Peralta College Board of Trustees Hires Inspector General to Evaluate District By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR
In a sign of increased scrutiny over district operations that began last January when four new board members were elected, the Peralta Community College District Board of Trustees has hired an inspector general to report directly to the board on district operations.
The inspector general will expand the duties previously carried out by the district’s internal auditor’s position, which only had responsibility over fiscal matters. Peralta’s internal auditor’s position has been vacant for the past two years.
Late last week, the board announced the hiring of Gail Waiters for the part-time position at an annual salary of $50,000. According to Peralta Information Officer Jeff Heyman, Waiters was formerly city manager of San Ramon.
Heyman said he believed the addition of the inspector general position would “help the public keep confidence that the district is looking out for their interests.”
Waiters will evaluate district operations through both scheduled and unscheduled on-site inspections, and has been given a broad mandate to look into educational, hiring, fiscal, and construction and building matters. Waiters is also expected to be the board’s initial contact for “whistleblower” employees who wish to report concerns about district operations.
The new position was instigated by freshman trustee Bill Withrow of Alameda, but was eventually approved with general support from both new and veteran trustees. Waiters was hired on a 6-1 vote.
Withrow, who is a retired naval officer, said inspector generals are common in the military (“Napoleon had one,” he said), and “a lot of corporations have started the practice, but Peralta’s inspector general is unique in California’s community college system. My goal is to have Peralta take the leadership in a lot of these areas.”
He said that board members “often hear about issues or rumors or perceptions concerning the district, but up until now we’ve never had mechanisms in place to address these problems. The inspector general’s position will allow the district to conduct formal investigations quickly. If there is substance to the complaints, the board and the district can immediately address them. It will help us to cut a lot of the clutter out.”
Withrow said that the inspector general, the general counsel, and the chancellor will all work in a partnership in reporting directly to the board of trustees, “with the chancellor, obviously, acting as the senior partner.”
In explaining the purpose of the position, Peralta Trustee Cy Gulassa said following a board meeting earlier this month that the hiring of the inspector general was not a response to any particular problem at the district, but was designed to give trustees an independent look at district activities.
“It’s part of our general responsibility to our constituents,” he said. “The IG’s reports will give us a better tool for evaluation and carrying out our jobs.”
Trustee Linda Handy, the head of the board’s Technology Committee, said that Waiters’ first task will be to produce an evaluation of the Peralta’s ongoing district-wide conversion to PeopleSoft information management system. The finance, human resources, and payroll portions of that conversion were scheduled for implementation this summer, with the entire software scheduled for full implementation by October 2006.
At the end of the summer, shortly after PeopleSoft’s payroll software was installed, Peralta’s payroll suffered significant problems, with some workers paid twice, some workers not paid at all, and some withholding funds not forwarded to outside agencies.
While Peralta Chief Information Officer Andy DiGirolamo blamed the problems on Peralta staff error rather than software error, trustees said the errors had made them leery about the upcoming scheduled conversion to online student registration under the PeopleSoft software. Board members have sharply questioned DiGirolamo over the PeopleSoft implementation.
Last June, Peralta trustees approved a $30,000 study and assessment of the community college district’s information technology operations by Hewlett-Packard. But HP officials declined to enter into the contract after they learned that trustees had included a provision that HP would not be able to later bid on any items that were touched on by the study, and that study is on hold.