Recent actions at Peralta Community College Trustee meetings may be signaling a new era of increased financial scrutiny within the four-college district.
Under former Peralta Chancellor Ron Temple, public attention to Peralta affairs seemed to surface o nly when the district was hit with periodic financial controversies. A 2003 East Bay Express article summed up the scandals, noting that “After virtually bankrupting community college districts in Detroit and Chicago, Dr. Ronald Temple took over Peralta a nd promptly threw the door open for his cronies.”
But Temple is gone, replaced after his retirement in 2003 by former Oakland mayor and California Assemblymember Elihu Harris. The Peralta Board of Trustees is significantly altered from the Temple days. T rustee Vice President Linda Handy was elected in 2002 in part because of community sentiment against Temple’s fiscal policies. And last November, four of the seven-member board chose not to run for re-election, and were replaced by newcomers.
While the n ow veteran Handy has often clashed with newly elected trustees Cy Gulassa and Nicky Gonzalez Yuen on some board policy matters, the combination of changes has brought the district a long way from the Temple era.
The changed Peralta fiscal picture was nev er more evident than at last week’s trustee meeting, when Harris gave a public scolding to contractors of the new Vista College construction in Berkeley for tardily reported cost overruns, and trustees approved a policy that requires additional staff sign-offs on what they called “significant issues” coming before the board.
On Tuesday, Peralta Director of General Services Sadiq Ikharo asked for board’s approval for an additional quarter of a million dollars for professional testing services for HP Inspections, Inc. in the Vista project and a $176,000 fee increase for additional work by Ratcliff Architects.
The overrun requests came without the usual recommendation of approval by Chancellor Harris. A representative of Swinerton Management & Consulting, which is overseeing part of the Vista construction, said that the testing overtime was necessary because of steel shipments that came in two months early.
Harris said he had not had time to investigate their validity, and said he only included them on th e agenda “because of their possible time-sensitive nature, and because the board has requested that they be immediately informed when such matters come to our attention.”
The chancellor appeared to grow annoyed after Swinerton senior project manager Mich ael Raven said that some of the work by HP Inspections had been done as early as last December, and that the information had been passed on to the district office some weeks before.
“I just found out about this last week,” Harris snapped back, “and now I find out that these things have been going on for months? Tell me who was supposed to contact me, and we’ll hang him in the morning.”
As late as last winter, trustees were grumbling about some of the Vista overruns, but approved them anyway. But on Tues day night, on a motion by Trustee Bill Withrow, the board voted to hold over the items for two weeks “until the chancellor can get more information.”
Last January, after hearing repeated requests for change orders asking for more money for the multimilli on dollar Vista construction project, trustees passed a new policy mandating increased board oversight for such change orders.
On Tuesday, trustees also passed a new board policy mandating that any board agenda items involving what they called “significa nt issues” will now require the approval of the district’s general counsel and the chief financial Officer for “fiscal soundness and legal form, respectively.”
The policy defines significant issue items as those involving expenditure of bond funds, excep tions to bidding requirements, non-routine and non-predetermined legal procedures, or contracts with rights or commitments extending for three or more years. The policy also says that the CFO and general counsel signoffs will be required for any other iss ues if requested by one or more trustees.
The new policy replaces a procedure in which the general counsel or chief financial officer sometimes did not even view items until the agenda and board packets were released a few days before trustee meetings, a nd were often not asked for their opinions on items until the actual night of the meeting.
In another measure of the Peralta Board of Trustees’ increasing financial oversight, trustees asked that Peralta Chief Information Officer Andy DiGirolamo return w ith more information in two weeks on district-wide information technology projects in the next two years. Trustee Nicky Gonzalez Yuen had complained that a spreadsheet provided by DiGirolamo for the briefing did not provide any background detail. The spre adsheet listed such items as “PeopleSoft Phase II, Fiscal Year 2005-06, $1,200,000” without giving any further information as to how the money was intended to be spent.