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Hancock College trustee candidates talk goals, qualifications
Election 2020

Hancock College trustee candidates talk goals, qualifications

Three seats on the Allan Hancock College board of trustees are up for election this November, and three of the five candidates outlined their platforms and answered questions during a Tuesday forum hosted by the college. 

Challengers Suzanne Levy and Keri Common are facing off for the Area 2 trustee seat, representing southeast Santa Maria, Orcutt and the Cuyama Valley. Current trustee Dan Hilker is not seeking reelection. Both candidates were present at the forum. 

For the Area 4 seat representing the Lompoc Valley, incumbent Jeffery Hall will be seeking reelection and participated in the Tuesday forum. Robert Mercado also filed as a challenger, but was not present for the forum. It is unclear whether he has formally dropped out of the race.

Incumbent Hilda Zacarias is running unopposed for the Area 1 position, representing central and northern Santa Maria. Zacarias did not participate in the forum. 

To watch the video recording of the forum, visit hancockcollege.edu/board/index.php?locale=en

Jeffery Hall - Area 4

Lompoc resident Jeffery Hall was elected to the board of trustees in 2016 and currently serves as board vice president. During the Sept. 29 forum, he highlighted the importance of his board experience and the board's accomplishments during his first term. 

"There’s an old saying - 'if it ain't broke, don’t fix it.' I’ve been a part of a team that's very successful for our district," Hall said. 

Among the accomplishments, he listed the groundbreaking for the new Fine Arts Complex this week after years of planning. He also mentioned the Hancock Promise program, which began in 2018 and promises one free year of education at the college to local high school graduates. 

"Four years ago, I ran on making college free for students here at Allan Hancock. I accomplished that, but it was only for one year. My goal, if I’m reelected, is to do that for two years," he said.

Hall said he is able to connect well with constituents through his heavy involvement in the community, and with organizations such as the Lompoc-Santa Maria NAACP and Lompoc Valley Democratic Club.

Hall's goals for a new term include increasing opportunities for community outreach with more town halls, as well as hiring and retaining more employees of color. 

"We need to recruit and retain a more diverse faculty. I’ll be talking with the president about that," Hall said. 

Hall is originally from Louisiana, and has a diverse background as an Army veteran, educator, employee with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and as a Hancock student.

Keri Common - Area 2

One of two challengers seeking the Area 2 board seat, Keri Common has a long history at Hancock as both a student and a long-term faculty member.

Common worked for several years at Hancock as a payroll technician and a member of the college's Sustainability Committee, before resigning and working as a payroll manager for the Santa Barbara Unified School District.

"Being a very recent employee is putting me in a great position to be a candidate for the board of trustees," Common said.

If elected, Common said she would like to focus on making employee salaries more competitive in order to increase retention and morale, obtain more grants for the college, and bridge what she called a communication gap between staff and administrators. 

"I want to make sure ... raises coincide with benefit increases, or find some way to negotiate having things balance out. We’re not in the business of hurting employees. We have to make sure they stay here, because they are the best we have around," she said. 

Common said her love for Hancock College is the main motivator for running to be on the board, where she believes she can make real change and represent other employees. 

"I’ve been in front of the board, been to the board meetings very recently, and seen my projects come through the board ... that experience has given me the knowledge and the skills that I need to make policy changes," she said. "I really want to give back to Hancock, who has given me so much." 

Suzanne Levy - Area 2

Running against Common is Suzanne Levy, a Hancock alumni and former computer science professor who has also held leadership roles at the college and in the community. 

Levy's main goals as a trustee include reaching marginalized communities, ensuring equitable pay and employment practices, and being available to hear staff and student concerns. 

"As trustee, it's important for me to support the institutional goals, the educational master plan, what the staff and faculty see [that] needs to be achieved," she said. "It's not my role to come in and tell everyone else what to do, it's my role to support what everyone else is doing."

Levy has served on the Foundation Board for the Pacific Conservatory Theatre on campus and recently worked with Marian Regional Medical Center to coordinate internships for medical students at the college. 

In the community, she has served as president of the board for the Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum and is the current treasurer of the Orcutt Children's Art Foundation. She has also served as a board member for the Hope School District in Santa Barbara. 

With her knowledge about the college, the local community and educational leadership, Levy said she is ready to take on the role of trustee.

"I've always stayed connected to the college, I have many friends that work there, and I've always known what's going on with the college and the community. I want to give back to the community," she said. 

Hilda Zacarias - Area 1 

Hilda Zacarias is seeking reelection to the Area 1 trustee seat in an unopposed race, after serving on the board for the last eight years. Zacarias works as a certified public accountant and organizational management consultant. 

During her time on the board, she has been part of landmark decisions such as the approval of multimillion-dollar bonds for on-campus projects like the Fine Arts Complex, and approving further funding to retain the campus's police department after a lengthy review process. 

Prior to serving on the Hancock board of trustees, Zacarias gained experience in public office as a Santa Maria City Councilwoman for four years and a trustee for the Santa Maria Joint-Union High School District for five years. 

Zacarias has been honored for her accomplishments over her college and professional careers, being named as one of Hancock College's 75 Distinguished Alumni at the college's 75th anniversary Celebration and receiving a Distinguished Service Award from Cal Poly University.

Zacarias was also the 2010 Democratic nominee for the State Assembly. 

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the former title of candidate Keri Common. She worked as a payroll technician at Hancock College. 

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Santa Maria City Reporter

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Laura Place covers city government, policy and elections in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County. Follow her on Twitter @itslaurasplace

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