Solis Renamed Head of Rio Hondo Board : Education: Three trustees ignore tradition and rename their president and appoint themselves to top jobs.


So much for tradition.

In a departure from the norm, the strife-ridden Rio Hondo College Board of Trustees last week selected Hilda Solis to serve another one-year term as president.

Three of the five trustees attended the meeting and appointed themselves to the three officers' positions--president, vice president and secretary.

Two other trustees did not attend, including Vice President Ralph Pacheco, who normally would have succeeded Solis. Pacheco also was not considered for another term as vice president.

Trustee Isabelle Gonthier nominated Solis for a second term, saying, "We want to show her a vote of confidence . . . in the work she has done. She has worked very hard, she has done a great job and we would like to see her continue because we have so many things that are still unfinished."

Gonthier was selected vice president and Barbara Stone, who recently was elected to her first term as a trustee, was named secretary. After the vote, a grinning Gonthier immediately gathered her papers and moved to the vice president's chair to the left of Solis. "I now get to take the other chair," she said.

Some college officials say the altered selection process exemplifies the dissension among board members.

Trustees Bill E. Hernandez and Pacheco, who have had run-ins with Solis and Gonthier over important issues in the past, did not attend the Wednesday night board meeting. Hernandez said he had a family emergency. Pacheco called in sick.

Hernandez said during a phone interview Thursday that he supports Solis, despite their previous disagreements. "I want to move forward," Hernandez said. "I don't want to dwell on the past." Pacheco could not be reached for comment, but he has said before that he wants to resolve the differences.

The conflict intensified last year over the selection of a new college president. Pacheco and Hernandez favored a candidate from East Los Angeles. But Solis joined Gonthier and Trustee Marilee Morgan to select Alex Sanchez, former vice president at the University of New Mexico. Morgan decided not to seek another term.

Pacheco and Hernandez warned Solis and Gonthier that their decision to hire Sanchez could cost them their positions on the board. They said the community wanted a local president, not someone from outside the state.

But Solis and Gonthier won handily in the Nov. 7 election after a sometimes bitter campaign. Solis was the target of a scathing "hit" letter, accusing her of living outside the district, siding with liberal faculty members and associating with an accused child molester. Solis denied the allegations. An extensive investigation is under way to find the source of the bogus letter, which was typed on official college stationery.

Solis said she hopes her selection for another term as president will give Sanchez confidence that the leadership of the board is behind him.

"It will provide him with some continuity," Solis said.

She said it is particularly important that the trustees work together to resolve the impasse between college administrators and the faculty over a contract. Teachers have been working without a contract since June 30, and both sides say they remain far apart on several key issues.

The disagreements center mostly on salaries for the full-time faculty. Teachers are requesting a 23% raise over three years. College administrators are offering an 18% raise over the same period.

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