Too Holtz too handle

California State Auditor employees rebelled against a speech by famed college football coach and anti-immigration Trump supporter Lou Holtz

This is an extended version of a story that appears in the July 18, 2019 issue.

Mandatory leadership seminars can be trying enough when you have zero feelings about the people leading them. But for employees of California State Auditor Elaine Howle, the prospect of sitting through a motivational speech by a guy who complained about an immigrant “invasion” when he endorsed President Donald Trump three years ago was too much to bear.

The office confirmed to SN&R on July 11 that it canceled the following day’s keynote address after employees complained about the man slated to give it—Hall of Fame college football coach and xenophobic octogenarian Lou Holtz.

Decades before making divisive comments about immigrants during a Republican Party speech in 2016, Holtz abruptly resigned as the Arkansas football coach in 1983, after getting blowback for appearing in two commercials supporting the reelection of then-U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, a longtime civil rights foe and segregationist.

Margarita Fernández, a spokeswoman for Howle, told SN&R last week that staff concerns prompted the cancellation of Holtz’s speaking gig.

SN&R obtained internal emails, including from chief deputy state auditor of operations Paul Navarro, that billed the speaking engagements as mandatory for all staff to attend and to be focused on “impactful personal and professional leadership.”

According to speaker bios emailed to staff, Holtz was to address employees about setting goals and accomplishing them through good leadership, planning, and teamwork. By the time Holtz’s appearance was canceled, state workers had already sat through the presentations of Evan Marwell, a self-styled “serial entrepreneur” who founded the nonprofit Education SuperHighway, and photographer Steve Uzzell.

Fernández said the office typically looks for speakers who are experts and recommended by other professional auditing groups. Holtz received good reviews when he spoke about leadership at the National State Auditors Association, Fernández said. The hours that Holtz was supposed to cover will be made up later.

Subject to government auditing standards issued by the Comptroller General of the United States, the state auditor’s office is required to conduct 80 hours of professional development every two years. In the course of meeting federal statutes, the office sometimes convenes outside speakers, Fernández explained. She said that many of the workshops are tailored to specific groups of employees, covering government auditing standards, new financial standards and fraud investigations. Seminars dedicated to succession planning and communication—“because we write reports all the time,” Fernández noted—“would apply to everyone in the office.”

In recent months, the state auditor has criticized the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for shirking its environmental review responsibilities, the California State University system for essentially hiding a $1.5 billion surplus while raising student tuition and state gambling officials for contributing to an inequal system for gaming applicants.