As elections near, residency of longtime Citrus trustee questioned

Two seats are open in the November 5 election for the Citrus Community College District Governing Board, those of longtime board members Gary L. Woods and Edward C. Ortell. Both incumbents are running for another term, a bid that—between brisk competition from 4 candidates and accusations that he is not a resident of the district he represents—may prove contentious for Mr. Woods.

Mr. Woods, who has represented Azusa and portions of Duarte on the board since 1982, has long listed as his primary residence a one-bedroom apartment on Rockvale Avenue in Azusa. However, Citrus College Faculty Association President John Fincher questioned the legitimacy of that claim at the March 19 meeting of the Citrus College board of trustees.

Mr. Fincher told the board earlier in the year, the faculty association received a letter from a longtime Azusa post office employee asserting that during the many years he delivered mail to Mr. Wood’s Azusa address, the trustee’s mail box would fill up for weeks at a time and then suddenly be cleared out. When he questioned the apartment manager, the letter carrier said he was told the trustee “only used the apartment when he would work late and didn’t want to drive home.”

Mr. Fincher told the board it’s “curious” that Mr. Woods, whose income includes a career as an attorney as well as a position as a Pasadena City College professor, would choose to reside “in a one-bedroom rental, in a senior citizen complex in a predominantly fixed income area.” He went onto note the California Teachers Association, the parent organization for the college’s faculty association, had undertaken an investigation regarding the matter.

“We now know that [Mr. Woods] owns an office building and a residence in Pasadena. We also know that in the past couple of years, he purchased another residence, this time a 3,200 square foot $1.1 million view home high above Sierra Madre,” Mr. Fincher related.  “Virtually every morning, he leaves the Sierra Madre residence at approximately 6:50 a.m. At the end of his day, he drives back up and backs into his driveway, then goes inside to retire for the evening.”

Mr. Woods has denied these allegations, a position he reasserted in a phone interview with the COURIER on Monday.

“I’ve been a resident there for 32 years. I’ve been a registered voter there for 32 years,” he said. “I’ve always gotten everything at my address in Azusa. All my documents go there: my driver’s license, bank statements, taxes, utility bills—no different than anyone who lives in a domicile.”

Mr. Fincher suggested that board members corroborate the story of Mr. Woods’ alleged Sierra Madre residency themselves by visiting www.firegarywoods.com. This website purports to have photographic and video evidence of Mr. Woods’ Sierra Madre residency, as well as the aforementioned letter from the postal carrier and a deed showing that Mr. Woods co-owns the property in Sierra Madre. After that, he advised, the board should retain legal council and take steps to “vacate the Azusa position and begin the process to appoint a successor.”

Any elected official is allowed to have multiple residences, Mr. Fincher noted, but under California Elections Code Section 349, if you run for an office you must have your domicile or primary residence in the area you are representing.

The saga continues

At the April 2, 2013 meeting of the Citrus College Board of Trustees, trustees Joanne Montgomery and Patricia Rasmussen moved the board obtain legal council regarding the residency concerns presented by Mr. Fincher, a motion unanimously approved by the board. Soon after, the board contracted with Chris Keeler, a partner at the Fagan, Friedman & Fulfrost law firm.

At the May 7 board meeting, it was moved the board form an ad-hoc advisory committee consisting of Board President Sue Keith, who represents Claremont and portions of Pomona and La Verne, and Patricia Rasmussen, representing Glendora and portions of San Dimas. The purpose of the committee, which would cease to exist on July 30, would be to “consider the issue of residency of Trustee Gary L. Woods, gather facts and prepare a report to the Board of Trustees, which may include a recommendation for action.” The board approved the motion 3-2, with Mr. Woods and Mr. Ortell casting the dissenting votes.

At their July 13 meeting, the board voted 3-2 to extend the ad-hoc committee, which was to expire on July 30, 2013, through September 30.

“Legal counsel has not completed several tasks necessary for the report,” Ms. Keith explained. “The subcommittee’s term should be extended to allow for completion of fact-gathering and analysis, and the preparation of a thorough, well-reasoned report.”

Mr. Woods, along with Mr. Ortell, cast a dissenting vote and his attorney, George Yin of the Kaufman Legal Group, objected to the formation and continuation of the ad-hoc legal committee, citing transparency concerns. He argued that the proper procedure for addressing residency concerns is through the California Attorney General’s Office, via a legal proceeding called quo warranto, during which an individual’s right to hold an office is challenged.

“To engage in other non-legally prescribed proceedings opens the district up to potential lawsuits and ridicule,” Mr. Yin warned. “The residents of the district and Mr. Woods deserve better.”

The residency question is pending as the November election looms and as the next meeting of the board of trustees, set for September 10 at 4:15 p.m., nears. At the August 18 board meeting, Mr. Keeler said he had not received the documentation he requested from Mr. Yin on August 5 proving Mr. Woods’ Azusa residency.

“I’m hoping that at the September board meeting, the ad-hoc committee will be able to make a report to the board and may have a recommendation, Ms. Keith said. 

In the meantime, Mr. Woods said he is focusing on the upcoming election rather than on embarking on litigation. He considers the allegations of his detractors, which have found their way into a number of articles in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune and affiliated newspapers, to constitute a smear campaign. 

“They’re trying to try me in the press rather than in the courts,” he said.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

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