Frustrated Rossmoor residents turned out Tuesday to express their disappointment for RCSD’s leadership supporting a controversial and potentially confrentational event to the community of Rossmoor, lashing out for putting the bedroom community at what they considered unnecessary risk.
Although the five directors of the Rossmoor Community Services District voted 3-2 to allow the Orange County Board of Education to file an application to hold an “educational forum” on Critical Race Theory at its Rush Park facility, the “six-figure” estimate of security costs to keep the peace at the hearing promoted OCBE to withdraw their Rush Park rental application this week.
Residents first expressed concern during a June 22 special RCSD meeting which had been called to discuss the pending OCBE application.
Ken Williams, Jr., then President of OCBE suggested in testimony then that Rush Park, because of the auditorium’s 500 seating capacity, was the most suitable location for the two forums. He called Rush Park an “incredible auditorium.”
At the end of the acrimonious June 22 meeting, RCSD President Dr. Jeffrey Barke, whose spouse Mari Barke is now President of the OCBE, made a motion to allow the proposed hearing in Rossmoor on July 27 to move forward, “with a request, not a requirement” for the OCBE to seek a different venue for the August 24 meeting.
Directors Barke, Mark Nitikman and Tony DeMarco voted in favor.
Directors Jeffrey Rips and Nathan Searles opposed the motion.
This week, during the RCSD’s regular meeting, many of the residents opposed to the meeting, who turned out June 22, were back again, this time critical of President Barke’s leadership, suggesting his continued campaign against LAUSD was having negative consequences for Rossmoor.
Barke, who served three terms on the Los Alamitos Unified School District before losing his seat in 2018, has been super critical of the district in regards to their vote to offer an elective course on ethnic studies.
Barke was appointed as a RCSD director in 2019 and was elected President by directors after he ran first among RCSD candidates in the 2020 election.
Residents like Del Clark, who served on both the LAUSD and the OCBE during her career, were back to express their anger and disappointment at the recent series of events.
Before making her comment, however, Clark asked Barke if he carried his pistol to the meetings? “I heard you might be carrying a gun,” said Clark. (Barke had achieved some notoriety during the pandemic for a YouTube video in which he decried facemasks and held up his pistol, saying he would prefer to see people with a concealed handgun rather than a face mask).
“It’s not a question I’m going to answer,” said Barke. “I think you’ve answered it,” said Clark. “It’s pretty scary,” she added.
Nevertheless, she called the proposed OCBE forum in Rossmoor a “setup,” labeling the attempted CRT forum in Rossmoor “the Barke dog and pony show.”
Another questioned Barke’s “fear mongering” and predictions of “gloom and doom.”
“What kind of leader predicts gloom and doom for the community,” asked resident Jamie
Sells, questioning Barke’s recent editorial missive. Barke and a Seal Beach resident, Staci Muller, posted an email from LAUSD Board President Marlys Davidson suggesting in an editorial last week, among other things, that if homeowners want to sell, they should at least do it at the top of the market.
“You have crossed the line,” Sells said to Barke, noting he thought the letter was negative for Rossmoor. As he pointed out that Barke signs the letters as President of the RCSD, he asked: “How does a leader benefit from his own organization’s demise,” and “do we, the residents of Rossmoor, benefit from the archaic tactic of fear mongering,” he asked?
“I hope we never know the answer,” said Sells.
“Your job is to represent the community as whole, not your personal agenda,” he added.
Amy Lansbury was critical of multiple Barke letters to the editor, one in which Barke was critical of LAHS students who had penned an essay printed in the ENE favoring the ethnic studies course, as well as the most recent letter claiming the existence of the course would lead to a drop in real estate value in LAHS-adjacent neighborhoods.
“You called our students liars,” said Lansbury, noting that was inappropriate “for our president to be disparaging to our children.” And in the one this week, she said, “you are disparaging our property.” Please do not disparage Rossmoor,” she pleaded with Barke.
Drew Sells, a LAHS teacher, told Barke “our community and our students need protection from you. You have denigrated the board (LAUSD) on which you served for 12 years, so how can anyone trust you?”
Joel Block suggested all governments need to be more transparent, seemingly not directing his complaint directly against RCSD. “Instead of trying to circumvent people,” said Block.
“It is critical to our democracy,” he said.
Other residents, Bob Knapp and Jim D’Ambrosio appeared to discuss parking issues, with both complaining about Seal Beach residents encroaching on the parking in Rossmoor.
None of the residents who supported having the OCBE meeting in Rossmoor at the June 22 hearing appeared on Tuesdsay.
Moreover, Barke was again criticized by Director Rips, with whom he had a very sharp exchange at the June 22 meeting, at which he suggested the whole idea to bring OCBE to Rossmoor was political, a charge which Barke denied.
When, Barke tried to skip over the OCBE agenda item because the rental application had been withdrawn, Rips objected. “There are things I want to say,” he told the President.
“We had a chance to do the right thing (rejecting the application) but we chose not to do the right thing,” said Rips. He said if the board was only to judge the OCBE application on its technical construction, then “why did we consider limiting it to one (forum). I haven’t been able to get my hands around why we collectively made that decision.”
He said President Barke suggested a rationale for the OCBE hearing was because “people on the left” are going to have a voice, intending that the “educational forum” would balance that out. “This is not supposed to be politicized,” said Rips, bemoaning the fact that the entire OCBE affair has been “incredibly laced with some level of hypocrisy.”
He, like many residents who spoke at the meeting, suggested the President’s action in attempting to bring danger to the community was not “the leadership we need from our President.”
Rips got a huge ovation from the assembled group within the Rush Park auditorium where RCSD meets when he suggested that in the future, “we keep our eyes where they are supposed to be.”
Oral communications are not “agendized” items, so Barke could not respond directly, although he has responded in an editorial section of this website.
A few speakers had other issues that were assigned to committees for further study.