Four new trustees were sworn in under a new oath and took their seats on the San Joaquin Delta College board of trustees on Wednesday night.
Teresa Brown, Steve Castellanos, Mary Ann Cox and C. Jennet Stebbins officially joined the board, but only after taking a new, longer oath. The oath, delivered by Stockton Judge Robin Appel, took over three minutes to complete. In addition to the state of California oath, the Delta administration added a new section recommended by the Association of Community College Trustees.
The oath included commitments to "exemplify ethical behavior," "participate in open, honest and civil deliberation with my colleagues," "vote my conscience rather than to advance any special interest and support the decisions and policies that we make" and "honor the division of responsibility between the board and the superintendent and president and staff."
The new oath comes at a time when the board is in the midst of controversy. The board was at the center of a critical grand jury report released earlier this year, and just this week, former trustee Maria Elena Serna resigned before pleading no contest to a misdemeanor offense of double-billing the college.
"It is a great oath, and when I saw it I thought, 'Absolutely, we have to include this.' We are starting a new tradition here at Delta College and I am looking forward to working with each and everyone of you," Delta Superintendent and President Raul Rodriguez told the new board at the end of the meeting.
After the new trustees took the oath, they were welcomed to the board by a standing ovation, cheering and applause from the standing-room-only crowd of more than 80 people.
The four main clauses of the new oath were all addressed in the grand jury report and the college's trustees have been aiming to follow them ever since. With four new members, trustee Ted Simas, one of two remaining board members along with Janet Rivera, is optimistic the board can move in the right direction.
"I know there is only one way we can go at this point and that is up, and I am certain we can do that," he said.
The new trustees said they were happy to see such a large crowd, and Brown wanted to reassure them the college is headed for positive change.
"One of the things that I think should give great confidence to everybody is that (the trustees) promised to be respectful of fiscal responsibility, of ethical behavior, of putting students first, of making sure Delta continues to be a viable part of the community for education and work force development," she said. " … We know what a difficult job it was to run for office in this huge 2,000-plus-square-mile district, but we also know that the easiest part of our job is behind us and the hardest part is in front of us."
After the swearing in, Brown, Castellanos, Cox and Stebbins then took their seats. Rivera, the temporary board president, then read Serna's resignation letter to be officially entered into the board's records. No further comments were made about the situation. Serna, who represented Lodi on the board for 18 years, allegedly "doubledipped" by receiving reimbursements from both Delta and the Community College League of California for travel and other expenses, totaling $1,642.10.
Castellanos said he expects the board to discuss how to fill Serna's seat, which will happen either by appointment or with a special election, during the board's next regularlyscheduled meeting on Tuesday. The meeting will be the first where the new trustees can vote on action items.
On Wednesday, everyone from Delta's administration members to staff to people in the audience to the trustees seemed to be in good spirits - on a night devoted to change on the board.
"I think there is a lot of hope in our country right now with our new leadership at the national level, and I think the same thing applies here, locally, with all of you coming out," Rodriguez said to the crowd. "I think there is a lot of hope here."