Aurora Wilson has served as Trustee for this District since being appointed (out of 25 applicants) in May 2013.
PALM DESERT — Aurora Wilson, appointed to the College of the Desert Board of Trustees on May 10, 2013, is seeking a third, four-year term to the Board representing Trustee Area 4, which includes Rancho Mirage, most of Palm Desert and Indian Wells.
Uken Report (UR) posed identical questions to all trustee candidates in District 1, and District 4. Candidates in Trustee Area 1 are Rubén Pérez, first elected to the College of the Desert Board of Trustees in 2018, and former COD student trustee Larissa Chavez Chaidez. She was the only one not to respond. Trustee Area 1 represents the Eastern Coachella Valley.
Former College of the Desert Superintendent/President Joel Kinnamon is challenging her.
Following are Wilson’s responses.
UR: Who, or what, motivated you to run for a seat on the Board of Trustees?
Aurora Wilson: Throughout my career, I have always wanted to use my work and non-profit board experience to serve the communities. At a March 2013 COD Board meeting, the Trustee representing the 4th District (John Marman) had suddenly announced his resignation at a Board of Trustees meeting and the Board of Trustees decided to appoint to fill the vacancy. As a community college graduate, I appreciated the value of COD and my late husband, Roy (Wilson), was a COD Professor for almost 30 years so I thought that perhaps I could use my background, work experience and knowledge of the communities to serve on the COD Board of Trustees. The Board also agreed, and I was appointed in May 2013; I was elected in 2014 and then re-elected in 2018.
UR: What qualifications specifically do you bring to the board?
Aurora Wilson: When I first saw the notice in The Desert Sun on April 4, 2013; the notice was “seeking candidates to fulfill the responsibilities of being a Board member including: participate fully in the work of the Board, which includes attending all Board members and key college events, studying and discussing policy issues and participating in trustee education programs; be knowledgeable about the communities served by the college and be willing to act on behalf and for the benefit of those communities; be committed to community colleges and their missions; understand education, social and economic policy issues; engage in balancing the needs of many diverse groups; be able to contribute to and build consensus; contribute to effective Board functioning and support the authority of the Board, as a whole.”
I bring over 20 years of local governmental experience (through my employment with the County of Riverside and CVAG) so I have local knowledge of issues in the communities; as well as volunteer service on non-profit boards (HARC, Joslyn Senior Center, RAP Foundation, Animal Samaritans, JFK Memorial Foundation) all serving the communities. I have been a resident of the Coachella Valley for almost 30 years and a resident of Palm Desert for almost 25 years. I am a community college graduate and am grateful for the direction it gave in my life. As a Latina, a single mom going to school at night and working during the day, I also identified with the challenges facing students trying to better their lives. I am also the widow of a man who spent almost 30 years teaching at COD and wanted to pay tribute to his legacy of public service and education.
UR: What specifically makes you a better candidate than your opponent?
Aurora Wilson: First and foremost, I will continue to be honest. I will consider impacts of programs and services and policies to make sure my vote is in the best interests of those being served – and not just one faction. I have and will continue to be accountable and responsible to the communities. When residents vote for a Trustee, it should be with confidence that the Trustee will always put voters needs first. I believe that I have earned the trust of my District and will work diligently to maintain it. Additionally, I am certified by the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) for having completed requirements to become a community college trustee; a requirement of the Accrediting Commission for Community/Junior Colleges which provides the licensing for community colleges. Having worked in local government such as CVAG, I met regularly with cities and county government and learned as well as understood how cities/county/Tribes can work together for the common good; and I have served on several local nonprofit organization boards e.g., HARC (Health Assessment and Research for Communities); The Joslyn Senior Center (needs of the elderly); Homelessness (thru Roy’s Desert Resource Center); air quality and public safety, animal welfare through CVAG and so I understand the needs of the local communities. I continue to serve on the boards of several local non profit boards including the RAP Foundation; Animal Samaritans; and the JFK Memorial Foundation.
UR: How much do you plan to spend on your campaign?
Aurora Wilson: I will work hard to raise and use whatever amount to remain on the Board of Trustees and continue to advocate for students and families in the Coachella Valley.
UR: Your campaigns are reportedly the most expensive races in the college’s 64-year history, and campaign finance reports support that. Why so much? Are you trying to buy a seat?
Aurora Wilson: My challenger who sold his Palm Springs home to move to my district to challenge me has self-funded his race to almost $100K or more. I must have enough funds available to adequately address the misinformation and provide my communities with the truth and am grateful for the support I have received.
UR: A prominent and well-educated Coachella Valley resident won’t discuss this race on the record because he said it is such a “tangled web.” How on earth did College of the Desert get to this point with stories of lawsuits to get public records and more?
Aurora Wilson: This is a great question, Cindy. This all started when Dr. Martha Garcia was voted as COD’s new college president by a 3-2 vote of the Board of Trustees. I was the tie-breaking vote. I was the Board Chair at the time and after the vote was announced over zoom, my cell phone began to ping; it was the retired president who sent me vile text messages. He had been advocating for an internal candidate who was not chosen. He tried to rally COD Faculty to issue a “no confidence” vote for the Board of Trustees but this did not come fruition. Since then, he has continued to attack the Board at all levels and in all areas. I will continue to provide the communities with the truth about the bonds and the Palm Springs campus; and using the tools such as consultants that were in place at the time of meetings with Palm Springs officials – in order to provide the communities with the truth. I would urge you, Cindy, to go to You Tube and watch and listen to the September 15 Board of Trustees meeting; go to Agenda Item 16, Study Sessions and watch the presentations on the status of the Palm Springs campus. These are part of the efforts to “lower the temperature and get COD moving forward” I can only advocate for the truth and my service to the communities as a Trustee, as I have faithfully done since 2013. If I had voted for the internal candidate, this terrible smear would not be occurring. And, if I could do this critical vote again, I would vote for Dr. Garcia.
UR: What additional campuses/programs need to be built, where and why?
Aurora Wilson: Our current bond funds (as approved by voters) provide for additional work to be done at our Palm Desert, Desert Hot Springs, Indio and Mecca campuses. We are building a satellite campus in Palm Springs as we have promised voters through Measure CC. We also have worked with the City of Coachella to provide several locations for classes which helps address the transportation issues of residents in the eastern Coachella Valley.
UR: In 2019, the College conferred more than 1,576 degrees and certificates, a 50 percent increase over the previous four years. With all the negative press and headlines, the infighting, lawsuits, and the ugliness of this campaign, is the image of the College being tarnished? What will you do to ensure it’s not and/or how will you help repair it?
Aurora Wilson: I would like to apologize to the residents of my district for the negative campaigning done by my challenger. And I am reminded of a saying by former First Lady Michelle Obama “when they go low, you go high.” When the Board of Trustees hired Dr. Garcia, we had no idea of the repercussions and negative information that would result from voting for her and not his internal candidate. Dr. Garcia needed the opportunity, as a new college superintendent/president should, to review all of the information; meet with Trustees; and other represented areas of the college to understand what the issues are. Initially, allegations were made regarding the use of bond funds and COD has been able to show that the bond funds are secure and properly allocated. Now the “target” has moved to the Palm Springs campus. A recent September 15, 2022, Board of Trustees meeting offered 3 study sessions explaining: 1) the status of bond funds done by Fieldman, Rolapp & Associates; 2) the Palm Springs campus – Phase 1 done by WRNS Studio, the original architects for this proposed satellite campus; and 3) a presentation on student enrollment done by Cambridge West Partnership. As we know, bond funds provide for the construction of the buildings, but it is student enrollment that provides for the cost of operations of what will be offered at that campus…and where will these students come from….
So, I believe that continuing to educate the public and my communities on bond funds and the Palm Springs satellite campus thru study sessions such as on Sept. 15 have helped instill confidence by providing the communities with the truth. Remember that my challenger was COD’s president since 2012 and was involved with the initial location of the PS Campus: a 119-acre green park property shared with SCE called the Tramview property which fell through after a 6-year partnership — in 2013. The City of Palm Springs did not cry out about the lack of a campus then; nor did they cry out when the purchase of the Palm Springs Mall took 4 years (2014-2018). COD demolished the Mall in 2019 and then COVID hit in 2020.
Post COVID, it’s a wonderful sight to see our campuses brought back to life with students on our campuses; attending classes; events; programs, playing football; tennis, etc. and our Street Fair is up and going! Also, the Board’s recent action to create a Palm Springs Development Project Advisory Group gives our communities (through appointment of community members) the opportunity to have input into the process and to understand what is really going on with planning and development of this campus. And I continue to urge residents to view the September 15 study sessions on the Palm Springs Campus. I also do presentations to small community groups on our bond funds and campuses.
UR: This is an important race, as you know. What would you like to add that we perhaps did not ask. (Note: This is not the time or place to thank supporters or urge residents to vote for you.)
Aurora Wilson: I have served as Trustee for this District since being appointed (out of 25 applicants) in May 2013. The Board of Trustees has only 1 employee: the superintendent/president. That person carries out the actions of and answers to the Board. So, when you see claims from my challenger for starting up programs; opening of campus service centers; and winning of awards; please understand that these are actions come from the authority of the publicly elected Board of Trustees. I use the analogy of a city council and their city manager. The city manager carries out the actions of the city council.
I am a community college graduate (as was my late husband) so I understand the importance and appreciate the path it created in my life. I also completed my master’s degree at the local CSUSB Palm Desert campus (when their trailers were on the COD Palm Desert campus). I am a Latina who, as a single older mother, went back to school later in life for her master’s degree – working during the day, going to school at night so I understand the struggles and sacrifices that getting an education can bring. I am also the proud mother of a gay woman who also graduated from a community college and holds a bachelor’s degree and works for one of the oldest LGBTQIA organizations in the country.
Before my late husband, Roy Wilson, entered politics, he moved to the Coachella Valley to teach at COD. He was a community college graduate himself (Modesto CC) and taught at COD for many years even writing a textbook and he was happy doing this. So, when I applied for the Trustee opening in 2013, I wanted to pay homage for his years of teaching and the legacy he left for the community college he loved so well. I have to admit that there was a learning curve since the education arena is somewhat different than the government arena, but it has been a labor of love. A lot of great things have happened at COD since 2013, programs for our veterans; an LGBTQ Center; community programs; child care center development; new satellite campus in Desert Hot Springs; expansion of the Indio satellite campus; classroom expansion in Coachella; an award winning EDGE/PLEDGE program; even a doctoral program for faculty wanting to earn their Ph.D. – all under the direction, authority and watch of the Board of Trustees including the elected 4th District Trustee – me. And COD has applied for a baccalaureate program status, so we are excited and await news.
I have learned how vital and important COD’s role is to the Coachella Valley; not just to residents; but to the economy. And COD’s role is dependent upon the relationships and time we invest in the communities, in our students. We need to return to working with each other and building our communities to keep families wanting to stay here; invest here for not just this generation but for the future.
- Aurora Wilson: Courtesy oof Aurora Wilson