The Peralta Community College District Board of Trustees confirmed Judy Walters as the first head of Berkeley City College Tuesday night, but not without some contention and controversy.
Following an extended closed session that delayed the normal 7 p.m. meeting opening time by an hour, trustees announced that Walters had been selected for the position by a narrow 4-3 vote.
There was no indication of which board members voted for Walters’ hiring and which board members voted against it.
And unlike in other personnel hiring announcements, trustees did not immediately disclose Walters’ salary. When Service Employees International Union Local 790 chief steward Greg Marro later asked in the board’s public comment section why the salaries of two other hired employees had been announced that evening but not Walters’, Peralta Board Chair Linda Handy ruled that the board could not reply to questions asked at public comment.
Peralta Director of Communications Jeff Heyman said by telephone later this week that Walters had been hired at a salary of $152,010, the same salary for which she had been working on an interim basis. Heyman said that because the salary did not change, Walters’ exact salary schedule information was not in front of Peralta Chief Financial Officer Tom Smith at the time of the board announcement, and so, Heyman said, Smith chose not to reveal anything rather than give out an incorrect amount.
“Our salaries are all public information,” Heyman said. “There’s nothing to hide, here.”
Following the meeting, Walters said that she was “thrilled to be the first president of Berkeley City College. I’m really thankful for all of the support I’ve gotten from the faculty, staff, and students and from the Berkeley community.”
Walters served for the past two years as interim president of the former Vista College, which changed its name to Berkeley City College in connection with this summer’s move into its newly constructed campus on Center Street in downtown Berkeley.
During Tuesday night’s trustee meeting, Board President Handy apologized to the meeting audience for having to wait an hour for the meeting to begin, saying only that trustees had a “full agenda.” By California’s open meeting law, public bodies must provide an agenda for any items to be discussed in closed session, but are only required to report on actions taken.
Aside from labor negotiations and a long list of pending court cases—which normally appear on every Peralta Trustee closed session agenda—also listed on the closed session agenda for Tuesday night’s meeting were the appointments of three employee positions, including Walters’, and evaluation and contract extensions for Chancellor Elihu Harris and Inspector General Gail Waiters. No announcement was made of any action taken on either Harris or Waiters.
The only hint of what may have occurred in closed session Tuesday night came from one trustee who emerged from the meeting to discover that the air conditioning had accidentally come on in the main meeting room because of a faulty thermostat. While others in the meeting room were complaining that it was suddenly too cold, the trustee remarked, “It feels good,” and, then, gesturing back toward the lounge where the closed session had just broken up, “It was pretty hot back there.”
In other action at Tuesday’s meeting, trustees unanimously adopted a $98.9 million final budget for the 2006-07 fiscal year that raised salaries by more than $2 million, cut benefit costs by $3.5 million, left $5.2 million unallocated, and a reserve fund a half a percentage point over the state-required 5 percent.
In remarks to the board explaining the budget, Peralta Chief Financial Officer Tom Smith called last year “a remarkable year,” noting that enrollment in the four college districts grew slightly, “while many other community college districts in the state had declines.”
Other highlights of the year, Smith said, included an agreement reached with the Alameda County Medical Center and Merritt College for nurse training for Highland Hospital, the issuance of bonds to fund employee health benefits in the district “while other districts are shifting those costs over to their employees,” and the opening late this summer of both the new Berkeley City College campus and the new Laney art building.