Diversity was fodder for firing of Renton Technical College president

By Vivian Luu
Northwest Asian Weekly

Don Bressler (left) and Francisco Irigon

Don Bressler (left) and Francisco Irigon

Snug budgets and picky politics weren’t the only factors that ousted Renton Technical College (RTC) President Donald Bressler. Claims state that matters such as race and diversity played a central role in sending him out the door. The college’s Board of Trustees voted 3 to 1 in dismissing Bressler on Aug. 11.

Trustee Francisco Irigon issued the motion, claiming the president was not promoting diversity in his leadership team. Trustees Ronnie Behnke and Ira Sengupta agreed with him. Trustee Rich Zwicker did not. Carol Werner, the college’s vice president, is temporarily filling Bressler’s position.

This situation began when Werner announced she would be retiring from her position as vice president of the college in October. Bressler then appointed Melinda Merrell, the college’s director of financial services, as Werner’s replacement.

However, the position was not opened up for hiring. Irigon said Bressler’s promotion of Merrell was another addition to the president’s all-white executive cabinet.

“In his cabinet, there is no diversity, and it was going to be perpetuated if he wasn’t going to open up these positions,” Irigon, a Filipino American, said. “We have an all-white administration, though much of the student population is made up of minorities.”

Alan Sugiyama is the founder and director of the Center for Career Alternatives, a nonprofit organization that boosts career training development.

Sugiyama said Bressler’s decision was a from of institutionalized racism.

“It shows [that] racism, here, is alive and well,” Sugiyama said. “It is ingrained … [the RTC administration] perpetuates the hiring of people who look like them, act like them. If you’re not going to open up positions, how do minorities apply? There’s no diversity at all.”

Bressler could not be reached for comment by publication time.

Admittedly, Merrell was a suitable candidate for the vice president position at RTC. She was the top financial officer at the college. At a Board of Trustees meeting, Bressler said Merrell has been “groomed” to fill the vice president position in October, when Werner said she would retire.

“However, the absence of minorities in the RTC administration shows that current leaders at the college haven’t changed with the times,” Irigon said.

“The message it sends is, ‘Yeah, students of color can come to our school, but we’re not going to hire anyone at the administrative level because this is our college’.”

Local blogs and newspapers have been peppered with backlash aimed at the three trustees who voted to dismiss Bressler.

“Ignoring all the passionate and legitimate comments provided by members of the community and elected officials, these three board members, appearing to act on ego and personal agendas, fired Dr. Bressler even though they fully understood that their decision would hurt the college, the foundation, and ultimately the students it serves,” wrote Randy Corman, a Renton city council member. “It’s a travesty when three detached individuals can cause this much harm to such a successful institution like RTC, which has a proven track record of improving the lives of so many people.”

Criticism was mostly aimed at Irigon, who spearheaded Bressler’s dismissal.

The trustee buzz led a Renton local known as “Renton Ben” to investigate Irigon’s home address in Newcastle. It was later determined that Irigon did not live in the College District 27 Boundary that includes RTC, making him ineligible to be a trustee for the college.

Irigon’s residence was not verified by the Attorney General of Washington office when then-Governor Gary Locke appointed Irigon to his trustee position in 2002.

Community members have demanded that Irigon repay his trustee stipend of six years, and that his votes be rejected — including the one he made to fire Bressler.

Irigon said the demands were unreasonable.

“The message they were sending to me was, ‘You don’t get rid of a white man. Who do you think you are?’ ” he said.

“That close-minded mentality is frightening,” Sugiyama said. “I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt that they aren’t racist, but it’s clear they’re insensitive.”

Irigon’s votes will remain valid because he served as a trustee “in good faith,” according to a memo from the Attorney General of Washington’s office, sent Wednesday, Aug. 19.

The lone trustee who opposed firing Bressler was Rich Zwicker. He resigned from his position after casting his lone vote at the special Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday. As he left the meeting, the two-time RTC graduate received an ovation from attendees.

However, Zwicker rescinded his resignation on Tuesday, Aug. 18. In a letter to RTC Board of Trustees Chairperson Ronnie Behnke, Zwicker said his action was in “protest” to the trustee’s decision to dismiss Bressler for “convenience.”

“At the time … I was upset and surprised,” Zwicker told the Renton Reporter. “I didn’t know what to do.”
Tyler Page is also a RTC Board of Trustees member.

He was not part of the decision to dismiss Bressler. He did not attend the Board of Trustees meeting because he was recovering from injuries sustained in an accident. ♦

Vivian Luu can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

29 Responses to “Diversity was fodder for firing of Renton Technical College president”

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  5. Arthur Hu says:

    Woodinville fired their white chief and replaced him with a black Renton fire chief David Daniels in a distressingly similar situation. Fire board authorized a woman charge $10,000 for a study to come up with an pre-determined excuse to fire a chief that was popular and had no complaints, and later much support from the community. Rumours have it that this lady eventually charged $80,000+ for a study where the conclusion was already known. Chief Dennis Johnson was first fired no cause, then when he refused to sign away his rights, his 90 day severance package was taken away and was fired with cause, which was also hidden from the public. New chief makes a ridiculous $160,000 or something like that, though board claims it will save money, community is ticked off but can’t do anything, and as usual, I’m the only one that smells race/diversity hijinks once they published picture of the new fire chief in a community that has a neglible african american constituency.

    see notes http://docs.google.com/View?id=dfthx7q4_2306gzwfr3c3

  6. erick says:

    This is an act of ego by the board, not by Mr. Bressler.

    Setting race aside, should not the most qualified person be promoted to the job?

    Why didnt the board simply ask Mr. Bressler to open the position to applicants?

    Did the board ask if this is how people are normally selected?

    If the board thinks Mr. Bressler did the wrong thing, why does that warrant firing him?

    Clearly the board, all of its members, did not have patience to weigh its options and took the easy way out.

    The only reason the board acted the way it did was because they felt excluded. What would have happened if the entire college administration were female?

    Would they fire the president if she hired a man for one job? I dont think they would, hence the board acted unjustly.

    Sure, what Mr. Bressler did may have looked bad and actually been insensitive, but does that act require losing his job?

  7. Dr. Carol M. Simmons says:

    I have served on the University of Washington Multicultural Alumni Partnership Board with Mr. Francisco Irigon for 15 years. During this time I have found him to be an honest, committed, dedicated advocate for the less fortunate.

    Frank Irigon is a role model for so many youth. The U. W. Alumni Multicultural Alumni Partnership Board has awarded scholarships to University of Washington students for 15 years. Each scholarship recipient who has known “Uncle Frank” has spoken so highly of him. Everyone I know in the Seattle Public School system respects Mr. Frank Irigon also. I am so proud to be a colleague and friend of Mr. Irigon. His character is above reproach.

  8. Arthur Hu says:

    I had to read this over and do some research to figure if this was what it smelled like, and indeed, it’s gross abuse of Affirmative Action as usual. This is the FIRST case I’ve seen of anybody being FIRED for failing to implement race quotas (see http://randycorman.livejournal.com/483722.html) and it appears to be a cover-your-ash smokescreen for whatever reason they REALLY wanted to fire him, unless they really were looking for an excuse to kick out a qualified white guy. Googled Irigon, not surprising he admires Ho Chih Minh, he’d fit right in with all the other ex-radicals and marxists surrounding the Obama/Acorn/SEIU/Apollo administration. He also signed a petition supporting William Ayers, and has a long history of Asian American radicalism http://depts.washington.edu/civilr/irigon.htm. All Frank’s comments here are littered with race/gender/class PC-speak, which gives a pretty chilling vision of the “new direction” they want to turn the a-political institution into, replacing transmission repair with marxism. Looks like somebody needs to do a Glenn Beck expose on what was really happening. Asian Americans need to be as outraged as everybody else grown up radicals are getting away with this stu**.

  9. James M. Moore says:

    I am a Caucasian. I was born in Seattle in 1950. I taught Automotive Technology at RTC from ’85-94. Although I’m white, many of my students of color made great advances in the repair industry and other industries. Vince Nguy went to Ford ASSET and then to Lincoln-Mercury then on to the US Postal Service. Vince Edwards, an African-American US Army Vet went on to be inducted into the guild by Aston-Martin and runs a service facility for exotic cars on the East side to this day. Several other ‘people of color’ were successful after graduating from our program. Although I’m retired in Granbury, TX now, why don’t you listen to what this white guy has to say? I’ve lived in the “liberal NW” for 1/2 of my life and the “redneck Texas” the other half. Believe me, neither one is perfect. Oh, I’m not perfect either. But what I’d like to say is this: everything should come down to standards. I was blessed to be in Auto Repair because that aluminum and cast iron engine that is broken or running badly doesn’t know WHO is working on it. It just needs to be repaired. The standards of repair, as I taught are totally color-blind. It’s the use of standards of diagnostics that really proves if the student knows what he/she are doing. Now that might sound ‘cold’ and ‘insensitive’, but to a broken or poorly running engine, it’s those cold standards that the tech has to follow that fixes it all.
    Now wouldn’t it be wonderful if humans could live by standards? Wouldn’t it be wonderful that Filipino’s could serve on the Board of Trustees because he/she met the standards? Would it be wonderful if whites could serve on the Board of Trustees without feeling that they have to ‘save the world’ from the “coloreds”? There’s a lot of LATENT (hidden) racism on all sides. I believe a lot of minorities that are now in the majority are a little into payback. As they probably SHOULD be, I mean, if the shoe were on the other foot, I’d be wanting to get even if my people had been oppressed and left out for so long… But you know what? All that payback and one-upmanship only contribute to the ‘swirl-lee’ of inneffectual educational processes. Like Jesus said, “straining at gnats, and swallowing camels.”
    It has to be hard to change the world, really. In these times of layoffs, uncertainty, etc. it is hard to focus on what is best for all. Many are tempted to repeat the age-old dog-eat-dog, and call that progress.
    No, friends, it’s standards that are going to do the job, trust me. Again, that engine doesn’t know if it’s an Asian, Africian-American, Hispanic, white or whatever that is doing the fixing. It just needs to be fixed right.
    Let’s not ignore Murphy’s Law at RTC. Keep what is working right. Fix only what needs fixing. There is so much that needs fixing out there, we ALL are needed to do the work.
    I love all of you up there, I miss you! Now let me say that in TEXAN: I luv awl yawl, I mess ya! LOL
    Jim Moore

  10. KMW says:

    I am really disgusted at how much a representative of the college is injecting overt racism into his comments, and how venomous he is about it.

    And I say this as a member of a minority group that encounters a high level of prejudice in this community, unlike Frank’s minority group, which receives mostly patience and accommodation. Want proof of my statement? People greeted the opening of the new Uwajimaya with excitement. If someone were to open a similar-sized Hispanic foods store, half of Renton would be up in arms about “those” people taking over.

    And yet, Frank, I find your comments (and those of your niece) unenlightened and disappointing. Let’s step away from name-calling and focus on the issues.

  11. ourdiverserenton says:

    “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
    ~Martin Luther King

    We have done so much work over the past decades to stop discriminatory employment practices such as terminations without cause. Anyone that has worked at a company of any size has attended annual meetings on diversity, and companies have put policies in place to promote fairness in employment. Our schools have taught the beauty of diversity. While there is still work to be done, we have seen the benefits in our society through the rise to positions of power of people of all colors, genders, and sexual preference. Progress has been made. Frank Irigon and Ira Sengupta have resumes that read of promotion of tolerance and cultural diversity, yet in the culturally diverse Renton they chose to behave the same as discriminatory perpetrators of decades past instead of leading by example. This article is the first comment of any hint of concern by Frank Irigon of racism at RTC, despite being asked by the media to discuss what the issues were. If there had been concerns of institutional racism, it was the responsibility of the Board of Trustees to put written policies in place for management to follow. If there had been concerns of institutional racism, it was the responsibility of the Board of Trustees to bring this public to implement change. Yet just as in the days of old, when a manager didn’t want someone that looked different to be in a job, the Board of Trustees met secretly and terminated an employee and fell back on the statement that they didn’t need to disclose why. And it was Frank Irigon that moved for the firing of Dr. Bressler. In this country, we must embrace true diversity and recognize the value of each individual and practice true fairness in employment. Shame on the RTC Board of Trustees.

    • Frank Irigon says:

      Shame on this writer for hiding behind “ourdiverserenton” rather than using his/her real name. The Board of Trustees were told by the AG that we could not reveal what was said in executive session to terminate for convenience the president of RTC. And it’s true that the Board should have written policies in place for management to follow, however, the Board was never made aware that these written policies or governance policies were not in place. That’s why when the AG made us aware that these policies were not in place, I proposed setting up two Board committees: Personnel (which would include Affirmative Action/ Equal Employment Opportunity) and Finance and Budget. I should remind this writer that our schools have yet to achieve teaching us the beauty of diversity.

      • Renton Ben says:

        >> And it’s true that the Board should have written policies in place for management to follow,

        That was your *job* to make those policies. It would have taken you two meetings to come up with those policies.

        You had more than five years on that board Frank. Don’t tell us you didn’t have enough time.

  12. sarracen says:

    Erica;

    You do your Uncle a disservice with your post.

    This was never about race, and still isn’t. This was about the RTC Board of Trustees acting capriciously in a way that can do nothing but harm OUR college. This article is the first time that the Renton community has heard that race and diversity was an issue.

    This is about a group of trustees acting on an apparent political vendetta.

    This about Dr. Bressler telling the trustees to stop out-of-state travel.

    This is about promoting a well-qualified WOMAN without the expense going through a hiring process. A lesson lost obviously on your uncle and the other two trustees.

    Keep in mind that this firing will cost much more than Dr. Bressler’s $148,000 salary. The college can’t afford this.

    The citizens of Renton are not attacking your uncle because he’s Filipino. They are attacking him because it’s one of the only ways the community has to fight an unjust action. Ronnie Behnke’s residency also was questioned.

    By introducing race into the mix you are suggesting that discrimination is an acceptable tool if it benefits you.

    You’re suggesting that a white candidate shouldn’t even bother to apply: for either the president position, or your uncle’s vacant trusteeship.

    You’re suggesting that race-loyalty is more important than ethics.

    I’m sure we all appreciate your loyalty to your uncle, it’s hard to admit that a relative has acted unjustly.

    • Frank Irigon says:

      My niece did not do me a disservice and I appreciated her loyalty very much. It’s you who needs to be educated about “white privilege” and institutional racism. You speak of the citizens of Renton when it was only a handful of bloggers who attacked me and it only validated their ignorance and intolerance to me. And when you speak of “race-loyalty” you should read what you have written. Or can you read?

      • Anonymous says:

        Sorry Frank, but more than 80% of Renton thinks the rest of you our-of-state traveling bad trustees need to resign:

        http://www.pnwlocalnews.com/south_king/ren/opinion/poll/?1251851215453

        When everybody from liberal to conservative, from black and white thinks your decision sucks… we’ll you have to have delusions of adequacy not to cry into your pillow at night.

        I like how you asked if the previous poster “Or can you read?” , can we ask the same of you? How hard was it to read the trustee requirements? It’s all of one paragraph long. Or have you just been scamming the school so you can get your $200 per meeting?

  13. RTCTeacher says:

    Correction:

    At the time of Don’s firing by Ronnie, Frank, and Ira – none of the board members mentioned anything about racism. In fact they gave no reasoning to the public.

    This article is the first mention of this supposed racism, and I find is curious that Frank didn’t have the courage to share this with the public but did so later in a forum more pleasing to his eyes.

    • Frank Irigon says:

      I said as much to the Seattle Times but the writer chose to write from a white perspective rather from my perspective as a person of color. And yes, this community paper is more pleasing to my eyes because it reports from our perspective than yours. And this supposed racism, a comment was made to me during summer graduation that the majority of the faculty were white while many of the graduates were students of color. And I find it curious you don’t have the courage to identify yourself to the public. You know who I am but I don’t know who your are, or do I?

  14. Renton Ben says:

    Given Frank Irigon’s strong ties to the Asian community, I commend NW Asian Weekly on having a mostly balanced article on this matter.

    Frank’s casting Don as ‘racist’ cheapens himself and to see Don’s hiring practices as anything less than pragmatic in these lean times says more about Frank’s race tinted glasses than anything else. By hiring inside of RTC instead of bringing in an extra person from outside the collage, it freed up more money for more classes.

    Don heart has always been in the right place. We’ve seen Don fight very hard to increase funding for Renton’s ESL program – not because he wanted to help one particular race, but because he wanted to help everybody.

    With Don and the work with the Renton Technical Collage Foundation ensured that the RTC’s ESL class funding was above and beyond what tax revenues would normally bring in.

    While Frank’s mostly Americanized family may not appreciate the work Don and the Foundation have done, recent Asian immigrants will miss out on getting a good education because of Franks actions.

    In addition, Frank’s actions will cause the collage to have to spend over $200,000 to pay for another president – this extra spending will come out of classroom. Again, the students of RTC will suffer and many of them will be Asian-American students.

    If Frank had a legitimate concern, he could have voiced it to the community and we all could have judged his concerns on their merits – instead he chose to secretly and unilaterally decide to harm our educational institution.

    Now that his Frank’s duplicity in his residency has been uncovered, he chose to lash out in a childlike manor, and most of us who know Don are left scratching our heads.

    Simply put – The Asian-American community as well as all communities had a friend in Don Bressler – and while he may be white, he championed all students regardless of their race and as such he helped all of us.

    ….

    I would also like to point out that Don Bressler put a stop to Frank’s and Ronnie’s lavish out of state travel. No more trips to New York for either of them.

    ….

    As for Frank Irigon, I would also like to point out in researching him, I found his Facebook account where he listed himself as a fan of “Comrade Hoh Chi Minh” – while Frank is of Philippine decent, I would have expected a member of the Board of Trustees to be aware of his Vietnamese and Cambodian students and the strife that some of their families have suffered under the Hoh’s regime, and the Cambodian Kehmer Rouge puppet government.

    It’s not funny or witty to be a fan of someone who is responsible for the murder of millions of people in South East Asia.

    Frank has deleted his Facebook account, so at least he has some shame in his actions.

    • Frank Irigon says:

      Renton Ben should have attended RTC’s Adult Basic Ed class. He could have learned to spell and write more legibly. Besides I never cast Bressler as racist that’s an accusation coming from Renton Ben who’s a white man. I know Renton Ben’s real name and because of his threats on my life and property that he so earnestly blogged, I have reported him to the Newcastle police. And I never deleted my Facebook account, I just excluded people like him from reading it.

      • Renton Ben says:

        Frank, why don’t you just explain to us your decision to waste a quarter of a million dollars from a poor school that helps a lot of good people?

        Instead, you spend your time accusing others of things that aren’t true.

        No matter if you think we’re all a bunch of “evil racists”, your behavior shouldn’t have been driven by it. Just because you think other people are stupid and evil doesn’t give you license to act the same way.

        ….

        Frank, I find it amusing that your enjoin me to attend classes, and yet your second sentence lacks proper punctuation.

        You used to be a legend.

        The Asian American community has lost a once proud voice, only to be lost in sad pathetic self-defeating anger.

        ….

        As to Franks insinuation that I threatened him – the worst that I can think of is that I told him that “You’re a disgrace!” to his face. He weekly replied “Thank you.” Not sure why he said that, but it did seem appropriate.

        The Newcastle Police obviously think his alleged complaint is without merit – not even a phone call.

        ….

        No matter how you look at it, the simple FACT is that hundreds of students of the RTC will not be getting the classes they need to get a leg up on this world thanks to Frank.

        Even if there is some sort of “Evil White People” conspiracy, Franks actions are the ones that have hurt the poor students.

        ….

        Frank – you’ve turned into a bitter old racist who lives in the suburbs and screws the poor to flex his waning power.

        You’ve become what you hate.

      • Anonymous says:

        Frank Irigon, Will you apologize for tastelessly condoning the actions of Hoh Chi Minh?

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  15. erica bolds-esters says:

    LEAVE MY UNCLE FRANK ALONE!!! What the problem is, is that white people always want to be in control of everything. Alot of whites CAN NOT except Barack Obama being president. If you’re not creating or practicing diversity, then you have problems. Everyone and anyone of color deserves to go higher, just as whites do. But when try to hold people of color back,…. WE RISE! If it was in Bresslers contract that he can be dimissed for convience, then you need to let it go and move on. But if you all want to do a witch hunt on my Uncle then, just remember, GOD is watching your every move and HE knows and sees everything. GOD protects HIS. Stop the witch hunting it’s going to back fire! And it is not adult like….

  16. Anonymous says:

    Erica, you sound racist.

  17. Frank Irigon says:

    The KKK hid their identities behind their white hoods and Anonymous is doing the same by not using his/her real name. It’s not Erica who sounds racist it’s Anonymous.

  18. Renton Ben says:

    The KKK had secret meetings where they plotted and schemed to do their dirty work. Sound familiar Frank?

  19. Lise says:

    a weblog, I hope that it denost disappoint me just as considerably as this. Come on, man, I know it was my choice to read, but When i thought youd have some thing intriguing to say. All I hear is genuinely a handful of whining about something you can fix inside the event you werent too busy looking for attention. 837875

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