At Thursday's SBCC Board of Trustees meeting, Veronica Gallardo's in-person supporters held signs saying “Let Veronica Speak” and “This Is America,” making allusions to their and Gallardo’s viewpoint that the board’s resolution to censure her went against her First Amendment rights. | Credit: Callie Fausey

Tensions were high in Santa Barbara City College’s board room on Thursday night. Discussion for Agenda item 15.1, a resolution to censure Trustee Veronica Gallardo, began when the sun was still in the sky and didn’t end until it dipped over the horizon. The decision to censure Gallardo was almost unanimous, save for Gallardo’s “no” vote and the student boardmember abstaining. 

Gallardo has been on the Board of Trustees since 2012 and currently represents Area 3, Santa Barbara. 

Gallardo was accused of multiple board-policy and code-of-ethics violations, including rude and disrespectful behavior toward Interim Superintendent/President Kindred Murillo, missing 19 meetings and being late to 14 others from July 2021 to July 2023, and interfering with college operations by attempting to “micromanage” and make unilateral demands of Murillo, among others. 

SBCC Trustee Veronica Gallardo | Credit: Courtesy

The resolution claims that the past three board presidents, including current Board President Jonathan Abboud, “pointed out her specific violations” by email and attempted to meet with her to reach a resolution for nearly two and a half years, but that Gallardo, in multiple instances, either refused to meet with the president at the time or, in one case, the meeting did not end in a resolution. 

Abboud and other trustees expressed that they felt they had “no option” but to censure, since former attempts to meet with Gallardo had failed.

Most recently, Abboud sent her an email on June 26, pointing out the violations and asking to meet with her, but he claimed she just wrote him off and said she disagreed with his statement. “There’s no way I can resolve these issues if a person refuses to meet with me,” he said. “I don’t take any joy in this.”

On July 6, the board voted unanimously to appoint an ad hoc committee — made up of Abboud and fellow trustees Marsha Croninger and Robert Miller — to review the allegations and organize evidence (on their own time, not at any extra expense beyond the flat $400 that trustess are paid each month). 

Abboud said he decided to bring the issue to the board for “transparency and collaboration,” as something they “all need to own.” He said that at one point, when Gallardo was board president, she had to enforce a code of ethics rule on him, adding that he met with her and former trustee Peter Haslund and the issue was resolved. 

SBCC Board President Jonathan Abboud | Credit: Paul Wellman (File)

“Trustee Gallardo knows how this process works; she’s been in this seat before … We’re just going by the rules,” he said. 

The censure, as enacted and decided by the board, makes Gallardo ineligible for committee membership, board officer roles, and conference travel for the next year.

In addition, it directs her to take specific actions to resolve the allegations, including to attend each regularly scheduled meeting on time and contact the board in advance regarding any scheduling conflicts; communicate her viewpoint in a manner consistent with board policies and accreditation standards; and include the board president in all meetings and email communications she has with the superintendent/president.

The censure does not remove Gallardo from the board, nor restrict her from contributing her opinion during board meetings. The resolution claims that the board wishes to hear and allow representation of “all viewpoints and trustees,” and that Gallardo’s behavior “deprived the board of her differing viewpoint.” 

Struck from the resolution was the requirement that Gallardo make a public apology to Murillo and her fellow trustees, as the board felt it would be “insincere” and unnecessary.

Thirty-eight people signed up to speak during public comment on Thursday. Some were in support of the censure, including a few of her constituents and other SBCC faculty, and some against, including some former students and parents. Gallardo’s in-person supporters held signs saying “Let Veronica Speak” and “This Is America,” making allusions to their and Gallardo’s viewpoint that the board’s resolution to censure her went against her First Amendment rights. 

Many of her constituents and others who spoke in support of the censure said they don’t feel represented by Gallardo, or that her behavior has caused them or SBCC at large some sort of harm.

The draft resolution includes specific examples and a collection of attachments 144 pages long, including emails and board transcripts as “evidence” of Gallardo’s alleged violations. It took over 200 hours for committee members to separately collect and put the citations together. Gallardo and her supporters argued that the citations do not prove she did anything wrong.

One of the allegations states that Gallardo failed to uphold the board policy that once the board has taken action, it moves forward as a whole, with all members respecting and supporting the board’s decision.

It claims she “repeatedly raised the issue” of the city college’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate at meetings and during agenda items not related to the topic and did not place an item on the agenda to allow for the “constructive communication of her viewpoint.” Gallardo had been blatantly opposed to the college’s board-approved vaccine and masking mandates while they were in effect.

However, her defenders claimed that she was exercising her right to free speech and that the board was trying to “silence her” for having a dissenting opinion. 

(Despite their reiteration of the right to free speech, a select few of her supporters repeatedly interrupted or spoke over other public commenters and trustees throughout the meeting. At one point, Abboud told them they would be asked to leave the room if they continued the disruptive behavior.)

“This latest censure scheme is an attack on free speech,” Gallardo said at a news conference on Tuesday, supported by two other faculty members and a parent from the school. “This is politically motivated and coincidentally orchestrated as the 2024 election season begins. These wicked actions will not influence my decision to seek public office in 2024.” 

Gallardo said her absences were due to “time management” around her busy family life, jury duty, surprise scheduling of meetings, and an inability to come on campus for in-person meetings while the college’s vaccine mandate was still in effect.

SBCC Board Trustee Marsha Croninger

(Croninger said on Thursday that four of the meetings Gallardo was absent from were before the mandate, and 11 were after it was lifted.)

At the time of the formation of the ad hoc committee, and during Thursday’s board meeting, other members of the board insisted that the censure was not personal or political. On Thursday, trustees expressed they were “sorry it had to come to this,” and some said that they had enjoyed working with Gallardo and agreed with her viewpoints on many occasions.

The resolution alleges that Gallardo attempted to direct Murillo to “fire” or “take care of” four union-represented SBCC employees for speaking at a Carpinteria Unified School District (CUSD) board meeting regarding Gallardo’s employment at CUSD, and posting about it on social media. Gallardo resigned from her role as principal of Aliso Elementary in March 2022, following criticism from parents

Murillo said she consulted two attorneys from different law firms, and they advised Murillo that the employees had exercised free speech and were not commenting on college time or as representatives of SBCC, which she relayed to Gallardo.

One of those employees — Chelsea Lancaster — spoke at Thursday’s board meeting. She said that as a constituent of Gallardo’s, “I never see you in the community,” and accused her of using her power on the board to try and have her fired.

Gallardo adamantly denied having ever directed the firing of the four employees, saying it was a “complete lie” on behalf of Murillo. She called the allegations “slander” and asserted they were false.

She also said that she did not resign from Aliso, and that CUSD Superintendent Diana Rigby told her that the SBCC employees “need to be fired, you should file a lawsuit, [and] these people created a hostile work environment.” Gallardo repeatedly alluded to ongoing litigation in the matter. 

She claimed that Murillo did not communicate with her that it was an issue and that Abboud was not clear in his requests to meet. She also disagreed with what had been labeled as “micromanaging” and the process in which the censure had been undertaken. 

Gallardo said she was out of town for the July 6 meeting and was not aware of the ad hoc committee until after the fact. She claimed the evidence and allegations overall do not “paint the narrative [the board] is trying to paint here.” 

“Like I told those women in Carpinteria, I forgive them, and I forgive you, too, Kindred,” Gallardo said.

Interim SBCC Superintendent-President Dr. Kindred Murillo

After Gallado accused her of lying, Murillo spoke up for the first time since they began to discuss the allegations. Murillo said that she’d thought they had resolved the issue. During the recent presidential hiring process, however, Murillo said that Gallardo told two of Murillo’s colleagues that Murillo had done nothing about her complaints. 

Murillo described the alleged incident in which Gallardo told her she needed to fire those employees and said she went to “great lengths” to be collegial, having advised Gallardo to file a complaint. 

“I did not lie,” she said. “I spent hours, I want everybody to know, hours, watching Carpinteria Unified School District Board meetings. That was my personal time.

“To be accused of lying,” she continued, “I’m sorry, I will not let that go by. I don’t care if you forgive me, I don’t need a public apology. I did a good job with this. I did a good job for you. I took care of you. I will not sit here and be told that I lied.” 

Later on, when Gallardo again said to Murillo, “I did not tell you to fire people,” Murillo stood up and left the boardroom. 

The censure resolution included emails from past board presidents Peter Haslund and Kate Parker, stating that Gallardo’s communications with Murillo were inappropriate and violated board policies. There were also emails from Murillo and Haslund that said Gallardo “overstepped trustee boundaries” by asking a staff member to do something at her request. 

In response to accusations of being a micromanager, Gallardo denied it and sent an email to Murillo in October 2021. “You are new, will be gone soon, and do not know my values or character. Get to know me please, before you jump to assumptions and passive aggressive behavior,” Gallardo wrote.

Last month, Murillo filed a complaint about Gallardo’s “demeaning” behavior but later withdrew it, stating that she didn’t believe filing a complaint would improve the situation. Instead, she said she wanted to focus her energy on helping the new superintendent/president, Erika Endrijonas, during her transition. Endrijonas is the fifth to hold the position since 2019. 

“Twenty days until Erika takes over … I am sad for SBCC if Veronica continues in her current mode,” Murillo said in an email to Abboud, Miller, and Croninger on July 11. “All I can hope for is she just hated me and will accept Erika.”

Later, the board moved to adopt a resolution to allow the superintendent/president to engage an independent special counsel to conduct an investigation of a complaint filed by Gallardo, alleging that a Title VII violation occurred during Board of Trustees closed sessions on May 4 and May 8, 2023, based on gender and race.

Although the specific allegations of the complaint were not disclosed (closed-session meetings of the board are confidential), Gallardo and her defenders have repeatedly raised the point that she is the only Latina trustee on the board.


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