Is the Orange Coast College Foundation trying to hijack their College District’s Board of Trustees?

Publisher’s Note: The following post was submitted to us by an anonymous commenter who is a faculty member at the Coast Community College District.

Just as Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to pack the Supreme Court with his preferred jurists in the 1930s, elements of the Orange Coast College Foundation are now trying to pack the Coast Community College District Board of Trustees with their ideal candidates.

Orange Coast College Foundation is one of four foundations in the District, whose purposes are to raise funds and to increase opportunity for students and student projects. The Coast District Board is currently conducting a review of all four foundations in the District, and has recently uncovered problems at Orange Coast and also with the District’s Foundation. It must be known that the Foundations all use District property, resources, phones, materials, etc, to perform their work, and salaries are paid by District General funds. In other words, the TAXPAYERS support these organizations.

As it is now widely understood that the some within the Orange Coast College Foundation may be involved in political activities, administrators and policy makers alike must give pause to consider the ethical, and legal implications, if this were to be proven true. There are some that feel that the emergence of two candidates for the Coast Board, David Grant and Shana Jenkins, both with proven ties to the Orange Coast College Foundation amounts to retaliation against the Coast Board, for its inquiries, questions, and search for the truth in its proper, legal oversight of all Foundations throughout the District, including that of Orange Coast.

In spite of the baseless claims by Grant and Jenkins concerning the “bloated District bureaucracy” and the “politics” of the Board, the current Board at Coast District has worked hard to establish transparency and openness in governance. It has set up new committees to protect the public and staff from abuses of power such as the 2007 Costco imbroglio, opened doors to the community, and fought to salvage opportunities for students.

The Board has sharply reduced salaries for District executives annually, forced travel hogs like Trustee Walter G. Howald to sharply reduce their travel expenses, and has not taken a pay raise in the last two years. And, members of the Board, in their drive for transparency, have questioned the judgment of the Orange Coast College Foundation on more than one occasion and its various tactics for fundraising, including its requests and demands of student organizations for large donations. The Board’s questionining of the Foundation’s activities led to hostility and invective from Foundation leaders. With this in the backgroup, Grant and Jenkins are now planning to run on a slate to take on the Coast Board, and word is out in the community that a mailer is being planned with the two running together.

Mr. Grant is a former president of Orange Coast College, a past president of the Orange Coast College Foundation, and a foundation Board member. It is widely known that Grant applied in 2009 to get his old job back as College President on an Interim basis, and after being rejected for this position, he took umbrage against the Board of Trustees. He claims of wishing to eliminate bureaucracy and serve students, but many in the community believe he is running because he has a chip on his shoulder due to being rejected for his old job at Orange Coast College.

Mr. Grant has reached out to numerous faculty at Orange Coast, only to be rebuffed because they have endorsed Mr. Grant’s opponent, Dr. Lynne Riddle, who is running a campaign of openness and transparency. Many in the Coast organization fear Mr. Grant, as he has developed a reputation for having a quick temper, and turning on anyone that challenges his authority. Mr. Grant has already begun questioning the practices of the Board, many of which have been correctly and appropriately modified to comply with the Brown Act, Education Code, and other legal areas, areas that were neglected by administrators and some Trustees on a regular basis.

Further, Mr. Grant also has ties to outgoing Trustee and pension double dipper Walter G. Howald. Mr. Howald recently secured a payment of $5,000 for the Newport Beach OASIS organization through the Coast District Foundation – a transaction that has raised eyebrows and begs serious questions of the stewardship of the Coast District Foundation’s Executive Director, Martha Parham. What is worse, why is a Foundation whose charge is to support student initatives, giving funds to a Newport Beach non-profit, squarely in Mr. Howald’s Trustee area?

Ms. Jenkins, a former student leader at Orange Coast College, is running against incumbent Trustee Jim Moreno. Ms. Jenkins, like Mr. Grant, expresses concern about a “bloated” District bureaucracy, but fails to acknowledge the austerity and reductions that have taken place in the organization, the millions of dollars of administrative costs that have been reduced, and a strict hiring freeze that has saved the District millions.

And, both candidates fail to acknowledge that the State of California, not the Coast Community College District Board of Trustees, has reduced the funding apportionments to the District. This has resulted in millions of dollars being lost. In spite of this, the District now offers courses to more people than it did five years ago. The Board of Trustees, has had no choice but to work with the reduced apportionment dollars – a stock contrast the the funding that was available to students during Ms Jenkins’ time as a student. Other Districts have cut further, eliminated summer school, etc, but the Coast Board has used its financial acumen to keep the doors open, to seek out new funding opportunities, and to ensure a smooth operation of the organization in spite of the budget cuts from Sacramento.

In addition to the largely empty allegations that these candidates have made, an Orange Coast College Foundation member, A. Patrick Munoz, has provided legal representation to Ms. Jenkins. How could this be? To make matters more challenging, Mr. Munoz is employed by Rutan & Tucker, a long time vendor to the Coast Board of Trustees, a firm that is currently representing the Board in litigation!

Ms. Jenkins has already ran into possible legal trouble, and was threatened with litigation for incorrectly listing her ballot designation as “public affairs instructor.” This was changed at the request of the Orange County Registrar of Voters, and it is not clear, or transparent, what Ms. Jenkins’ real occupation is, other than a candidate. The fact that a member of the Orange Coast College Foundation is helping another candidate who is working against the organization, and further, that his firm represents the Board in legal matters, is assisting an opposition candidate begs serious ethical questions. Again, how can this be? The breach of Ms. Jenkin’s incorrect ballot designation in itself also raises very serious concerns.

With the ties of Grant and Jenkins to the Orange Coast College Foundation now known, a number of questions must be raised: Are Foundation resources being used to assist the two candidates? This would mean Coast District computers, telephones, emails, networks, etc. being used. Are benefactors to the Orange Coast College Foundation being soliticited by Mr. Grant, Ms. Jenkins, or others for political purposes to help defeat Trustee Moreno and Dr. Riddle? What is the role of Doug Bennett, Executive Director of the Orange Coast College Foundation, in these two campaigns? Is Mr. Bennett soliciting Foundation benefactors on District time to help these candidates?

Seeing Mr. Grant and Mr. Bennett sit together at public meetings also begs serious ethical questions about Mr. Bennett’s objectivity and support for the Coast Board, which is responsible for overseeing his work, given the Foundation’s role as an auxiliary organization to the Coast Board of Trustees. Given these possibilities, a thorough, and possibly criminal investigation, is warranted.

Mr. Grant’s opponent, Dr. Lynne Riddle, and Ms. Jenkins’ opponent, incumbent Trustee Jim Moreno have both been endorsed by Art Pedroza, publisher of the Orange Juice Blog, largely due to their commitment to ethics, transparency and profesionalism in governance.  Let us hope that this vain attempt to pack the Coast Board of Trustees with the candidates supported by elements of the Orange Coast College Foundation fails, and that the electorate sees through this effort to seize control of the Board, in hopes of returning to a past filled with corruption, back-room deals, pension double dipping, travel abuses, employee abuse, favoritism, cronyism, and many, many other unsavory attributes – in other words, an unethical way of doing business that hides the truth from the public, supporting a favored few.

About Art Pedroza