Four running for two Sierra College seats

By: Jenifer Gee Gold Country News Service
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Two seats on the Sierra Community College board of trustees are contested in this year’s election. Incumbent Aaron Klein will face challenger John Vodonick for Area 7 (Colfax/Nevada City). Rocklin resident Elaine Rowen and Granite Bay resident Dennis Cota have both qualified to run for the Area 4 (Granite Bay/Rocklin/Loomis) seat. Jerry Simmons, who did not file for reelection, previously held the seat. Incumbent Scott Leslie is uncontested in the race for Area 3 (Roseville/Dry Creek). The race is already facing some controversy. Current trustee Bill Martin recently released a 25-page report about the college’s past and present financial history. While the report does not single out individuals and is based on facts, Martin said, a concurrent press release states that two incumbents and one former trustee have made inaccurate campaign claims. Martin said that the three, Klein, Leslie and Simmons, have wrongly stated that prior to their elections to the board, the college’s budget was unbalanced and fiscal management was poor. Instead, he argues that the college’s condition became worse after the three took office. Klein has responded to Martin’s report saying it’s inaccurate. He said Martin’s attempts to have the board “abolish” its current budget policy were defeated 6-1. He also described Martin’s budget balance ideas as “ridiculous.” “Despite Bill’s desperate attempts to paint the college in a negative light, respected community leaders agree: Sierra College is better off than it was four years ago,” Klein said in a news release. “Bill needs to issue a retraction and apology to all six of his board colleagues.” Leslie added that Martin has voted in approval of past budgets. “I do believe Bill is trying to manufacture a controversy where none exists because every vote on a balanced budget policy for the past several years has been unanimous,” Leslie said. “So the reality is Bill is the only board member out in left field on our balanced budget policy.” Simmons did not return comment as of press time. Martin contends that his budget proposal, which is different from the board’s current policy, was compiled after “carefully interviewing” campus staff, the chancellor’s office and several other experts. “It isn’t my budget process, it’s the state community college budget process,” Martin said. “Any assertion that I don’t understand the budget process is a political absurdity.” This isn’t the first time Martin, Klein and Leslie have been on opposite sides of controversy. Martin is backed by Save Sierra College, a group that was originally organized in May 2006 to lead a recall of Klein and Simmons. In September 2006, the committee changed its focus on electing non-political trustees, according to a statement on its Web site. They are endorsing Klein’s challenger Vodonick and Rowen. Vodonick, a Nevada City resident who describes himself as a businessman, attorney and student, says he wants to run for the board for several reasons including the fact that he is a product of a community college education. “I believe that education is our future,” Vodonick said. “I believe we should all be involved in it. I also believe that those of us that can make a difference have an obligation to make a difference and I think I can.” Vodonick said he wanted to acknowledge upfront that he was on probation as an attorney for not immediately paying a fee due a client. He said the incident was resolved and his company paid its full dues. He added that the probation was removed. His opponent, Klein, said he is running again for a second four-year term because he’d like to continue working toward partnering the college and local high schools among other goals. “I’m running again because it’s so critical to continue the agenda for change that we started four years ago,” Klein said. “We have a balanced budget four years in a row generating $2 million in new surpluses and now we’ve got to use that advantage to make Sierra College an even greater engine of economic recovery during this downturn.” In the Area 4 race, Rowen, a retired school superintendent, said she is running because she wants to enhance the college’s relationship with the community. “I want to strengthen the community’s trust in the Sierra College Board so that the stake holders will be partners in identifying the needs and addressing them,” Rowen said. Her opponent, Granite Bay resident Cota, said he is also the recipient of a community college education. He said he believes his experience as the foundation president for Chaffey Community College in Southern California will help him as a board member. “I decided it’s important to jump in and really give back to the system that helped me start,” Cota said. “Sierra College is a great resource in the various communities it serves. It could be a greater and more important one if we preserve it in these times when resources are strained.”