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New Peralta Trustee Says Board Reforms Needed By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Tuesday January 04, 2005

In the wake of a fiasco in which three of Chancellor Elihu Harris’ planning and development initiatives were abruptly canceled or put on hold, a newly-elected member of the Peralta Community College District’s Board of Trustees said that trustees need to end the practice of “instant voting” on land development and facilities proposals without proper study. 

“Until we have a clear plan—until we understand what we are now and what we hope to be—the selling off of lands or leasing them or whatever they wish to do seems to me to be premature,” said Area 6 (Berkeley hills) Trustee Cy Gulassa. “I hope that we slow that kind of process down.” 

Four of the seven current Peralta trustees—Gulassa, Nicky Gonzáles Yuen, Marcie Hodge, and Bill Withrow—were elected on the Nov. 2. 

After sharp questioning by Gulassa at the Dec. 14 board meeting—the first for the newly-elected trustees—Harris announced that he had canceled a proposed facilities plan development contract with Oakland-based IPA Solutions and had also postponed contract talks with Oakland-based Strategic Urban Development Alliance (SUDA) for a development plan for certain Laney College lands. The proposed SUDA contract, which had been authorized by the outgoing board with little advance notice, generated a storm of protest at the December board meeting and in the press. 

The proposed SUDA contract “put the new board members on the spot,” Gulassa said, calling the proposal “this enormous elephant in the room. The manner in which the decision was made and the resulting furor indicate that this is not a proper way for the district to execute its responsibilities.” He added that the new trustees “had hoped that we were going to start from scratch and talk about how we could make the district operate more efficiently and wisely, and then suddenly we’re hit with this incredible proposal that’s got the public thinking that we’re back in the days of [former Peralta Chancellor Dr. Ronald J.] Temple, when monies were being spent very unwisely.” 

Trustees at the Dec. 14 meeting tabled a Harris proposal for a contract with Scala Design & Development Services of Oakland to develop a district-wide facility land use and bond measure report. 

Gulassa said that three days after the Dec. 14 trustee meeting, Peralta trustees held a “preliminary meeting” with interim Special Assistant to the Chancellor Alton Jelks “to talk about what’s the best way to approach districtwide planning.” And he said he expects the issue to come up again at a board retreat scheduled for mid-January. 

“The style of decisions in the board in the past has been rather abrupt and often without very careful inclusion of all the interested parties in the process,” Gulassa said. “We have to clarify the board procedures so we don’t have surprises and we don’t invite hasty decisions.” 

Gulassa said he is already working with other trustee members on specific reform proposals for the district, including an audit of all of Peralta’s bond funds, and an end to the practice of slipping decisions by the public by disguising them as “discussion items only” on the board agenda. Such practices are currently legal, Gulassa said, because Peralta trustee agendas contain the clause that “any and all of the items brought before the Board may be voted upon tonight at the discretion of the Board.” 

“One of the important things that we’re going to do is get rid of that,” Gulassa said. “If an item is listed as a discussion item, that is exactly what it is intended to be, and it shouldn’t be voted upon until the public is given full notice. And if it’s a major item, maybe we need first reading, second reading, and third reading of that item as it moves through the proper channels.” 

One of the complaints about the proposed SUDA contract was that it was listed as a discussion item on the Nov. 23 agenda, but then voted on by the board. And Gulassa said that it appeared that it was deliberate deception. 

“When I saw the SUDA proposal on the board agenda,” Gulassa said, “I called a board member and asked that it be taken off. And that board member said, ‘don’t worry about it, it’s just a discussion item.’ And then, that very same board member was the one who made the proposal that they adopt that item. So I personally felt very concerned by the manner of that decision.” 

Gulassa would not name the trustee who he called. Area 6 trustee Susan Duncan—whom Gulassa replaced on the board and who was serving in her last meeting—made the motion for the SUDA contract, which was seconded by trustee Alona Clifton. Following the Nov. 23 meeting, an Oakland Tribune article revealed that Clifton had financial ties to a SUDA development project in downtown Oakland. 

Shortly before Harris made his Dec. 14 announcement that the SUDA contract was on hold, Laney College Head Football Coach and Athletic Director Stan Peters told trustee members that the Laney College faculty intended to “call for a grand jury investigation into this illegal affair” in part because Clifton had not disclosed her financial ties to SUDA and recused herself.