Gary Arzamendi, 54, teacher, incumbent
What differentiates you from your opponent? Education is my life’s work and an investment in our future. I have earned degrees and credentials that qualify me to lead and to govern, and I have prepared myself to serve my community and educational organizations with specific training and the experience of giving back, of being a steward of our most precious resource – our students. I have the skills to navigate, with the governance team, the complexity of ongoing issues at Merced College.
What is the most important factor the college should consider in its search for a new president? The most important factor in searching for the new president is the ability to recognize the talents of others. No one person can do it all. Distributing roles and responsibilities that increase the strength, efficiency and productivity of an organization is a hallmark trait of an extraordinary leader. Our students need and deserve a president who puts students first and utilizes the talents of the Merced College team to bring to fruition the promise of access to higher education for every student in our great Valley.
What is the biggest issue the board has faced in the last year, and what would you do, specifically, to address it? Leadership is the biggest issue the board has faced and is currently facing. The selection process for a new president is well underway. As a trustee, I will work with the board to consider critical attributes of candidates including leadership skills, academic credentials, business experience, community perspective, diversity-mindedness, and a candidate who believes in putting students first.
Ernie Ochoa, 44, Realtor
What differentiates you from your opponent? I come from a totally different perspective. My independence from past Merced College issues will give me an opportunity to provide unbiased opinions and input. I have a fresh view on the future growth and challenges of our community college. I also come from a successful business background that will be key in making decisions to keep the operations of the college running efficiently.
What is the most important factor the college should consider in its search for a new president? Merced College needs someone who has experience working with a diverse college community and who will allow each individual to express their opinion without fear. The applicant should also be focused on collaborating with other colleges, universities, and building relationships within Merced County. The president should be an individual who has the skill set to take Merced College to the next level in providing education and training for students along with our local workforce. A president who creates an atmosphere of transparency, excellent communication and a sense of community within college life is exactly what we should be looking for.
What is the biggest issue that has faced the board of trustees in the last year and what would you do, specifically, to address it? The most important issue is restoring the board’s authority to make key decisions such as the college’s public safety contract. As elected representatives we need to reassert our role in independent oversight. This ensures that the board can maintain a higher level of trust with the faculty, support staff, students and community.
Alice B. Contreras, 60, accountant
What differentiates you from your opponents? I have a background of experience in budgeting and business administration. I have worked with several boards in Merced County. I have a master’s degree in taxation, which is essentially a research degree in tax law. These skills will allow me to analyze bills, propositions and mandated requirements affecting the college and its funding. I have a certification in financial forensics, which is helpful in designing and maintaining internal controls to avoid fraudulent transactions and events.
What is the most important factor the college should consider in its search for a new president? A president of our community college should be a community-oriented person with the vision of growth and achievement for the college and not their personal agenda. Not a job hopper or résumé builder, but a person who wants to live, work, and invest themselves in the community and college that they seek to further.
What is the biggest issue that has faced the board of trustees in the last year and what would you do, specifically, to address it? The biggest issue that has faced the board of trustees is communication and coordination with the faculty, administration and the board. This is also one of the problems pointed out in the past accreditation report that the college received. To improve upon this, the board needs to be open to input and discussion from staff, faculty and the public. This may require longer board meetings or extra meetings. There needs to be an analysis of the current problem in order to find out just where the breakdown is and where to implement changes. Listening is the first step.
Wayne Hicks, 75, retired college instructor, incumbent
What differentiates you from your opponents? I am the only candidate who has had the pleasure and experience of being an employee of Merced College as well as having served on the board for the past four years. I have served on negotiations, the audit committee, and as a representative to the VIPJPA (a joint powers authority for insurance).
What is the most important factor the college should consider in its search for a new president? The communities served by the college need a president they recognize and know when this person is “out and about” and a person the staff and students are able to respect, who provides positive and motivational leadership, and they can approach on campus and have a conversation with about issues.
What is the biggest issue that has faced the board of trustees in the last year and what would you do, specifically, to address it? There have been times where trustees are not keeping the business of the district as the most important aspect of decisions made. Personal feelings and fighting among trustees has clouded the business at hand. I am only one of seven on the board, and I continue to serve the district and be respectful of my fellow trustees. We don’t all need to agree, but disagreements and differences of opinions need to be handled respectfully.
Carmen Ramirez, 40, business attorney/nonprofit director
What differentiates you from your opponents? I am the only candidate with considerable experience in both the private and public sector, including service as a managing director and adviser for successful nonprofits in Merced. As an attorney and local water board member, I’ve had to bring people together to sort through complex, difficult issues. I am committed to being transparent, accessible and acting with integrity so as to restore the public’s trust in Merced College.
What is the most important factor the college should consider in its search for a new president? Merced College’s next president must be sufficiently experienced to hit the ground running, positively engage with both the college and the board and restore the public’s trust in Merced College. Almost every applicant will likely have the experience, but not all may know how to engage a diverse board, while also meaningfully giving full consideration to students, faculty and the taxpayer in the process.
What is the biggest issue that has faced the board of trustees in the last year and what would you do, specifically, to address it? The public’s perception is that Merced College is an unstable organization. That perception negatively affects student morale, faculty, philanthropy and community support. The accreditation issues lower confidence in the value of a degree to current students, prospective students and past graduates. I will address these issues by changing the board dynamic, providing an opportunity for a fresh start and reinstituting the shared governance policies that help shape the outcome and may solve many contentious issues before they come before the board.