Rossmoor residents, director chide Barke for OC Board of Ed debacle

‘You have crossed the line,’ says one

Furious Rossmoor residents turned out Tuesday to express their frustration at what they perceive as a failed attempt to bring a controversial event to the community of Rossmoor, lashing out for putting the bedroom community at unnecessary risk of violence and confrontation.

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 application this week.

An eruption of emotion spilled out during a June 22 special RCSD meeting called to discuss the pending OCBE application, at which Ken Williams, Jr., then President of OCBE suggested in testimony that Rush Park, because of the auditorium’s 500 seating capacity, was the only 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.

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 lost his seat on the Los Alamitos Unified School District to Marlys Davidson in 2019, has been extra critical of the district in regards to their intention to offer an elective course on ethnic studies. In addition, Mari Barke, his wife, is now president of OCBE, the group that suggested a month ago there was no other place to hold a forum on Critical Race Theory but in the 500-seat Rush Park auditorium.

During the June hearing on the OCBE application, former OCBE President Ken Williams, Jr. said politics played no role in the Rush Park selection.

Some residents, like Del Clark, who served on both the LAUSD and the OCBE during her career, are not convinced.

Before making her comment, however, she asked Barke if he carried his pistol to the meetings?

“I heard you might be carrying a gun,” said Clark. Barke achieved some notoriety during the pandemic for a YouTube video on which he decried vaccines and held up his pistol saying the gun is what kept him safe.

“It’s not a question I’m going to answer,” said Barke.

“I think you’ve answered it,” said Clark.

“It (the OCBE forum in Rossmoor) was a setup,” said Clark, Tuesday, calling the potential 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 in questioning Barke’s most recent editorial missive. Barke and a Seal Beach resident posted an email from 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 said.

Amy Loudsberry was critical of multiple Barke letters to the editor, one in which Barke was critical of LAHS students who penned an essay in the ENE favoring the ethnic studies course and 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 Loudsberry, noting that was inappropriate “for our president to be disparaging to our children and one this week, she said, “you are disparaging our property.”

“Please do not disparage Rossmoor,” she pleaded with Barke.

Drew Sells, a Los Al teacher, said “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 DeAmbrosi,o 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 Jeffrey 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 published in this edition of the ENE.

In other action, the RCSD:

• Agreed to postpone voting on the district’s 1.8 million 2021-22 fiscal year budget until the budget committee resolves some line item discrepancies brought forward during the meeting.

• Agreed to call a traffic commission meeting August 5 to discuss parking and other concerns.

• Agreed to move forward on public discussions of its goal to achieve “latent powers” with Director Nathan Searles suggesting that any discussions be held with a committee of the whole board, rather than being referred to one of the board’s two-member committees.

• Complimenting General Manager Joe Mendoza on his progress in bringing forward a new process to keep the board informed of contract renewals within the district.

• Learned from Mendoza that FEMA may reimburse RCSD $20,000 for expenses incurred during the pandemic.