Walter T. Shatford II points out that Mark Twain put school board trustees in a criminal class, along with congressmen and federal judges. Economist Thorstein Veblen, he notes, called trustees "quasi-literate, parochial, meddling and cunning."
For Shatford, elder statesman of the Board of Trustees for Pasadena City College, literary barbs are part of the fun, and so is the examination of trustees' motives, including his own.
He is the board's president as he enters his 28th year as a trustee, having served at least 15 years longer than any of the six other trustees. He learned this week that he is running unopposed in the November election.
Shatford's Pasadena City College trusteeship has amounted to thousands of hours of board meetings and related public appearances, plus countless weekends lost in the study of college business. For this he is paid $30 for each board meeting, not to exceed $200 monthly.
With tongue firmly in cheek and flashing his usual grin, Shatford said he continues his long career of public service because of "all that raw, naked power."
A lanky, droll attorney whose 3rd Trustee District covers the central part of Pasadena, where he lives, Shatford is 70 years old as he commits himself to four more years of board work.
He started in 1957 as one of three Pasadena City School Board candidates who ran as a slate that opposed a group that wanted to cut spending for education. When Pasadena City College split from the school district in 1965, Shatford was on its first board. He lost the next election in 1966, was elected the following year, and has served continuously since then, unwavering in a philosophy that he calls "on the liberal side."
Warren Weber, a conservative on the board, said, "You'd have to look a long way to find anyone who makes any greater effort than Walter Shatford to represent his constituents and deal with his fellow board members. He works unbelievably hard for the good of the district, and he's a great credit to the district."
In the last decade, Shatford has had little or no election opposition. He has been his district's overwhelming top vote-getter for many years.
"I sort of drifted into it this time," he said. "I've always based it on the state of my health. According to the latest life insurance table, I'm delighted to know I'm going to live another 15 years."
A serious side takes over as Shatford discusses his commitment to education.
"I believe with Jefferson that to have a good democracy is to have an educated democracy that can govern and vote intelligently," he said.
As a board member, he said, "my most satisfying moments come when I'm able to see that the deliberations and actions of a public agency are conducted openly, that the faculty enjoys academic freedom and the students have the right to a free press and the right to make mistakes. I'm also pleased when through our hirings of staff we can bring members of minority groups into full participation in American society."
Board service, Shatford said, "is working out reasonable solutions to tough problems. People don't realize it's not dealing with high visibility issues, such as divestiture or political causes. That takes up about one-tenth of 1% of our time, and most of the rest is minutiae.
Categorizing candidates, Shatford said he has seen "those deeply concerned with providing good education. Then there are the so-called solid citizens who feel that the seats should be occupied by them and not have the field left to oddballs. There are others who are anxious to get a platform for their basic philosophy." Members of the last group, he said, "are riding one particular hobby horse, such as a particular insight into the teaching of French or that free peanut butter sandwiches will solve all learning problems."
As for his own motivations, Shatford said: "There are few electees who don't take some vainglory out of being an officeholder. Your name may be only in 10-watt bulbs, but it's there. In my own case, of course," he said jokingly, "I'm a dedicated public servant, selfless in my devotion to the common good."