Peralta Trustee Challenger Charges Hodge’s Brother Improperly Sought Confidential Employment Information

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Monday October 20, 2008 - 06:50:00 PM

The race for the Area 2 Peralta Community College District Trustee seat suddenly grew a little chippy last week with the charge that the brother of incumbent Marcie Hodge improperly tried to gain confidential employment information about challenger Marlon McWilson from one of McWilson’s former employers. 

Hodge’s brother, Vallejo City Unified School District Public Information Officer Jason Hodge, says that he met with McWilson’s former employer “to get a feel about him,” but denies that anything improper was done. 

“I keep my professional duties separate from the political,” Jason Hodge said in a telephone interview. 

However, Debra Lindo, the Chief Executive Officer of Oakland-based nonprofit College Track, backs McWilson’s version of the event. 

In a letter sent to Vallejo City Unified Superintendent Mary Bull on behalf of the McWilson campaign last week, Sacramento attorney Rafael Icaza said that late in September, Jason Hodge tried to get employment information about McWilson from Lindo and the Chief Operating Officer at College Track, where McWilson previously worked. 

In the letter, Icaza said that “Mr. Hodge claimed that he was there representing the Vallejo City Unified School District (VCUSD) to follow up on an employment application that Mr. McWilson submitted to VCUSD.” 

McWilson has not applied to Vallejo City Unified for a position. 

In his letter to Bull, Icaza said that Hodge’s actions “are at best inappropriate and defamatory. At worse, they constitute illegal pretexting if he was not truly acting on behalf of VCUSD.”  

Icaza asked the school district to “confirm or deny” whether Hodge was acting on his own or as a district employee in the contact with College Track in order to “enabl[e] Mr. McWilson to decide how next to proceed.” 

“Pretexting” is a relatively new term involving a practice in which an individual seeks to illegally obtain personal information by pretending the information is for legal purposes. 

Hodge said he believes the allegations are an unimportant sideshow to the political race between McWilson and his sister. 

“I suggest they [the McWilson campaign] focus their attention back on Marcie Hodge and the issues in this race,” Hodge said. “She’s the one he’s supposed to be running against, not me.” 

While Hodge says he did meet with Lindo and College Track’s Chief Operating Officer Marshall Lott, he says, “I never said he [McWilson] was applying for a position at Vallejo Unified. I had a discussion with [Lindo] based upon my personal relationship with her.” 

Lindo and Hodge previously knew each other from the period when Lindo was principal at East Oakland’s Castlemont High School. Hodge represented that area on the school board of the Oakland Unified School District from 1996 to 2004. 

Lindo, however, contradicts Hodge on what Hodge said was the reason for soliciting the information on McWilson. 

“He dropped into the office [at College Track] and it was like old home week,” Lindo said. “I gave him a tour of the center. Afterwards I asked him what brought him there. He said that he was there from Vallejo City Unified, and that he was doing a reference check for a position at the school district that Marlon was applying for. I wasn’t head of College Track when Marlon worked here, so I brought in [COO] Marshall Lott, and we gave him [Hodge] the dates and times when Marlon worked. And Marshall Lott shared some positive traits about Marlon.” 

Lindo said that no confidential employee records on McWilson were released to Hodge. She also said that at no time during the discussion did Hodge inform her that McWilson was running for the Peralta Board of Trustees against Hodge’s sister, Marcie. McWilson said he learned about the Hodge-Lindo meeting during a later conversation with Lindo, when Lindo told McWilson she hoped he would get his new position at Vallejo City Unified. 

In his telephone interview, Hodge said that the scenario laid out in Icaza’s letter was implausible because employment information cannot be obtained in such a manner. 

“If [Vallejo City Unified] was really trying to obtain information about McWilson, they would have done so by correspondence with a waiver signed by the former employee,” Hodge said, adding that it would have been improper for College Track to release any information without such a written request and waiver. 

Asked why he felt College Track could share that same information with him as a private citizen that they could not release to Vallejo City Unified, Hodge said “because it was not obtained in any official capacity” regarding his employment with the school district. 

Marcie Hodge campaigns are no strangers to controversy. In 2006, when Marcie Hodge ran against 6th District Oakland City Councilmember Desley Brooks, Alameda County election officials ordered the Hodge campaign removed from the East Oakland church where her mother was pastor, saying that it was an improper mixing of church and state.