Winkler smiled through much of the meeting. (SCVTV/SCVNews.com)
Saugus Union officials voted 4-1 to censure governing board member Stephen Winkler in front of a standing room only crowd at the Saugus Union School District’s special hearing Thursday night, in response to allegations that he posted inappropriate comments through several different online accounts.
Winkler denied some of the activity, admitted other postings deemed “hurtful” and, at times, was evasive during the nearly two-hour meeting that saw more than a dozen public commenters question whether the board member was fit for his public office based on his online comments and questions about his residency.
“On June 10, 2013, I reviewed a blog post by Mike Devlin expressing (Winkler’s) support for Nazism, slavery, segregation and cruelty to animals,” Bryce said. “The statements attributed to Mr. Winkler were attributed to Winkler using a YouTube account tied to his email address.”
Bryce met with Winkler on June 11, with legal counsel present.
“Winkler confirmed the email address was his, but he denied the YouTube account was his at this hearing,” Bryce said.
“These comments weren’t me,” Winkler said. “I was careless in my comments because I left my email open, and someone has stolen my password.”
Saugus Union School District board President Judy Umeck convened an ad hoc committee Monday, consisting of herself and Bryce, to address the concern of dozens of parents who had contacted board members over the online comments attributed to several accounts Winkler admitted to creating.
At several points during the meeting, Winkler acknowledged the accounts were his, although his defense when confronted with parents who were upset was that he was unaware of the comments.
Saugus Union board member Rose Koscielny questioned Winkler directly why he never made an attempt to deny any of the comments were his, since the activity dated back several years, or why he never reported that his account has been hacked.
“I didn’t know any of this was going on until (the meeting with Bryce),” Winkler said.
Koscielny then questioned how so much fraud could take place without his awareness for several years, which was greeted by applause from the crowd.
Later in the meeting, Winkler claimed that he had tried to file a report with Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station deputies.
However, when he went to the station, no one would take his report, he said.
Ultimately, regardless of whether the comments were Winkler’s or not, there was little the board could do beyond censureship, Umeck said, because Winkler was a publicly elected official.
The rest of the time, Winkler sat stoically as the charges were thrown at him. “I am not a Nazi,” he said.
A recall effort was announced by the school district teachers union President Debbie Rocha, whom Winkler compared to a Nazi, because she quoted Henry Ford, an avowed Nazi sympathizer.
“I have every right to be as mad as the teachers,” Winkler said, noting that he was Jewish and his grandparents were victims of the Holocaust.
After a parent who identified herself as Jewish spoke during the public comment portion and asked if he would step down, Winkler said, “The answer is no.”
This was met by a loud chorus of boos from the crowd.
However unpopular the comments attributed to Winkler’s online accounts may have been, the biggest challenge to his public-official status could be questions about his residency, which were raised at the end of the hearing.
Devlin, who said he was a parent of two children in the district and a paid blogger, presented the board with restraining orders that Winkler had sought against a roommate of his named Henry Bradley, aka “Tankdog,” who shared a Sylmar address with Winkler, according to a document signed by Winkler under the penalty of perjury.
After being presented with the documents, which had a signature verified as Winkler’s — through campaign-disclosure documents obtained by KHTS — Umeck asked Winkler if he filed the restraining order.
“Did you file paperwork that listed that address as a place of residence?” Umeck asked.
“(The orders) said that I lived there,” Winkler replied.
Umeck pressed Winkler again, “Did you sign it?”
To which Winkler replied, “Yes.”
Winkler explained that the address on the form was a room that he rented, and he “partied there sometimes,” but he spent the night there only because, “I don’t want to drink and drive,” he said, adding that he was registered to vote with a Saugus address.
The allegations were not news to the board, Umeck said.
“An investigation has been in place for approximately 90 days regarding the domicile issue, and where Stephen Winkler resides,” Umeck said. “There may be action regarding this issue at Tuesday’s meeting.”
This comment resulted in more applause from the crowd.
A parent asked if Winkler would resign. His reply: “The answer is no.” There are several boos.
The board was asked twice why action wasn’t taken sooner regarding the charges, and Umeck responded that the board essentially had its hands tied, because there was no conduct policy in place to address Winkler’s comments.
After the allegations initially surfaced late last year, a policy was created, and that’s why the board was holding the censureship hearing Thursday.
The other board members all asked Winkler, as “legal residents,” not board members, for his resignation from the board.
“We can’t fire him,” Umeck said to the crowd, before the board requested his resignation, individually, as private citizens. “We can’t recall him. That’s not to say you can’t.”