Letter to the Editor: Response to Public Records Act Unsigned

0

Letter to the Editor

I thank you for the opportunity to respond to the unsigned editorial for The Sun’s Summer Edition 2016.

I find three main themes that attempt to paint a picture of secrecy and an adversarial attitude toward

student journalists from my administration. These perceptions are false.

The first theme of an “adversarial attitude” toward student journalists is not based in fact. In the four

and a half years I have served as Superintendent/President, I have been open and accessible for each

student interview requested of me. I have been honored consistently in the past with an A rating for

accessibility to student journalists by your editorial board. Additionally, the editorial board in Issue 4 this

year gave 14 of my administrators an A for their consistency in showing a “willingness to talk to the

press, respond to emails and do not make gathering information a chore.” Interestingly, the editorial

board gave me a B this year, although I have had numerous interviews with Sun reporters this year and

my open door policy has not changed.

Regarding the release of documents under the California Public Records Act: I have never, nor has this

Governing Board ever, shied away from being open and transparent with media. One of my first orders

of business upon my arrival was working with the Governing Board to hold a press conference and a

series of reports and media releases to explain how we were placing Proposition R projects on hold to

get the College’s financial house in order. Hundreds of California Public Records requests from media

throughout the region were answered in a manner that addressed media requests while still preserving

the College’s core mission of education. For my efforts demonstrating a commendable understanding of

the need for candor regardless of any potential negative outcomes in the media, the Public Relations

Society of America, San Diego/Imperial County chaptered named me the Diogenes Award winner in

2013.

The editorial’s allegation that it took a letter from a national First Amendment organization to take

action on the nine Public Records requests made by The Sun in April is also untrue. The student

journalist received a response within the 10 days required by the California Public Records Act.

Additionally, because of the sheer volume of records requested (more than 32,000 emails) your reporter

was informed that responses would be provided on a rolling basis as they became available, and that

has happened. We have been so committed to fulfilling these requests, we hired a consultant to

complete the requests as quickly as possible.

The second theme of a “culture of secrecy” is not based in fact. There have never been more

opportunities for stakeholders throughout the district—both internal and external—to be involved in

College decisions. More faculty, students and staff than ever are involved in shared governance through

standing committees of the Shared Consultation Council (SCC). Each of the nine standing committees

meets monthly, with eight of the committees meeting at least twice a month. Each of the SCC meetings

is open to the public, and the SCC meetings have been safe places for employees to bring forward

suggestions and challenges. Throughout my tenure as co-chair of the SCC with the Academic Senate

President, we have seen the SCC leadership grow in inclusivity and transparency.

The awareness of Southwestern College’s positive impact in the community has also grown over the last

four and a half years. I and Trustee Norma Hernandez are members of the South County Economic

Development Council, and several administrators are members of chambers of commerce throughout

the South Bay. We have strengthened the membership of our Southwestern College Foundation and the

Proposition R Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee. Participation in each of these organizations has

allowed our College to inform key communicators throughout the region of the academic achievement

of our students and the status of their financial investment in the College through Proposition R.

Coupled with ongoing presentations made to community groups and service organizations, and well-

attended community forums on campus, awareness of our excellent educational opportunities

continues to grow. Two independent polls conducted this academic year—one of SUHSD parents and

the other of community members—give high marks to Southwestern College for its value. We are

thankful for the community’s continued support of the College and our students. That widespread

enthusiasm for Southwestern College demonstrates openness—not secrecy.

Regarding perceived secrecy of investigations: matters surrounding investigations of any Southwestern

College employee or student will continue to remain confidential. All our employees and students have

a right to privacy regarding personnel or disciplinary actions, and the College must continue to honor

that right.

The third theme of a “cover up culture” is not based in fact. A final point in the editorial “With that

much money on the table, there is little standing in the way to prevent more fraud” is inflammatory and

maligns the efforts of the entire College. Since the College conducted the Proposition R Focused Special

Review in 2012, we have received clean financial and performance audits every year. We have

implemented all 20 of the action steps recommended by the Focused Special Review. The final updates

to all of the policies in the 6000 category (Business and Financial Affairs) are making their way through

our review process and will be finalized before November of this year. We refinanced our Proposition R

bonds in 2015 for a savings to taxpayers of $3.69 million. We expect to refinance the bonds again this

year for a potential savings of $13 million to taxpayers. We have achieved AA bond credit ratings from

Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s. We present Proposition R updates at each of our monthly open, public

Governing Board meetings, and we’ve provided ongoing updates regarding Proposition R and the

potential for a new bond at our Planning and Budget Committees, Shared Consultation Council and

Institutional Facilities Committee. Our Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee is very involved in the

Proposition R program. To imply that I or my team have not been open and inclusive about our current

bond is irresponsible and harms the College and its employees and students.

The facts demonstrate that Southwestern College, this administration, and this Governing Board have

restored integrity to the Proposition R bond program and we will continue to do so. I am proud of the

great strides we have made in improving our college culture to be far more transparent and inclusive of

our community as a whole. And, we have steadfastly supported the Sun and the student journalists who

are learning how to present a fair and balanced source of information for our college community. My

thanks to the editorial board for sharing my viewpoint with you.

Share.

About Author

Comments are closed.