Fiscal Matters Draw Fire From Peralta Trustees By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Friday June 17, 2005

The issue of fiscal oversight continued to provide the major heat at Tuesday night’s meeting of the Peralta Community Colleges Board of Trustees, this time with one of the more veteran board members lighting the fire. 

Three-year Trustee Linda Handy lit into Chief Information Officer Andy DiGirolamo’s revised report on $4.1 million in pending district-wide information technology projects. Handy told him, “I have no idea what these figures represent.” 

DiGirolamo’s 13-part PowerPoint presentation was a response to his May 24 budget presentation that four newly-elected members—Nicky Gonzalez Yuen, Cy Gulassa, and Bill Withrow—questioned. 

At the May meeting, Yuen voiced complaints when a spreadsheet report on the Measure E bond account contained bottom-line dollar figures without any details on how the money would be spent. The spreadsheet included a $1.4 million line item for Vista College New Building Networking and another $950,000 line item for the second phase conversion to PeopleSoft’s online management system. 

Measure E was the Peralta District’s $153.2 million repair, renovation, and construction bond passed by Alameda County voters in 2000. $128 million of that money has either been spent or committed to projects. 

DiGirolamo told Handy on Tuesday that the report was only intended as an overview of the planned projects, and that he would return to the board with the requested details at the time his office was actually requesting trustees to approve Measure E expenditures. 

Handy replied that she would prefer that DiGirolamo provide the board with the details earlier “just like we get from other staff members, like Sadiq [General Services Director Sadiq Ikharo] so that we can approve these expenditures in advance like we do with other Measure E funds.” 

When Harris called that a “reasonable request,” Handy replied that “I’ve been asking for that information since last September. It’s now June.” 

Handy said that she had been receiving queries from some of the district’s four colleges about unfinished Internet technology projects. Holding up DiGirolamo’s spreadsheet, she said “if we had a more thorough report, I could answer those questions” about what projects were still pending and what projects had been permanently dropped. 

Saying that he was unaware of many of the unfinished IT projects himself, DiGirolamo explained that many of them had been initiated by his predecessor “and we didn’t get some of that information passed on to us when I first came on board.” 

Trustees also closely questioned, but ultimately approved, close to $430,000 in extra costs associated with the $65 million Vista construction project. About $252,000 of that was for work done by HP Inspections over and above the San Jose company’s $300,000 contract. The extra inspection work had been done without prior approval from Peralta. 

General Counsel Thuy Nguyen confirmed that the HP work was a violation of the firm’s contract, which required prior approval of such extra work. 

General Services Director Ikharo told trustees that the inspections were federally-mandated for the type of building being constructed for Vista College, and that much of the extra billing covered overtime for inspection of steel that Peralta had requested be delivered early. Ikharo said that the early delivery had cut two months off the projected completion date of the project. 

“This translated into a saving for the district of between $2 million to $4 million,” he wrote in his report on the item. 

When Gulassa asked what type of precedent would be set if the board approved such an out-of-contract addition, Chancellor Harris said that it would only say to contractors “that you should proceed at your own risk. We will review such requests on a case by case basis. You may get it, or you may not get it.” 

Harris said that “even though the district may not be legally liable” to pay the money, he had recommended approval because “these were only technical violations of the contract” and “the work was necessary, and the district benefited from it.” 

Only Yuen voted against the HP additions, saying that “I don’t want to send a message to contractors that they can go out of budget and we’ll cover it. That’s irresponsible.” 

In action in closed session, trustees reported that they have approved the rehiring of Odell Johnson as interim President of Laney College for another year, or until a permanent president is found. Johnson has been serving on an interim basis after a previous stint as president of the college. Last month, the district narrowed the search for Johnson’s permanent replacement down to four finalists, none of whom were ultimately hired..