El Camino trustee’s continued stipend while absent questioned
A trustee on the five-member board of directors at El Camino College near Torrance hasn’t attended a meeting in nearly a year, and yet has continued to receive his $400-a-month stipend in absentia.
The elderly Nathaniel Jackson, a former dean at the school and the board’s Inglewood representative, has been out ill since September 2009. Because he is sick, Jackson is not legally required to give up his seat. Nor does he appear to be violating any laws by accepting pay, although a state investigator is looking into the matter.
Still, the long absence has caught the eye of at least one board watcher, area political consultant Fred Huebscher.
“It’s outrageous an elected body would countenance somebody being absent for month after month,” he said. “If he’s ill, he can appear telephonically, and that hasn’t happened either. … To have 20 percent of the board absent month after month is a real disservice.”
School officials counter that it hasn’t been an issue, noting that the board hasn’t had a close vote during his entire absence.
“In the last year I can count on one hand the number of votes that are not 4-0,” El Camino College President Tom Fallo said. “We miss his advice and insight, but it has not had an adverse impact on operations.”
That’s not to say there haven’t been close votes in recent years.
Four years ago, Jackson was one of three trustees who voted in favor of a controversial plan to take over Compton Community College, which lost its accreditation in 2006 due to out-of-control financial instability. Two trustees voted no.
Officials at El Camino would not discuss the specific nature of Jackson’s illness, other than to say that he had some sort of surgery in the fall of 2009. Jackson, who is about 80, did not return a call from the Daily Breeze.
Jackson’s year of absence seems out of step with a prior record of stellar attendance: He has missed only 14 monthly meetings during his 15 years on the governing body, said Ann Garten, the school’s director of community relations. His term expires in December 2011.
It also appears that he voted in the last primary. According to the Los Angeles County Registar/Recorder’s Office, an 80-year-old Inglewood man of the same name – and the only registered voter in that city named Nathaniel Jackson – cast a vote on June 8.
Jackson’s history with the school spans three decades. The holder of a doctorate in human psychological behavior and education leadership from United States International University, he began working at El Camino as a psychology instructor in 1983. He served as the dean to the school’s vocational-education division from 1985-1989. He has also worked as a psychologist in the Air Force.
Board member Bill Beverly, whose 19-year tenure makes him the panel’s longest-serving member, said the board’s hands are tied.
“Unless we were being handicapped or crippled in our operations, we could no more punish a sick member than we could discriminate against anybody else on the basis of a disability or infirmity,” he said.
A reading of the state Education Code seems to indicate that the board is not out of compliance.
The law states that a member may be paid for any meeting missed so long as the board reflects in its meeting minutes that he or she is ill, as the El Camino College board has done.
However, David Demerjian, head of the Los Angeles County district attorney’s Public Integrity Division, has said the stipend could be an issue. Demerjian received a complaint on the matter this week.
“We haven’t made a determination one way or the other and will not make that determination until we conduct a full inquiry,” he wrote in an e-mail. “We do not reach conclusions until we have ascertained all of the relevant facts.”
Interestingly, a few years ago the law stated that sick board members could be paid for no more than two consecutive absences, but the law changed sometime in the late 1990s. Now it is up to each individual board to set the policy.