Board upholds Gervin firing

Brenna Swift, The Union Democrat

Yosemite Community College District trustees affirmed their decision Monday to fire Columbia College President Dennis Gervin, following a closed-door meeting where he made his case for returning.

Trustees first voted to dismiss Gervin on Feb. 28. Board president Abe Rojas announced Monday that they had upheld the decision, citing an employee evaluation and recommendation from Yosemite Community College District Chancellor Joan Smith.

Gervin and his lawyer argued against the evaluation,which they said was unfair and done in violation of his contract. But the board's vote to end the contract was unanimous - just as it had been Feb. 28.

While the district gave no further information about the reason for Gervin's dismissal or his negative evaluation, his Modesto lawyer, Mina Ramirez, said it hinged in part on complaints by unspecified people about his job performance.

She wouldn't elaborate further on the complaints. She said Gervin wasn't told who made them or when they occurred, limiting his ability to discuss them with trustees.

Gervin himself has said his job evaluation paints an "unflattering" portrait of his day-to-day conduct on the job and makes him out to be unreliable, but does not allege major wrongdoing.

"He hasn't been accused of anything unlawful," Ramirez said.

Meanwhile, she claimed that the February vote to fire Gervin was held without the 24-hour notice required by California's Brown Act for open meetings.

The board rescinded that action Monday out of what Rojas described as "an abundance of caution," though they disagreed with Ramirez's claim of a Brown Act violation. Later, they gave a second notice that his contract will end.

The backpedaling caused Gervin to get 60 more days of paid leave on top of the leave he's already received since February. His salary this year is $189,487, not including benefits and an $800 monthly car allowance.

Rojas said Gervin will have another opportunity to address the board if he desires one. In the meantime, Gervin is weighing his legal options.

Smith and board members have been tight-lipped about the dismissal, which shocked many Columbia College staff members.

Ramirez said trustees "chastised" Gervin for speaking with The Union Democrat after Smith put him on administrative leave in February.

A Union Democrat public records request yielded no evidence of either administrative investigations into Gervin or legal claims that involved him.

The Yosemite Community College District denied a few other public records requests, at one point claiming that more than a year's worth of email correspondence between Smith and Gervin was exempt.

In an earlier Union Democrat interview, Gervin said Smith simply didn't "get along" with him.

"What it really boils down to is a difference in perceived management style," Ramirez said.

But college district trustee Lynn Martin, who represents the area that includes Sonora, said in March that the board had good cause to fire Gervin and that he had been told why.

Martin emphasized that the board's vote was unanimous and the decision was months in the making. She and Smith have both said they can't talk about personnel decisions.

Martin also voiced frustration that Gervin is able to say "anything that he wants" about the situation, while trustees can't counter without risking litigation.

Monday's board meeting in Modesto included an opportunity for public comment. No one spoke, though some of Gervin's friends questioned the decision to fire him at a March meeting.

Vice President of Student Learning Leslie Buckalew will remain Columbia's acting president while Gervin is on leave. His contract, originally set to last through 2015, will now end June 28.

Contact Brenna Swift at or 588-4529.

The Union Democrat
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