January 12, 2020

by Pamela Rudd, Opinion Editor

Nearly one month after the Peralta Community College District awarded $6.2 million in contracts to four local security firms that would replace the Alameda County Sheriffs, public records requests intended to gain clarity about the process have gone unanswered by the district.

The California Public Records Act, the state-specific Freedom of Information Act, allows the public to make information requests from any public institution. Records subject to public inspection can include writing, contracts, recordings or emails. According to California’s public record request laws, the district had 10 business days to respond with the records, request an extension or deny the request. 

Beginning on November 4th, The Citizen tried to obtain information about the chosen community-based security providers and the process by which they were vetted. Staff reached out to former Vice Chancellor of General Services Leigh Sata, district buyer and project manager Myisha Lewis-Reed, Interim Chancellor Carla Walter’s executive assistant Brandon Christian, Chancellor Walter and Atheria Smith, Acting Vice Chancellor of General Services. 

Since the initial request, Citizen reporters have emailed district officials a total of eight times to request information about the RFP process in order to understand how the providers were vetted and to obtain contact information for interviews. The Citizen did not receive a response.

As reported on December 14, The Citizen discovered that state-required Private Patrol Operator (PPO) licenses and city licenses, both necessary for operations as a security company, were not found on database searches. In addition, questions remain about several addresses listed on the contracts.

On November 19th, pursuant to the state freedom of information act (FOIA) Cal. Gov’t Code Secs. 6250-6277, The Citizen formally requested from Johnson, Walters and Smith access to a copy of all responses to RFP: 19-20-03 including that of Zulu, A1 Security Services, Community Ready Corps, Marina Security and any additional applicants, and the minutes and agenda of the mandatory pre-proposal meeting June 15, 2020 and any Zoom recordings of that meeting. 

As of January 8, the district has yet to respond or provide any of the requested documents.

According to a District statement from Executive Director of Marketing, Communications and Public Relations, Mark Johnson, only two of the companies, Marina and A1 Protective Services, have been onboarded and are currently providing safety services for all four campuses

However, “The District is continuing to work with Community Ready Corps (CRC) and Zulu Protective Services (Zulu) to meet the District’s requirements and prepare them for the onboarding process”, said Johnson. 

The duration of this change and associated costs have yet to be announced. 

When the district seeks proposals and bids from the community for a project over $25,000, a request for proposal (RFP) is issued. These requests, which are housed on the district’s RFP website, give a description of the scope of work, and the required format the proposals should follow, and the standards the district will use to evaluate the proposals. The proposals for public institutions have a strict timeline and expiration date.

California Code, Public Contract Code – PCC 10344 outlines this process and delineates that all proposals for public institutions should meet the “requirements and standards specified in the RFP,” that contracts are to be awarded to the “lowest responsible bidder” and the evaluations and scoring sheets of all proposals shall be available to the public for inspection. 

Furthermore, all bid price and cost information should be contained in a separate sealed envelope, and “shall then be publicly opened and read.”

Board Policy 6340 draws on the California Public Contract Code, stating: “The Board shall award each such contract to the lowest responsible bidder who meets the specifications published by the District and who shall give such security as the Board requires, or reject all bids.” 

Agenda item details for the June 9th Board of Trustee meeting, prepared by then Department of General Services Vice Chancellor Leigh Sata, stated “An RFP is currently out on the community-centered vendor and a contract will subsequently be brought forward upon the completion of the RFP process.”

The solicitation for “district-wide community based safety services” companies, also known as RFP 19-20/10, was issued by the District the week of June 8 with a due date of June 23. 

The District uploaded additional documents after the submission deadline of June 23, but it is unclear the role of those documents. There is a second deadline for RFP 20-21/02, which is also for district wide community based safety services with a due date of August 26.

No information regarding any of the proposals submitted in response to the RFP was made public prior to the posting of the contracts on the public Board of Trustees’ Agenda December 14.

The June 2018 report issued by the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT) noted in the executive summary that there is “a widespread perception that key district operational procedures are ‘simply broken’,”nonadherence to policies and procedures” and “expectations are unclear, and transparency, partnerships, and teamwork are not modeled” at Peralta.

The report stated that “in a public agency, employees are the custodians of public resources and should be expected to honor their public commitment by modeling the highest level of accountability at all levels of employment… Lack of accountability and accusations of favoritism have left employees questioning the ethics of district leadership.”    

The Citizen’s November 19 FOIA request would have allowed the newsroom state-mandated access to information that would clarify how the district selected the four security vendors. The district had the option to issue a letter of denial, or request additional time to gather the information.

 In Johnson’s January 7 announcement he also said that the District is “evaluating concerns and issues raised” about Community Ready Corps and Zulu Protective Services, adding that the district has hired Knowledge Saves Lives, a security consultant based in Merced, to review the two firms’ “qualifications, experience, regulatory compliance, structure, and make recommendations to the District.” 

No indication was given as to the additional cost of this consultant, or why a consultant would be required if Zulu and CRC met the specifications of the RFP. Questions remain as to how the District decided to award $2,016,000 to CRC and $1,466,873 to Zulu.

The Open Government Act of 2007 advised Congress to regularly review what is commonly referred to as the Freedom of Information Act “…to ensure that the Government remains open and accessible to the American people and is always based not upon the “need to know” but upon the fundamental “right to know.”  

The Citizen emailed Special Assistant to the Chancellor/Chief of Staff Royl Roberts on January 7th to ask how these vendors were chosen, but Roberts did not respond by publication.