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The State Center Community College District board decided — for the second time this year — not to investigate trustee Eric Payne over allegations of misconduct.

Payne was accused of misuse of a rental car paid for by the district and failing to show up on time for conferences in Lake Tahoe and San Francisco earlier this year.

Several trustees also said a board investigation was needed to determine if the $54,000 in fines that Payne must pay the Fair Political Practices Commission for 21 candidate filing infractions constituted a violation of board policy.

After a 50-minute discussion Tuesday that grew heated at times, the board voted 3-3, with one abstention, on a motion to establish a special committee to investigate whether Payne had violated the district’s code of ethics. Board president Deborah Ikeda and trustees Richard Caglia and Bobby Kahn voted for the resolution, while Payne and trustees Annalisa Perea and John Leal voted against it. Trustee Magdalena Gomez abstained.

Payne offered a few explanations Tuesday about his car rental and tardy arrival at the Tahoe conference: he had to rent the vehicle before going to work because the agency closed at 4 p.m., he has vision problems and was “extra tired,” which made it unsafe for him to drive through to Lake Tahoe, the weather was inclement (a fact disputed by  Kahn, who also attended the Tahoe conference and who said the weather was “beautiful”).

Repaid Two Days Car Rental

When Payne was asked last month about the extra car rental days for the conference in San Francisco, he shifted the cost of two days rental onto his personal credit card.

“I will remind the board that only we can discipline ourselves, and failure to do so is abrogating your responsibility as board members, and you will be on record as such, if you vote against even investigating these violations.” — State Center board president Deborah Ikeda

On Tuesday, Payne referred to the ethics allegations as “character assassination.” He noted that he has received numerous honors, awards, and accolades while serving on the board, and has asked “tough questions” on topics such as closing the achievement gap for students of color.

Gomez could not be immediately reached for comment Friday.

Accreditation At Risk?

Chancellor Paul Parnell warned that the district’s accreditation could be in jeopardy if the board fails to follow its own policies, including investigating trustees for ethics allegations.

Ikeda told the trustees that if they voted against establishing an investigative committee, they would be violating board policies and could themselves face ethics allegations.

“I will remind the board that only we can discipline ourselves, and failure to do so is abrogating your responsibility as board members, and you will be on record as such, if you vote against even investigating these violations,” she said.

“How far back retroactively do we go to consider past district business, when it comes to travel and who we need to choose to investigate or not? I think when we’re not being fair, that’s when litigation happens.” — State Center trustee Annalisa Perea

Perea said she found Ikeda’s statement “threatening” and noted that the board is only required to consider investigating allegations of misconduct, but is not required to appoint an investigatory committee after giving the matter due consideration.

Did Others Violate Policies?

She said she was concerned about the fairness in focusing only on Payne, who accused the chancellor of missing a gala at the San Francisco conference.

“How far back retroactively do we go to consider past district business, when it comes to travel and who we need to choose to investigate or not?” she said. “I think when we’re not being fair, that’s when litigation happens.”

In 2017, the district canceled the credit cards for all the State Center trustees after a GV Wire investigation uncovered inappropriate charges. They included Payne using his credit card to pay his utility bill, and Leal using his card for personal travel in Hawaii and to buy alcohol with meals.

According to Board Policy 2717: No trustee shall use or permit others to use public resources, except that which is incidental and minimal, for personal purposes or any other purpose not authorized by law.

The trustees fully repaid the district for the charges that were deemed inappropriate.

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