I spent 4 years on the WCCUSD Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee starting in January 2011. Then in January 2015, I decided to take a break from district involvement after almost 10 years in various school district committee and PTA positions in the West Contra Costa Unified School District. I also felt it was important to make room for new people to contribute. Now, I’m back.
Dennis Clay, project analyst in the district for 11 years, blew the whistle on alleged improprieties in the West Contra Costa Unified School District construction program in April of this year. I posted the contents of his submitted DVD and related files online here:
It’s almost July and still no clear definition of the forensic audit to be conducted from the school board, but at least it hasn’t been swept under the rug—not completely at least.
I’m now the secretary of the West Contra Costa Unified School District Citizens Bond Oversight Committee. How did this happen?
At the last committee meeting (on August 15th), as an aside, the chair, Robert Studdiford, stated that there would be elections for officers at the next meeting. He gave no other information. I assumed this meant the usual roll-over of the current officers.
Leading up to this September 26th meeting, there was no information available to the committee as a whole about whether the current officers would continue. No clue in the agenda. It just said “Officer Elections.”
When we had our meeting, the chair said we were supposed to have voted on officers awhile before, but it just hadn’t worked out. Then it turned out he wasn’t running for re-election this time. Whatever the explanation, it was a surprise. Kris Hunt nominated me for chair. Then, Mr. Studdiford, the chair, nominated Joseph Gallia, the Construction Trades Council representative.
Without any further discussion, we moved to a vote and Robert’s hand-picked successor was duly elected 6-4. I ended up as secretary, because nobody else wanted the job. (Or, maybe the hand-picked person didn’t make it to the meeting.)
The bright side is Robert is no longer chair. However, here’s what concerns me about this:
- There was no discussion about the contested presidential election, just steamrollering to a vote. When there was a contest for secretary last time, we had a discussion. Making up the rules at the moment of their application is not right. I would have liked to hear what Mr. Gallia would do as chair and to have been able to say what I would do as chair.
- The most bizarre aspect of this is related to the fact that Robert is running for school board. Joseph is a business agent for Ironworkers Union Local 378. This union has endorsed Robert as a candidate (and presumably given him money). So, Robert installed an official of a union supporting him for school board as his replacement as chair of our oversight committee.
Update: It turns out that since I last checked his endorsements page, Robert has updated it. Now, there is no longer a listing for the Ironworkers Union. If this page was from his 2008 run, it seems pretty weird that a campaign would not replace the page till now. (Here’s the Google archive link of the last version of the page and a screen cap I took of the archived page–in case the link gets overwritten.)
WCCUSD has a Citizens Bond Oversight Committee (CBOC) as a statutorially required part of the District’s bond construction program. Generally, people who like an extremely expansive bond program think the CBOC is doing great; those who prefer a less expansive program think it is doing — not so great. For an “oversight” committee, this is a definite red flag that something might be wrong with the CBOC.
What kind of factors might be making the CBOC less effective? I’ll touch on a few below, but keep in mind that the ultimate accountability for the bond construction program is on the School Board, which has the power to make the decisions about bond expenditures.
The Scope of the CBOC
There has been a lot of quibbling about what the scope of the CBOC is. Any reasonable person who looks at the Ed. Code provisions governing CBOC and applies a little bit of common sense, can see that the scope of CBOC is essentially limitless concerning the expenditures of bond monies. This doesn’t mean that decisions have to be vetted first through CBOC before a decision can move through the pipeline that leads to a School Board decision, but, if the CBOC does want to look at a decision at any point in the pipeline without this being a requirement for a decision moving through the pipeline, it’s the CBOC’s decision to make. For CBOC to be effective, the broad scope of the CBOC interest in the bond program has to be accepted.
The Stance of the CBOC
The committee is defined as an “oversight” committee in its title. This implies a certain critical distance between the the committee and the bond program. This is not what has been happening. Instead, the CBOC has evolved into something of a booster club for bond expenditures in the District. There might be some place for such a group, but it should be separate from CBOC. For CBOC to be effective, this critical distance needs to be asserted.
Packing of the Committee
The Ed. Code describes a committee with a minimum of 7 members consisting of certain types of members. The WCCUSD CBOC includes more than 20 members consisting of a large variety of members. This tends to make the committee more unwieldy from the the sheet weight and maintenance effort from such a large group. It also dilutes the effect of the statutorially required types of members. A member who “shall be active in a bona fide taxpayers’ organization” is much less effective as a representative of that perspective as 1 of 20 or so other members versus being 1 of 7 members. For CBOC to be effective as an oversight committee, the membership should be slimmed down to 7 to 9 members.