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Yoshidas withdraw support from foundation
by: File photo, Al Sigala

Mt. Hood Community College's decision to place Al Sigala, longtime spokesman, on paid leave and eliminate his position has drawn fire from college supporters.

Members of the Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber, which represents hundreds of Latino businesses, professionals and others, were set to meet the college's new president, John J. 'Ski' Sygielski, on Thursday, Oct. 2, to discuss their concerns.

Sigala is of Mexican descent and supporters say he has been instrumental in increasing the college's Latino enrollment. Sigala says Latino enrollment increased from 6 percent when he arrived more than 11 years ago, to 12 percent today.

Chamber President Gale Castillo said her group respects Sygielski's right to reorganize the college administration as he sees fit, but questioned the wisdom of eliminating Sigala's position.

'We're concerned, given Al's success, why was he let go,' she said. 'It's going to have a detrimental effect, we think, on the retention and recruitment of Latino students.'

Sygielski said he would answer press questions about the Latinos' concerns following his meeting with chamber officials.

Couple withdraws

Meanwhile, Junki and Linda Yoshida, prominent supporters of the Mt. Hood Community College Foundation, have withdrawn their support, citing a number of actions - including Sigala's leave - taken by Sygielski as reason for their decision.

In a Sept. 26 letter sent to members of the foundation board, Junki Yoshida, chief executive officer of Yoshida Group, outlined the couple's reasons for their decision.

'We come to this decision because we cannot support a college whose leader uses a poor process to make decisions that affect the lives of people and the fund-raising abilities of the college,' the letter stated.

Yoshida's letter alleged that Sygielski wanted to cancel a foundation golf tournament and considered the foundation 'dysfunctional.'

'As a long-time donor and supporter, my feelings about the college have changed overnight,' Yoshida added. 'I now feel like my time and money has been wasted, and I have lost confidence in the college.'

In a statement, Sygielski said he was 'disappointed' in Yoshida's comments.

'He clearly misinterpreted and misunderstood my comments during my few interactions with him and his wife,' the statement read, adding: 'It is unfortunate that Mr. Yoshida characterized my comments so inaccurately.'

Sigala leave

Among the incidents Yoshida cites in the letter was the decision to place Sigala, college spokesman for more than 11 years, on leave earlier this month.

Sigala said he learned earlier this month his position was to be eliminated, and said he agreed to go on paid leave for six months. Sigala said he was saddened to depart.

'I would love to stay at the college,' he said.

Sygielski declined to comment on why Sigala had been placed on leave, noting it was a personnel matter. He added that 'the college is developing a strategic plan. As part of it, there may be organizational changes to better meet the needs of those we serve.'

The decision, however, clearly upset Yoshida.

'I am not basing my decision to withdraw support from the foundation on the fact that (Sigala) was pushed out of the college,' Yoshida wrote. 'What upsets me is the apparent lack of process that preceded this decision. How can a college president who has been on the job for only a few weeks come to a fair conclusion that a long-term, valuable employee is no longer the right person for the job?'

In a follow-up interview, Yoshida added that Sigala was instrumental in the foundation's ability to raise money from local donors. Unlike charities helping children, for example, he said, a community college foundation is a hard sell and needs an effective public face like Sigala.

'The only way to capture people is through grassroots relationships,' he said.

'Yoshida's been a real good friend of the college,' Sigala said, noting he hopes Yoshida will reconsider his decision to withdraw his support from the foundation. He added that he would work with the foundation to bring Yoshida back as a donor.

'I'm no longer at the college but I still care about the college,' Sigala said.

In the middle

The foundation funds a number of scholarships for Mt. Hood students, as well as equipment for the college, and has been instrumental in financing the educations of hundreds of low-income enrollees.

Ron Gullberg, chairman of the foundation board, said he had met with both Yoshida and Sygielski and understood both men's concerns. However, he declined to comment on their dispute.

'I'm just saddened that the foundation is caught in the middle,' he said.

Sygielski's letter stated: '(I)t was never my intention to disparage the college or College Foundation.'

He added, 'I look forward to continuing to work with (Yoshida) to restore his confidence in the college and foundation. Because of (Mt. Hood) employees, donors, alumni and supporters like Mr. Yoshida, the college will achieve greatness and help to ensure a brighter future for our students.'

The Hispanic chamber also has funded Mt. Hood students, Castillo said, and has seen more and more Latinos choose to attend Mt. Hood while Sigala was there. Sigala said he helped organize the school's first Latino student organization.

Castillo said the chamber is disappointed because Sygielski had met with chamber leaders recently and pledged to build relationships with the Hispanic community.

'Certainly, it doesn't build trusting and working relationships when (Sygielski) just walks in and fires someone who has been successful for our community in terms of recruitment and retention of our students,' she said.

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