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Black women critical of college board appointment

Wave Staff Report

LOS ANGELES — Former Montebello school board member David Vela has been appointed to fill a vacancy on the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees.

Vela was selected from a field of 26 applicants to replace Sydney Kamlager-Dove, who was elected earlier this year to the state Assembly, serving the 54th District.

Vela will be sworn in at the board’s July 11 meeting and will serve until the term expires Dec. 14, 2020. “We welcome Mr. Vela to the Board of Trustees and look forward to collaborating with him and the LACCD team on embracing the hopes and aspirations of our students,” Board President Mike Fong said.

But not everyone was as welcoming or pleased with Vela’s selection as Fong.

His appointment left the board, which governs the nine colleges within the Los Angeles Community College District, without a black member on the board of trustees.

Vela’s selection was criticized by three black women who were among the 26 applicants for the job.

“The appointment action taken by the LACCD [June 8] was a total affront to the African-American community and all women in general,” said Valerie Lynne Shaw, a former president of the Los Angeles Board of Public Works. “In 2018, to have a seven-member governing board that consists of no African Americans and only one woman is an absolute travesty and is totally unacceptable.”

Shaw was supported by several black elected officials including Kamlager-Dove, state Sen. Holly Mitchell and the LACCD Black Faculty and Staff Association.

“Black students comprise 12 percent of the LACCD student body, the largest number of black students in any system of higher education in the state,” said Dallas Fowler, a former Los Angeles city commissioner, who also was a candidate for appointment.

Black Lives Matter Los Angeles organizer Melina Abdullah also applied for the position. She called the selection process “a predetermined game wherein the will of the community … did not matter.”

Noting that Vela had been defeated in his two most recent bids for elected office — the Montebello school board in 2015 and the state Assembly in 2017 — Abdullah said there were other much more qualified candidates than Vela for the position.

She described the selection process.

“I was considered for appointment to L.A. Community College Board, with several other well-qualified black candidates, including Valerie Lynne Shaw, with whom I am very close and have been in constant communication with throughout this process,” Abdullah said. “Community leaders filled the room and spoke powerfully for me. There was also tremendous support for Valerie from black political leadership.

“No one could assail either of our qualifications, endorsements or community support. We decided that it was best to both stay in consideration because of the process, which would allow the trustees to choose from among the candidates without the divided vote phenomenon that can happen in an election.

“Our effort was to ensure that someone black — and especially a black woman — succeeded Kamlager-Dove as trustee. In addition to the two of us, there were at least three other black candidates that were far more qualified than the person selected by the board,” Abdullah said.

Fowler also was angry with the selection process.

“Each trustee knows the importance of having African-American representation on the board,” she said. “There were several well-qualified African-American candidates that applied and presented. Beyond the remaining trustees’ lack of any real effort to agree on a qualified African American candidate, they also overlooked a diverse mix of exceptionally well-qualified women candidates overall.

“There were 26 applicants — the majority of them women,” Fowler added. “The board is now down to only one woman serving. We still have real work to do in Los Angeles to bring gender parity in our elected and appointed leadership.”

Vela has an extensive career in the public sector. In 2002, he served as senior legislative assistant to former Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, handling labor, transportation and economic development issues. He also served as a senior advisor under former Gov. Gray Davis.

After Sacramento, Vela spent 10 years as senior deputy to Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina. In 2012, he was appointed chief of Staff to the state Legislature’s Labor Committee chair, Assemblyman Roger Hernandez. In 2013, he became senior vice president of external affairs for the Lee Andrews Group.

Before joining Lee Andrews Group, he created his own government-consulting firm, VELADA Consulting, to focus on social capital projects such as low-income housing and solutions for responsible businesses, unions, non-profits, eco-businesses and governmental agencies.

Vela served two terms on the Montebello school board from 2007 to 2015.

Vela was nominated for the seat by Trustee Ernest Moreno, a former president of East Los Angeles College.