The questions continue about the controversial appointment of David Vela to fill the seat previously held by new Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager-Dove on the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees (LACCD).
Kamlager-Dove’s seat became vacant in April after she was elected to the California Assembly and two weeks ago, the Trustees interviewed candidates, which included several highly qualified African Americans, to complete her two-and-one-half years term.
The Trustees’ unanimous selection of Vela, a Latino, to replace Kamlager-Dove, the only African American on the Board, makes Vela the fourth Latino and sixth male on the policy-making body. The action drew the ire of many in the Black community, which persuaded Ron Hasson, president of the NAACP Hollywood-Beverly Hills, to seek an explanation.
“I think the community needs to understand what the thinking was of the Board in making the appointment of [Vela] and why no consideration was given to the African American candidates,” Hasson. “We believe the African American candidates were as qualified or better qualified than the person that the Board chose.”
To gain insight into that appointment process, Hasson invited Dr. Gabriel Buelna, a member of LACCD Board, to the NAACP membership at its June 23 meeting. A native of South Los Angeles, Buelna, also teaches history and politics at California State University – Northridge.
Buelna agreed with Hasson’s assessment that many of the Black candidates were highly qualified to serve as a LACCD trustee, however, no African American received at least four votes from Board members, which was the minimum number of votes needed to be appointed.
Referring to Vela’s appointment, Buelna said, “It was probably one of the most awful days, but that is the vote that was taken.”
Responding to a question about the lack of Black representation on the Board, Buelna admitted that was a valid concern and insisted he was willing to work with the African American community to ensure that issues affecting Black students were addressed.
“We (the Board) should be given a list of objectives, and potentially demands [outlining] a clear direction on how these issues are going to be addressed. I’d be more than happy to introduce that as an agenda item and move that forward. That is my duty and obligation,” said Buelna.
“And when the new African American comes onboard and if that person is in support of the agenda items, I am willing to be the second vote. But I don’t think that waiting two years without articulating clearly what is needed would be good.”
In addition, Buelna shared the steps that he believed the Black community should take now to ensure that an African American is elected as a LACCD trustees in 2021. The terms of four of the current trustees will end on Dec. 14, 2020. Buelna recommended that the African American community should begin immediately to prepare a viable candidate to serve by reaching out for union support, financing and endorsements from multi-ethnic groups.
“If you have two-or-three African Americans going up against one of the trustees, the likelihood is that the African American candidates will lose. If there’s one (Black) candidate that can be a cross section and is highly recommended from different African American organizations and other groups, then it will be impossible for one candidate to come in and dwindle that vote,” he said.
“You will need $400,000 or $500,000 to do it. Now that can happen. If the community is saying [to the various unions], ‘This person had a MBA of Ph.D., been an educator, why don’t you put that [amount of] money behind this person.’ You can build a coalition to lock in the slate.
“If the candidate gets 35 percent of the vote, there is a [strong possibility] they would win. The African American vote alone won’t get that person elected. There has to be a coalition across Los Angeles County and I think there needs to be a team to make that happen.”
Following Buenla’s remarks, Hasson and the NAACP membership voted to establish a committee to develop and present African American concerns to the LACCD Board during the next two years and to form a sub-committee focused on LACCD candidates with the goal of creating a strategy to ensure an African American candidate is on the next ballot.
“I’m looking forward to the path forward. I think there are a lot of equity issues that are a reality in the African American community from additional faculty and students and I think this is an opportunity to address them,” noted Buenla, who also encouraged African Americans to attend LACCD board meetings, which are held the second Wednesday of each month at various campuses. For the location and board agenda, visit laccd.edu/board.
“We’ve got two years to work on getting those issues to the forefront and making sure that an African American trustee gets elected.”