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Saugus Union school board member in hot water over alleged racist comments

Saugus Union board member Stephen Winkler smiled frequently throughout the meeting.
Saugus Union board member Stephen Winkler smiled frequently throughout the meeting.

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Sparks are flying in Saugus, where the school board voted 4-1 Thursday night to censure one of its own members for allegedly posting racially offensive comments on social media.

“The governing board has received information leading this board to conclude that board member Stephen Winkler has made public statements in the form of online postings expressing support for Nazism, slavery and segregation and enjoyment of cruelty towards animals,” board member Paul De La Cerda read to the audience of more than a hundred at during a nearly two-hour long emergency meeting at the district's education center in Santa Clarita.

The lone dissenting vote came from Winkler himself, who has maintained his innocence since the controversy began on Sunday.

"I'm shocked and dismayed," Winkler said. "I don't hold any of the views of the Nazi party. I don't hold any racist views, and I'm just as disgusted about these as you are."

Dressed in a dark suit and green tie, Winkler flashed smiles at the standing-room only crowd.

The board said it does not have the power to remove him over offensive comments. All four of the other members asked him to resign. He said he would not.

"Tonight, I received quite explicit orders from the Lord Jehovah to continue this battle right to the bitter end,” Winkler said.

The board limited comments to about a dozen members of the public, who said if he did not resign, they would begin recall proceedings. 

“You may have what you think is God on your side," said parent Jackie MacDougall. "You have not been up against the parents of the Saugus district.”

The crowd erupted in cheers.

Board president Judy Umeck also revealed during the meeting that Winkler is the subject of another investigation, launched months ago, over allegations that he lives outside the district. If true, his seat would be vacated immediately.

“Pending the outcome of this continuing investigation, it may result in board action on Tuesday evening,” Umeck said.

The board positions are part-time, paying $350 a month. Winkler said after the meeting that he works as a teacher and tutor but gave no further details. His Facebook profile lists that he was a substitute teacher for LAUSD between 2004 and 2010. Calls to LAUSD to confirm the information were not returned.

The controversy ignited Sunday when the blog SCVTalk posted an article about offensive social media comments posted to YouTube and Twitter over the past several years from accounts bearing Winkler’s name.

"I will be the commandant of the camp sending you and your family into the gas chambers. HEIL_ HITLER!,” one comment on YouTube said.

“I despise a black in a presidential role, because this is not their proper role in life," read another. "They were not created for government nor for political leadership; they were created for service.”

On Thursday, Winkler handed out a written statement to members of the audience, describing how someone could have hijacked his email to create the YouTube account when he neglected to log out of a shared computer at a public library he frequents.

The YouTube account is six years old. Winkler has  been on the school board for 18 months after winning an election.

Winkler acknowledged creating a Twitter account from the same email address. He began tweeting from that account more than four years ago. In one tweet, he likens some educators in the district to Nazis.

Umeck said angry residents began emailing her and other board members as soon as the article was posted last weekend. She convened a committee to review the allegations, and, on Monday, scheduled Thursday night’s emergency meeting to hear from the public and Winkler and share results of the investigation.

A group of citizens calling themselves “Furious Parents in the SCV” started a blog this week chronicling Winkler’s online activity. The group’s stated mission is to remove him from the school board.