(From left to right) Trustees Withrow, Gulassa, Handy and Riley
The Peralta Community College Board of Trustees ended its last meeting of the year on a contentious note Tuesday night.
Tempers flared over the extension of a contract with attorney Larry Frierson for legal advice involving specific personnel and employee relation matters. As was written in the meeting’s agenda, the contract would double Frierson’s fees for 2012-13 from $25,000 to $50,000.
Much of the uproar was due to the Vice Chancellor of Human Resources Trudy Largent’s inability to reveal details to the board about why the contract extension was needed and the exact amount of the extension.
“The scope of the work involves specialized issues relating to employee relations matters that the district anticipates litigation,” Largent said. “I am not at liberty to speak to the nature of those issues in a public meeting.”
Trustee Nicky Gonzalez-Yuen spoke up, saying, “You’re asking us to rubber stamp something we know nothing about. I need to know from the chancellor the world is going to end if we don’t approve the measure before I’ll vote for it.”
Other trustees, including Linda Handy and newly-elected Area 2 representative Meredith Brown, questioned the decision to hire outside contractors.
“There are contractors still around from previous administrations,” Handy said, “Contractors should be short-term. Long-term projects should be done in-house as contractors aren’t subject to the same evaluation process as in-house employees.”
Handy, along with Brown, also had raised objections earlier in the meeting over contract extensions with Turtle Inc. for project manager services from Tony Tortorice concerning an upgrade to district software, as well as a contract extension for Christine Williams for custodial support and operational training at College of Alameda.
Both trustees also were concerned about fairness in the contract-granting process, asking for proof of a competitive bid process in contract extensions.
According to Trustee Bill Withrow, however, most of the board thinks this is a minor issue, adding, “$50,000 doesn’t buy much in in-house services. I don’t see this going away.”
Irritation among board members was raised again when the amount of the contract extension was also brought into question.
Language from the Frierson extension stated, “$25,000 was approved under the Chancellor’s contract authority, and an additional $25,000 is requested not to exceed $50,000 for fiscal year 2012-2013.” However, District Chancellor Jose Ortiz said the cost of the extension was simply a "$25,000 carry over" from last year.
When asked for clarity on the matter, Largent stated the contract amount of $25,000 had been approved last year, but was never used and now is being brought before the board again.
“I don’t know if the contract extension is for $25,000 or $50,000,” Withrow said. “But when you have a shortage in skill-sets, you don’t want to put a full-time person in there, it’s very costly. Better to spend $25,000 on a contractor than $125,000 for a lawyer on staff that we don’t need all the time.”
The seven-member board passed the item with only four “yea” votes.
Matthew Goldstein, president of the Peralta Federation of Teachers, left the meeting clearly upset over the board’s decision. He had urged the board not to extend Frierson’s contract citing the equivalency of the extension amount with the cost of 10 class sections.