August 2, 2022
By Ken Lester, Managing Editor
The Peralta Community College District’s (PCCD) Board of Trustees convened on Tuesday, July 26 for the last time before their August recess. The meeting covered a proposed revision to board travel policies, the approval of a multi-million dollar contract to begin development on the new Childcare Development Center on the Merritt College Campus, and a closed session meeting concerning a threat to public services.
Berkeley City College (BCC) Vice President of Instruction Kuni Hay filled in for BCC President Angélica Garcia, and student Trustee Leesa Hogan was absent.
Board of Trustees Travel Allowance
Former Contra Costa Community College District Chancellor Helen Benjamin, who has been paid as a consultant for the Board of Trustees since 2020, led a conversation about the current administrative procedure for travel, and how the trustees feel the policy might be updated and improved.
The discussion was a continuation of an item from a July 13 special meeting of the board. The meeting was not live streamed on YouTube, and registration was required to attend the meeting. As of August 1, the video was not on PCCD’s YouTube channel, and it is unclear if the meeting was recorded by the district or not.
During that meeting, Trustee Linda Handy made it known she felt revisiting travel policy and procedure was not being done in good faith, saying “this travel piece is contentious, it’s been biased, it’s racist, I’m really pissed, and that’s a discussion that we need to have fully.”
Handy later expressed a belief that she and Trustee Kevin Jenkins were being singled out by the board, and proclaimed that the trustees’ travel is “confidential.”
Here are audio excerpts from Handy’s remarks during the July 13 special meeting:
Although the Board of Trustees publicly votes to approve travel for all other district administrators, classified professionals, and faculty during their bi-weekly meetings, providing the public with digital copies of all travel requests via the meeting agenda, the trustees’ own travel is approved behind closed doors. Records of these travel requests and approvals, while technically public, are only accessible via the filing of a Public Records Act request with PCCD.
In the same July 13 meeting, Trustee Nicky González Yuen expressed some of the issues he had with the current policy, describing the confusion and lack of transparency created by the fact that there is no written travel budget for the trustees, and seemingly no recourse for instances of trustees going over budget.
“This board, about 10 years go, Linda and Bill you were here, we increased in closed session – it probably shouldn’t have been done there – but we had a discussion about travel. We at the time had a $5,000 annual travel budget, we increased that to $7,500, I never saw it in writing, but it was done. I then found out that some trustees were going over that limit and were dipping into the overall pot if there was money in the overall pot.” González Yuen said.
Here is a recording of some of González Yuen’s comments from the July 13 special meeting:
During the meeting on July 26, Handy noted that compared to her early years on the board, the cost of conferences has gone up dramatically, sometimes even doubling or tripling in price.
Handy also said that traveling to these conferences, a practice that she and other members of the board argued as invaluable to the district, is being put at jeopardy by the low annual budget in comparison to those rising prices.
Mirroring Handy’s comments on the importance of these conferences, Jenkins pointed out the lack of direct training board members receive after being elected, and explained that attending conferences acted as a welcome substitute that played a major role in his professional development.
“In the next five months we might have four new trustees on the board – and that’s a majority of the board, and the ability to sink this district – so I want to ensure that they are able to get the proper training that they need to do the job that they need to do to keep this district moving forward,” Jenkins said.
Before moving on from the item, Handy reiterated her frustration with the board, mentioning that she believed the renewed interest in updating the travel policy was based on an insinuation of wrongdoing by her and Jenkins.
“I also want to be real clear – we want to make a policy, but no one has abused this,” Handy said.
Although a final vote was not taken, requested adjustments to the current travel policy, including a set $7,500 annual travel budget per trustee and a more public record of board travel, were noted by Benjamin and will be included in a new draft administrative travel policy. The updated policy will be presented to the board for possible ratification when they reconvene in September.
Merritt College Child Development Center
The action item was originally included in the board’s consent calendar, a list of items to be voted on all at once without further examination, but Trustee Jenkins requested to pull the item for discussion, citing the scale of the investment as the reason.
“In the future if there’s an item that’s this big in dollar amount, I would love for it to come to discussion and not go on consent calendar,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins then noted his excitement about the project, saying “there are so many that are in need of child care services, and I’m so excited that we’re going to have this facility at Merritt College. I’m also excited to hear that there’s minority, small, local participation on this project and also that there’s women participation on this project.”
According to the deliverables and scope of work posted in the agenda item details, the new building will house preschool and adult classrooms, administrative offices, food service facilities, teacher preparation rooms, resource rooms, and restrooms.
There is no official date set for the beginning of construction, but the facility is anticipated to be completed by June 30, 2024.
In an item scheduled during closed session, a portion of the meeting not open to the public, PCCD Director of Public Safety Tim Thomas gave an “update” alongside Edwin Prather, the personal attorney of Thomas, who earlier this year gave a statement to the Citizen in regards to an incident involving Thomas and an elderly male that resulted in Thomas being cited by the Oakland Police Department.
By law, meetings of a legislative body of a local agency must be public, and may only be held in closed session under specific circumstances.
According to the legal code provided by PCCD via BoardDocs, the update was allowed to be held during closed session because it dealt with “matters posing a threat to the security of public buildings, a threat to the security of essential public services, including water, drinking water, wastewater treatment, natural gas service, and electric service, or a threat to the public’s right of access to public services or public facilities.”
When the trustees began the open session, Board Vice President Dyana Delfín Polk stated that there was nothing to report from the closed session, signaling that no votes or final actions were taken.
The Citizen reached out to Thomas for comment and further detail about the threat to safety, including a question on whether the public has any reason for immediate worry, but in an email response from Mark Johnson, PCCD’s Executive Director of Public Information, Communication, and Media, the district declined to elaborate.
“Director of Public Safety Tim Thomas forwarded your message to me. We cannot comment on closed session items,” Johnson wrote.
The Board of Trustees will not meet in the month of August due to an annual recess which also occurs in February and April.
During the break, the board will temporarily delegate power to approve contracts to Interim Chancellor Jannett Jackson. These contracts will be presented to the board for ratification at their next regular meeting, which is scheduled for September 13, 2022.