The Rio Hondo College Board of Trustees has decided to pay a private investigator up to $8,000 to try to find out who was responsible for sending district voters a "hit" letter, on college stationery, attacking the board president during her campaign for reelection.
One trustee said the expenditure is a waste of public money, but the majority said they are concerned that the use of college stationery may have given the false impression that the letter was official college business. The letter was signed by a group that does not exist.
The board and college officials had asked several government agencies to investigate. The county district attorney's office and the state Fair Political Practices Commission said they would look into the matter but told the district that it was not a top priority.
College officials estimate it will take several weeks for the private investigator, Murphy & Maconachy Inc. of Santa Ana, to complete an investigation. But a year could pass before the government agencies look into the matter, said Isabelle Gonthier, a trustee.
"If we wait too long we'll never find out who is responsible for the letter," Gonthier said.
Board President Hilda Solis and Trustee Barbara Stone also voted in favor of the investigation.
Bill Hernandez, another trustee, voted against the measure, saying it is not the college's responsibility to investigate the incident.
"I feel very bad that the letter came out," Hernandez said. "But I think we should leave it to the appropriate authorities to look into it. To make this type of expenditure is ludicrous. It is abuse of public money. It is not helping our teachers, it is not going to help our students. I don't think it is going to benefit anyone."
The letter, which was distributed before the Nov. 7 election, was written by a group claiming to be the "staff committee for ethical elections." It said: "We the faculty of Rio Hondo are concerned about ethical practices being conducted as a part of the election of your representative to the Board of Trustees."
The letter went on to accuse board President Hilda Solis of living outside the Rio Hondo Community College District, associating with an accused child molester and supporting college liberals who wanted a large pay raise for the faculty. Solis says the allegations are false and defamatory.
College officials called a special board meeting Jan. 3 to decide whether to hire a private investigator, but deadlocked 2-2. Trustee Stone was not at that meeting.
In voting for the proposal Wednesday, Stone said: "I don't think Rio Hondo College would be spending educational dollars on chasing after evildoers, but in this particular instance it was not just an election trick. The college's name was used, the college's stationery was used. The college is more or less on the line."
Trustee Ralph Pacheco, who voted against the proposal Jan. 3, was absent from the Wednesday meeting.