Ocean View School District admonishes trustee on allegations of sexually harassing another board member

Trustee Norm Westwell, left, raises his hand in a request to speak during Tuesday night’s Ocean View School District board meeting. The board voted 4-1 to approve a resolution rebuking Westwell for what it called inappropriate behavior.
(Priscella Vega / Daily Pilot)

The Ocean View School District publicly admonished a board member Tuesday night over what it described as his repeated indecorous behavior during meetings and accused him of sexually harassing a fellow trustee.

The board voted 4-1 to approve a resolution rebuking Norm Westwell over his behavior toward board Vice President Gina Clayton-Tarvin, other board members and Supt. Carol Hansen during open and closed meetings.

The resolution, proposed by board President John Briscoe, calls on Westwell to treat his colleagues and the public with “dignity and respect at all times.”

Westwell was the only dissenter in the vote.

In an interview before the meeting, Westwell, nicknamed “Firecracker,” denied raising his middle finger to the board during a February closed session. He declined to comment on the other allegations in the resolution and called for an independent investigation of the matter and for a grand jury to investigate the district.

Drama has plagued the Huntington Beach-based district for years, often involving Westwell and Clayton-Tarvin. Both are polarizing figures, repeatedly bumping heads, and Tuesday’s meeting exemplified the tension between the two.

Briscoe listed seven incidents he said illustrate Westwell’s inappropriate behavior.

According to the resolution, Westwell told Clayton-Tarvin to “keep your pie hole closed” on or about May 23, 2017.

In an email addressed to Hansen and the board on or about April 27, 2018, the resolution says, Westwell told Hansen and Clayton-Tarvin, “Don’t get your panties in a bunch.”

On or about Feb. 5, the resolution alleges, Westwell sexually harassed Clayton-Tarvin during a closed session when he “repeatedly puckered his lips with visual and audible kissing gestures” and “produced a four-letter epithet-laced gesture with his middle finger raised” at board members.

Hansen, trustees Patricia Singer and Jack Souders, Deputy Supt. Michael Conroy and Assistant Supt. Felix Avila all confirmed during Tuesday’s meeting that they saw this happen.

Briscoe said in an interview before the meeting that Westwell’s behavior needed to be called out and that he hoped the resolution would encourage Westwell to change his ways.

During the meeting, Westwell repeatedly questioned Briscoe’s leadership of the board and unsuccessfully tried to delay the vote on the resolution.

He also pounded his hand on the dais, repeatedly interrupted Clayton-Tarvin and Briscoe and expressed frustration because Briscoe wouldn’t acknowledge him to speak unless he stood or raised his hand high.

“Lies, lies, lies and more lies,” Westwell said, asking for evidence of the allegations. “This board has become a circus. The beginning of this censure is the first step in trustee Tarvin’s attempt to silence my speech. Trustee Tarvin has established a pattern of doing this to people when they take a position contrary to hers.”

He cited Clayton-Tarvin’s unsuccessful attempts to get restraining orders against vocal critics Raymond Herrera, an illegal-immigration activist, and Chuck Johnson, a local blogger.

“It is well-known that trustee Tarvin and I are on the opposite sides of many issues,” he said. “This is step one in her attempt to control my speech. Next will likely be some sort of lawsuit, maybe a sexual harassment one. Make no mistake, she is laying the groundwork. It’s a setup.”

Clayton-Tarvin said the incidents in the resolution are only a few illustrating Westwell’s behavior. She asked her colleague to stop his actions so the board could return its focus to the district’s students.

“We can disagree with one another as colleagues, as professionals, as elected members of this body, but to do things like this are so dishonorable, disrespectful, unprofessional and, frankly, shameful,” she said.

Clayton-Tarvin also said she submitted a complaint to the district and is in the process of filing a complaint with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

Several community members, a district teacher and board members spoke in support of Clayton-Tarvin and took issue with Westwell’s behavior during meetings.

Former Ocean View parent James Ball, who said he previously pulled his children out of the district in favor of private school, was the only speaker who defended Westwell.

“I’ve seen a lot of things going on in this district leading to it not being well-run,” he said. “I can understand why a lot of parents are leaving.”

Singer and Souders said the resolution was about trying to maintain decorum, not about differing opinions.

“What I’ve witnessed over my term on the board — five years now — is indecorous behavior on behalf of [Westwell],” Souders said. “We do not take censure lightly. I take it seriously. My utmost desire is that we get along. Barring that, I’d like to see us be able to debate with respect with one another and without name-calling from either side.”