The Board of Trustees of the Ventura County Community College District has suspended its investigation of fellow trustee Tom Ely until the district attorney's office concludes its criminal inquiry of Ely's travel expenses.
"We don't want to do anything to complicate the district attorney's investigation," Board President Greg Kampf said Wednesday. "This will keep us from tripping over each other."
Kampf said the board based its decision on the advice of a law firm hired to determine whether Ely had violated district travel policies. The firm, Musick, Peeler, and Garrett of Los Angeles, suggested that the board bow out of the case to avoid complicating the district attorney's inquiry.
Ely's troubles began in March when it was revealed that he owed one Nevada casino $3,000 and that he had been sued by another for $8,000 in gambling debts.
The trustees commissioned an audit of Ely's financial records after learning of his gambling activities and that he had used his district telephone to call Nevada casinos.
The audit found that Ely had charged more than $8,400 in questionable expenses on business-related trips during the past three years.
Ely said Wednesday that the board was smart to follow their attorney's advice and "keep their mouth shut" on the issue until the district attorney's office finishes its work.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Carol Nelson, who is handling the investigation, said her inquiry of Ely's travel expenses should be completed within three or four weeks.
In the meantime, a Simi Valley citizens group has launched an effort to recall Ely for what it calls "fiscal irresponsibility." The Citizens Group to Recall Tom Ely has 160 days to gather 15% of the signatures of the more than 66,000 registered voters in the 4th District to call a special election, according to county election officials.
Barbara Liberman, a member of the group, said 50 volunteers started collecting signatures on Saturday. She said the group plans to meet Friday to see how much support there is for the recall.
Liberman said the group had no choice but to take action.
"Somebody had to start this," she said. "The 4th District is becoming a joke. How can the college district operate in confidence without the electorate behind them?"
The group has been joined by faculty leaders of Ventura County's three colleges in calling for Ely's resignation.
Ely said Wednesday that he has received numerous calls and letters from faculty members and residents supporting him and that he will not resign.
Ely, a candidate for a county supervisor seat, has maintained that the audit is flawed and that he has not violated district travel policies.
Soon after receiving a copy of the audit, the district attorney's office launched its own criminal investigation.