Bowing to an independent commission's ruling, trustees of the Ventura County Community College District have opted to reinstate the Oxnard College bookstore manager they fired in June rather than fight her in court.
On the recommendation of Chancellor Thomas G. Lakin, trustees voted 4 to 1 late Tuesday to rehire Sharon Davies, a 22-year college employee who was fired for failing to maintain adequate records at the bookstore.
The district's personnel commission ruled last week that Davies deserved her $60,000-a-year job back, in part because none of her supervisors at Oxnard College noticed that she was not keeping accurate books.
Commissioners said the punishment did not match Davies' failings, and that a four-month suspension without pay was enough of a penalty.
The commission also suggested a six-month probationary period and more training for Davies, 50, who received a promotion last year as well as a series of positive performance reviews throughout her employment.
Lakin said there are portions of the five-page ruling that he did not agree with, but that he would recommend the ruling be approved if Davies agreed to initiate no further legal action against the college district.
"The cost of (fighting in court) will far outweigh any benefit to the district," Lakin told trustees.
Trustee Karen M. Boone was the lone dissenting vote, saying that she could not support rehiring a person she believed was incapable of doing the job.
"The findings listed in the commission's statement are inconsistent with the remedies suggested," Boone said during the meeting. "I have a problem with her being back in the same position," she said later.
An independent audit of the Oxnard College bookstore concluded in April that Davies had failed to close out registers on a daily basis, failed to keep track of the store's inventory, and failed to maintain proper paperwork and fiscal controls.
That probe also turned up $40,000 or more in losses in the last six months of 1993, which are still unaccounted for at the Oxnard College bookstore. The store does nearly $1 million in business each year.
There was never any indication that Davies was responsible for the bookstore losses, the commission noted in its findings.
During the board discussion, Trustee Timothy D. Hirschberg appeared angry that Oxnard College officials failed to address the sloppy bookstore records for so long.
"There didn't seem to be much concern for financial controls at the bookstore," Hirschberg said. "The personnel commission said enough about Ms. Davies, but the real message to the board is that the ball was dropped at Oxnard College.
"There's also the matter of funds in that operation that still need to be accounted for," he added. "We should take heed in the comments in the report relating to the college."
Oxnard College President Elise D. Schneider, who made the recommendation to trustees that Davies be fired, refused to discuss the situation, despite Hirschberg's comment and the commission findings that she should have known about Davies' failings.
Back at work for the first time since June, Davies was greeted Wednesday with numerous welcome signs and a 3-by-5-foot card made by students.
"Things are going fine and I'm very happy to be back here," Davies said. "Everybody from the gardeners on up have come over to welcome me back, so it's been a pretty exciting day."
Davies declined to say, however, whether she would accept the commission findings that both she and the district pay their own attorney fees and that she forgo the four months salary she was penalized.
The only alternative would be to file a claim with the college district in preparation of a lawsuit.