disputing the School Board statements that he had hindered the COC’s ability to function as a cohesive group.
The District’s official staff report recommending his removal, however, focuses only on actions related to Measure J as the “cause” for considering Hocutt’s removal. It gives two examples.
One is the ballot rebuttal in opposition to Measure J.
“Significantly, Mr. Hocutt signed the rebuttal as Chair of the COC suggesting endorsement of his comments by the entire COC membership. Mr. Hocutt’s opposition and rebuttal to Measure J is expected to appear on the November 6 ballot pamphlet,” according to the staff report.
“Following submission of the rebuttal argument, as Chair of the COC, Mr. Hocutt prepared an agenda for the scheduled September 19, 2018 COC meeting,” the report continues. “…he listed ‘Chairs involvement in the November tax initiative.”
“This was a clear and improper attempt by Mr. Hocutt to use the audience of the entire COC in order to advance his personal agenda regarding the November sales tax initiative. The initiative is without a doubt beyond the scope of the COC,” the report states.
Pasadena Unified staff found the issue of removing a committee member is not addressed in state law, concluding that a member may be removed for any reason not specifically prohibited by law.
And under the COC’s bylaws, a member may be removed “for cause, including failure to comply with the Committee Ethics Policy,” staff wrote. “In the last paragraph of the Committee Ethics Policy, it is noted that ‘A Committee member shall place the interests of the District above any personal or business interests of the member.’”
The board meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. in the Elbie J. Hickambottom Board Room, 351 South Hudson Ave.