One Year Later, Measure A Still Has No Citizen Oversight

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Tuesday June 26, 2007

More than a year after local voters approved the Peralta Community College District’s Facilities Bond Measure A, authorizing the four-college district to issue some $390 million in bonds, a citizens’ oversight committee required by that measure has yet to organize itself, has yet to meet, and has not yet been fully formed. 

The Peralta Board of Trustees recently approved Chancellor Elihu Harris’ appointment of former Assemblymember and current State Senate candidate Wilma Chan to serve on the committee, leaving the committee one member short of its full seven membership complement. 

Peralta Vice Chancellor Tom Smith says the oversight committee has not yet met because “there is nothing for them to do.” 

Smith said the district has been offering “informational” tours of its facilities and construction sites, but noted that “those are not mandatory,” and the committee “is not making any decisions.” 

It is unclear whether such “informational” tours by the committee fall under the California Brown Act, which requires notification to the public and the ability of the public to be present “for any gathering of a quorum of a ... body [covered by the act] to discuss or transact business under the body’s jurisdiction.” 

Peralta General Counsel Thuy Twi Nguyen did not return a voicemail requesting her opinion on the matter. Jeffrey Heyman, Peralta Executive Director for Marketing, Public Relations and Communications, called in her place, saying that any questions to Nguyen for this story should be submitted to his office in writing by e-mail and he would have them answered. 

Measure A required the organization of the oversight committee within 60 days of the district’s authorization of voter approval of the bond measure, an authorization that took place in July of last year. 

Meanwhile, the district continues to authorize and spend millions of dollars in Measure A facilities bond money without the oversight committee. 

At its last meeting alone, on June 12, the Peralta Board of Trustees approved four separate projects involving the expenditure of approximately $2.5 million. An exact amount is not available because funding for one of the projects, the renovation of the district headquarters, is listed on the minutes as coming from both Measure A and the district’s previous construction bond, Measure E.  

Independent performance and financial audits called for in the bond measure have yet to be completed, according to Vice Chancellor Smith, because the district’s fiscal ’06-’07 books have yet to be closed. Smith said the two areas will be part of the report of Peralta’s outside auditors, Vavrinek, Trine, and Day, and should be available in October or November. 

Besides Chan, one of two community-at-large representatives on the committee, oversight committee members, with their interest areas in parentheses, now include Bay Area World Trade Center President and CEO Jose Dueñas (business), League of Women Voters Berkeley Albany Emeryville Community College Chair Helene LeCar (community-at-large), Laney College student Scott Folosade (students), Peralta Foundation President and EBMUD Board Member Bill Patterson (representing a group supporting the community college), and Polly Amrein (senior citizens). 

A seventh committee member, San Francisco accountant Hyacinth Ahuruonye, who once served as campaign treasurer for former Oakland City Councilmember Moses Mayne, was appointed last November to represent taxpayers associations, but Vice Chancellor Smith said that Ahuruonye has since been dropped from the committee. 

“He’s not a local property taxpayer,” Smith said, “and I believe that’s an important criteria for committee membership. We are currently looking for someone to represent a taxpayers group.” 

Another unstated reason for Ahuruonye’s removal, however, may have been a lack of affiliation with a recognized taxpayers’ association. Ahuruonye’s name was not familiar to local or state taxpayers’ associations which are represented on other bond measure committees, and last year, Ahuruonye failed to respond to telephone calls requesting information on what taxpayers’ association he represented. 

The purpose, duties, and makeup of the Measure A oversight committee are set out in California Education Code Sections 15278 through 15282, which is referenced in the Measure A text. 

The oversight committee purpose, according to the Education Code, is to “inform the public concerning the expenditure of bond revenues.” 

To do so, the code lists several activities that the oversight committee “may” engage in, including reviewing both the performance and financial audits, inspecting school facilities and grounds “to ensure that bond expenditures are [properly] expended,” and “reviewing efforts by the school district or community college to maximize bond revenues by implementing cost-saving measures.”