Vote Affirmed Following Random Selection Method

By Li Khan, Associate Editor

March 15, 2023

Following five unsuccessful attempts in two weeks, the Peralta Community College District (PCCD) Board of Trustees successfully approved the appointment of Paulina Gonzalez-Brito (They/Them/Elle), CEO of California Reinvestment Coalition, for the Area 2 vacant seat. The board used a random selection method – drawing a name from a bowl – to aid in their decision between the top two leading candidates, Gonzalez-Brito and Adrien Abuyen.

At a special meeting on March 7, which was scheduled after deliberations in previous meetings failed to resolve a 3-3 voting deadlock, the trustees reviewed their options for overcoming the split interests on the board, including the possibility of randomly selecting from the top two candidates.

The board invited paid consultant Helen Benjamin, a former Contra Costa Community College District Chancellor, to walk them through her proposed process for selecting an appointee, with the goal of completing the process within 30 minutes. Benjamin instructed the board to abide by ground rules for discussion, such as not rehashing comments from previous meetings, and laid out the board’s options, including random selection.

District legal counsel Nitasha Sawhney stated that other boards have used random selection processes to resolve deadlocks, citing Morgan Hill Unified School District and Berryessa Union Elementary School District as examples. 

The trustees agreed that they would affirm whatever outcome a potential random selection process would produce, but decided they would first vote on the top two candidates again, to see if their positions had changed.

The two motions for an appointment failed, first for Gonzalez-Brito and then for Abuyen. Every trustee maintained their previous support for their respective candidate, excepting Trustee Nicky González Yuen, who abstained from both motions. 

At a previous meeting on Feb. 28, when Sawhney first suggested that the board could use alternative means to decide on a candidate, such as “flipping a coin,” and “affirm[ing] it through a motion and a vote,” Board President and Trustee Dyana Delfín Polk responded with discomfort. 

“The gravity of this…the weight of this decision […] should not be a coin toss,” Polk said.

At the March 7 meeting, following the failed motion to appoint Gonzalez-Brito, Polk asked for confirmation on the way forward.

“Once again I want to be clear that this is going to a draw, correct?” Polk said. 

“That seems to be the only way to get it resolved,” Benjamin responded. 

After the failed motion to appoint Abuyen, Polk echoed her previous comments.

“This is not how I wanted it to end up,” Polk said. “I’m not going to repeat what I’ve said already before, I just wanted that on me.” 

Following a brief period of public comment, the board moved forward with the random selection process.

Interim Chancellor Jannett Jackson (left) and Student Trustee Leesa Hogan (right) | Source: Peralta Youtube Channel

Interim Chancellor Jannett Jackson placed the names of the two candidates in a bowl and allowed Student Trustee Leesa Hogan to draw a name from the bowl without looking. Hogan was then instructed to hand the name to Polk, who unfolded it and read out the winner – Gonzalez-Brito. 

The board then motioned to approve the appointment of Gonzalez-Brito. Except for Yuen, who abstained citing “advice of counsel”, all trustees approved the motion.

In a comment provided to The Citizen, President of the Peralta Federation of Teachers Jennifer Shanoski gave her thoughts on the appointment.

“We believe really strongly that Paulina has demonstrated [their] commitment to the community,” Shanoski said. “We hope that [they] can bring us a fresh perspective and that community investment to the job.”

The Citizen also reached out to Richard Thoele, chapter president of Service Employees International Union Local 1021, for comment on the appointment.

“I think Paulina and Adrien are both great candidates. I do believe they both have the district’s best interest in mind. Paulina, I think, is going to be a strong and intelligent addition to our Board of Trustees,” Thoele said.

When asked if he wanted to provide any additional general comment, Thoele expressed his belief in the importance of supporting and encouraging students who serve their community.

“In this instance, I think it was a lost opportunity for the board not to appoint a qualified candidate who was an active student government leader, student trustee, and alumni,” Thoele said.

Mark Johnson, PCCD’s Executive Director for Marketing, Communications, and Public Relations, provided The Citizen with a press release which included a quote from Jackson.

“We had two extraordinary finalists in Adrien Abuyen and Paulina Gonzalez-Brito. There was no wrong answer in a choice between those two individuals who are both proven community leaders,” Jackson said. “I’m so glad that we were able to amicably end the deadlock and come together in support of candidate Paulina Gonzalez-Brito, and we welcome them into the Peralta family. My thanks to the Board of Trustees for completing a difficult process, as the selection saves the District hundreds of thousands of dollars in unnecessary election expenses.”

Gonzalez-Brito expressed their thoughts on being appointed to the board in a comment provided to The Citizen

I’m honored to be appointed to the PCCD Board and to serve the students, faculty, staff and larger community of the Peralta Colleges. Economic justice doesn’t happen without a strong educational system and more specifically without our higher education institutions closest to our communities, community colleges. I look forward to helping to strengthen the Peralta system for current students and to help Peralta reach deeper into communities like Area 2, the area I serve, that are historically disinvested and disenfranchised and can benefit most from the job and career development opportunities offered by Peralta.”

The board officially swore in Gonzalez-Brito at the start of their regular meeting on March 14. Oakland City Councilmember and former PCCD trustee Kevin Jenkins performed the swearing-in ceremony.

Gonzalez-Brito (left) being sworn in by former trustee Jenkins (right) | Source: Peralta Youtube channel