Jill Geer, chief marketing officer of USA Track & Field, visited San Diego in October 2017. On May 1, she offered ideas, and quotes, for a Mt. SAC press release on losing the Olympic Trials.
Jill Geer of USATF visited San Diego in October 2017. On May 1, she offered ideas, and quotes, for a Mt. SAC press release on losing the Olympic Trials. Photo by Ken Stone

USA Track and Field was worried about new lawsuits when it notified Mt. San Antonio College on May 1 that the school had lost the 2020 Olympic Trials.

USATF letter to Mt. SAC officials on withdrawal of 2020 Olympic Trials. (PDF)

According to newly disclosed email, USATF also doubted Mt. SAC’s promise of alternative funding for Hilmer Lodge Stadium renovation — the subject of an ongoing challenge by United Walnut Taxpayers.

Even though the City of Walnut had settled its case with Mt. SAC in mid-April, “USATF is also concerned that further suits may be forthcoming if past behavior related to the Stadium build continues,” USATF Deputy General Counsel Donald Woodard said in his 760-word “Dear John” letter to Mt. SAC’s president and athletic events director.

“The risk is too great with the clock ticking on the completion date,” he wrote May 1. (A new Trials site is expected to be announced about June 8.)

Noting the UWT suit could block Mt. SAC from using bond money on the $87 million stadium project, Woodard said the Walnut school “has not provided USATF with any support that it has adequate funding to timely complete the stadium absent access to those bond funds.”

Documents released Thursday under a California Public Records Act request also show a give-and-take about how USATF and Mt. SAC would disclose news of the lost 10-day track meet.

In fact, USATF Chief Marketing Officer Jill Geer composed comments that Mt. SAC could attribute to college officials.

“I wrote a sample quote if you all would like a quote,” Geer wrote Doug Todd, the Mt. SAC athletic special events chief. “If you would like to make any changes to that quote, please let us know. Or if you prefer not to have one, so please let us know. We will not be having quote per se in the release.”

Geer suggested this wording:

“We would like to thank USATF for entrusting us with the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials,” xxxxxx from Mt. SAC said. “Mt. SAC’s first objective has always been to provide a first-rate experience for Olympic-hopeful athletes. Although we have made progress with resolving impediments to completion of a new stadium, there are still hurdles to overcome. We look forward to bidding on future Olympic Trials.”

Mt. SAC’s actual press release included these comments attributed to college President William Scroggins:

The USATF referenced litigation from the City of Walnut and United Walnut Taxpayers as the reason for its decision. The two lawsuits that were mentioned have either been settled or ruled by a judge in our favor. We remain confident in our ability to deliver a completed stadium on time and a successful event. … The Mt. SAC Local Organizing Committee is ready to execute our plans to host the 2020 event should USATF reconsider its decision.”

Geer also wrote Todd at 9:30 a.m. May 1: “We are changing the press release according to your desire not to have it be a mutual decision.”

UWT attorney Craig Sherman of San Diego, reacting to the latest email revelations, blamed Mt. SAC’s “fraudulent and bad behavior” for the collapse.

“Their actions and conduct have directly led to the loss of the 2020 U.S. Olympic trials is a result of reaping what they sow,” Sherman said. “But even now they seek to blame the City of Walnut, United Walnut Taxpayers, USATF — everyone but themselves.”

Sherman said he was amazed by Mt. SAC and its legal team’s “so many bad legal and practical decisions.”

“In order the ‘save’ the Olympic Trials, Mt. SAC and its counsel decided to take emergency measures to settle all lawsuits with the City of Walnut within a couple days’ time, but decided to segregate, ignore and not resolve the lawsuits of United Walnut Taxpayers, and which is now on appeal,” he said.

Sherman said the school lost a chance to work with the community.

USATF Deputy General Counsel Donald Woodard. Photo via usatf.org

“Had it done so, it would likely still have the Trials,” he said. “But the shortsightedness of Mt. SAC and its legal team is the principal cause of it losing the USATF contract and opportunity to host the Trials.”

Criticism also is coming from within the school, including a former member of the Academic Senate.

Thomas Edson — a professor in the Department of English, Literature and Journalism — said he was deeply concerned that the stadium and two other “unsuccessful” projects — a parking garage and solar farm — “reflects a technically and politically flawed planning process at the highest reaches of the SAC leadership team, which now includes the failure of legal and fiscal oversight by the elected members of the Board of Trustees.”

He told Times of San Diego that the college’s leadership style reflected a “repetitive contempt for our neighbors and the potential harms and impacts of negligent planning.”

“When Mt. SAC is proposing to develop infrastructure projects such as the parking structure and athletic stadium, it has an inherent responsibility to consult with residents and the City of Walnut to manage impacts and potential harm before, not after, such projects are funded and launched,” Edson said.

“We are part of our community, not apart from it.”

He sides with UWT in arguing that his school wasn’t a “transparent custodian” of bond monies and had violated the trust of voters who approved Measure RR in 2008 for building and campus improvements.

The school’s 10-year planning process was “voided by the precipitous decision to shift monies from other planned and approved projects to this massive revamp of the then-current stadium,” said Edson, who wants the library revamped.

“President Scroggins sought post facto legal cover for this decision from the college’s legal counsel, but however ‘legal’ this redirection of RR funds might be, neither the faculty nor the voters were consulted prior to this decision.”

Edson said that if he were still active in the Academic Senate, he would ask for a vote of “no confidence” in Scroggins and the Board of Trustees.

“It’s past time for Scroggins’ resignation,” he said.