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Peralta District Trustee Hodge Escalates Attacks Against Office of International Affairs By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Tuesday November 29, 2005

Embattled Peralta College District Trustee Marcie Hodge has escalated her attacks against the district’s Office of International Affairs, with her sister hiring San Francisco Freedom of Information Act attorney Karl Olson to renew a request for an investigative report on the department. 

Hodge was censured by her fellow trustee board members earlier this year after a contentious Sept. 13 board meeting in which Hodge called for the abolition of the International Affairs Department. 

In a letter sent late last week to Peralta General Counsel Thuy Nguyen on behalf of his client, Nicole Hodge, First Amendment and Freedom of Information Act attorney Karl Olson said that Nguyen refused to release to Nicole Hodge a report on the International Affairs Department authored by investigator Jim Drinkhall. Olson said that the Drinkhall report was denied to Nicole Hodge “on the grounds of attorney-client privilege and attorney work product. ... Mr. Drinkhall is not an attorney and therefore neither privilege applies.” 

Olson gave the district 10 days to comply with his request and hinted at legal action if he did not receive the report. 

In a follow-up telephone interview, Olson called the district’s reasons for denying Nicole Hodge’s request “bogus.” Asked if he would take the district to court if the report was not produced, Olson said “that’s certainly an option. Hopefully they’ll provide the report.” 

Olson most recently represented the Contra Costa Times in a successful lawsuit forcing the City of Oakland to release salary information. 

Nguyen could not be reached for comment in connection with this article. 

According to Peralta Public Information Officer Jeff Heyman, Drinkhall was hired by the district in the summer of 2004 after charges surfaced that Jacob Ng, the International Affairs Office director, was doing outside work with a Hong Kong college while on the Peralta payroll. This was during a period before Hodge was elected to the Peralta Board of Trustees. 

“Chancellor Elihu Harris thought the charges were important enough to investigate, and he hired Mr. Drinkhall on my recommendation,” Heyman said. Heyman, who was previously a private investigator himself, said that he had a former acquaintance with Drinkhall. 

Heyman said that a report was issued by Drinkhall “last June or July.” While he declined to characterize the details of the report, saying that could only be released by General Counsel Nguyen, Heyman said that “the Chancellor felt that we had looked into the matter and we didn’t need to further act.” 

Heyman said that “the closest thing you had to a smoking gun” in Drinkhall’s report was that a member of Ng’s staff had appeared in a promotional video for a Hong Kong college while being retained on the Peralta payroll. Heyman said that “disciplinary action was taken” shortly after the district received that information in the summer of 2004, but citing “personnel privacy concerns” declined to say what action was taken or who that action was taken against. 

In a separate interview, Peralta Trustee Linda Handy confirmed that an employee was dismissed as a result of the promotional video incident. While Handy declined to name the dismissed employee, the confirmation would indicate that the employee in question in the promotional video was not Ng, since Ng continues to work for the district. 

Handy said that trustees were “fully briefed” on the Drinkhall report by district staff in the summer of 2004. “We found that there was nothing there, so there was nothing more to be done.” She said that trustee concerns about the International Affairs Department “predated Marcie’s coming on the board last November. We want to make sure that the district is maximizing its revenue from international students.” But Handy said that many of the concerns raised by Hodge about the International Affairs Office dated back to an earlier period “when [Ron] Temple was Chancellor and before Elihu [Harris] was hired.” Handy said that after she was elected to the board and Temple was fired “we suspended international travel for trustees”—one of the major issues raised in connection with the office—“and we cleared up most of the problems that had previously been reported. What Marcie is talking about is old news.”