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  • Lezlie Sterling / lsterling@sacbee.com

    Alecia Eugene-Chasten, outgoing board member of the Twin Rivers Unified School District, is recognized Friday by the Greater Sacramento Urban League. Eugene-Chasten's frequent criticisms of the school district were bolstered Thursday by the release of a grand jury report recommending the replacement of several key district officials.

  • Lezlie Sterling / lsterling@sacbee.com

    Alecia Eugene-Chasten speaks at the Greater Sacramento Urban League, where league President David DeLuz, right, called her "one of the bravest" for challenging officials of Twin Rivers Unified.

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Outgoing Twin Rivers trustee finds vindication in grand jury report

Published: Saturday, Jun. 30, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Wednesday, Jul. 4, 2012 - 5:23 pm

After years of being dismissed as an ill-informed troublemaker, Twin Rivers Unified School District outgoing trustee Alecia Eugene-Chasten is feeling more than vindicated in the wake of Thursday's release of a critical grand jury report.

The panel's investigation alleges that Twin Rivers district leaders actively destroyed the careers of individuals who reported unlawful acts, violated the rights of employees and district police officers, abused their fiduciary responsibilities and misled the public with erroneous information.

"There were good things that happened in our district, but they were overshadowed by things that were twice as bad," Eugene-Chasten said Friday after she was recognized by community leaders at the Greater Sacramento Urban League.

Twin Rivers officials declined to comment specifically on the allegations raised in the report, although the district's acting police chief, Scott LaCosse, issued a preliminary review Friday of parts of the report that addressed the police force. In it, LaCosse points to criticisms in the grand jury report that have already been addressed, such as reining in how many police personnel take district cars home and revising policies on fuel consumption for better record-keeping.

The grand jury called on the district's newly elected school board to consider replacing Deputy Superintendent Ziggy Robeson, Associate Superintendent of Human Resources Patty Smart, Assistant Superintendent of Facilities Services Alan Colombo and district spokeswoman Trinette Marquis. The panel also called for Superintendent Frank Porter to be replaced – though he has already retired – marking the second consecutive year a Sacramento County grand jury suggested such action.

Earlier this month, Porter moved his retirement date up to June 15 from June 30. Robeson is on paid administrative leave.

The grand jury panel also faulted Police Chief Christopher Breck, who has been on administrative leave since November.

Eugene-Chasten said she hopes that the new board elected earlier this month continues to investigate allegations of wrongdoing in order to hold people accountable for their actions. Eugene-Chasten did not seek re-election.

"We haven't even scratched the surface," she said. "There is more to be revealed."

Grand jury foreman Don Prange Sr. said 30 to 40 people were still asking to testify before the grand jury when it had to stop its investigation and begin writing the report.

"We just didn't have the time," Prange said. "We never got to talk to those people."

David DeLuz of the Greater Sacramento Urban League called Eugene-Chasten "one of the bravest people" and said she sacrificed a lot to push back against those who did not want to challenge district leaders.

Incoming board member John Dexter said Eugene-Chasten was repeatedly on the wrong end of 5-2 votes, but that she continued to ask tough questions.

"Those who were doubters of what she said, whether you didn't like her politics or how she framed her questions, she did keep these things front and center," Dexter said. "She didn't let things go by. She always tried to do the right thing for the community."

Outgoing board President Roger Westrup, who was defeated in his re-election bid, said Eugene-Chasten's message might have been heard more clearly if her approach had been different. Westrup and Eugene-Chasten were often at odds in their votes.

"Certainly some of the things she raised about the Police Department, there was a foundation for that," Westrup said. "I think there were some things that were alleged that weren't true. She talked about board member fraud and that wasn't true. That set a tone that made the board more adversarial."

Eugene-Chasten said she repeatedly tried to work with board members, but was met with actions like the policy that allowed for a trustee's microphone to be cut off if he or she continued to talk or ask questions. "That was directed at me," she said.

In May 2011, Eugene-Chasten collapsed during a school board meeting. She said the last thing she remembered was a heated discussion about legal bills.

She was rushed by ambulance to Mercy San Juan Medical Center for what turned out to be stress. She did not return to the board for five months.

Incoming board member Michael Baker credited Eugene-Chasten for helping the district move in a more positive direction.

"When she feels something is wrong, she doesn't hold back," Baker said. "She speaks up when she thinks something is not in the best interest of the children."

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Read more articles by Melody Gutierrez



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