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CCCCD: Details emerge about executive vice chancellor's claim of retaliation against college district

Huff's allegations target former board members, current chancellor; follows internal ruling against many aspects of his underlying complaint

Months before joining in a public records lawsuit against his own district, a longtime top administrator with the Contra Costa Community College District filed a claim against the agency alleging retaliation, discrimination and an inappropriate lack of transparency in internal investigative processes.

The claim from Eugene "Gene" Huff -- a redacted copy of which has been obtained by DanvilleSanRamon.com -- alleges a series of retaliatory actions by now-former Governing Board members Greg Enholm and Vicki Gordon as well as interference by new Chancellor Bryan Reece, who was hired by the board just weeks before incumbents Gordon and Enholm lost their reelection bids in November 2020.

Gene Huff, the college district's executive vice chancellor of financial services, has been on paid administrative leave since Aug. 12. (File photo)

"The actions of the District have had a lasting and negative impact upon (Huff's) reputation in the education profession and Claimant's ability to earn income," the claim stated.

"The impact upon Claimant's future incoming earning ability, along with a reduction of reportable income as a result of the biased performance evaluation, will similarly translate into a reduction in retirement benefits," Huff's claim added.

Huff, a longtime San Ramon resident who works as CCCCD's executive vice chancellor of financial services and served as interim chancellor before Reece's appointment, filed his claim with the district on July 31 -- one day after Reece issued an administrative determination rejecting many elements of Huff's prior complaint alleging violations of whistleblower protections and retaliation.

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Huff was placed on paid administrative leave on Aug. 12. His claim was ultimately denied by the current Governing Board in a notice sent to Huff on Sept. 9, on the grounds that it had been filed more than six months after the events in question took place.

CCCCD spokesperson Tim Leong did not offer a comment when contacted about the denied Huff claim this week. Enholm and Gordon have both publicly denied the allegations of retaliation against them.

Huff’s legal counsel Gregory McCoy was unavailable for comment as of Friday afternoon.

A member of the CCCCD staff for nearly two decades, Huff got his start working in human resources in 2001, rising through the ranks to become vice chancellor of that department in 2004. Huff was promoted to his current position, executive vice chancellor of financial services in 2013.

He served as interim chancellor from January through October 2020, until Reece was hired to start Nov. 1.

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Huff remains on paid administrative leave, Leong said on Thursday, amid an ongoing investigation -- the nature of which has not been disclosed publicly.

A claim of retaliation

Huff's claim, as well as his public records lawsuit filed this month, bring to light new details about what has been occurring largely behind the scenes during tumultuous times for the district's upper administration in 2020 and 2021.

They include revelations that Huff alleged retaliation, whistleblower protection and ethics violations by Enholm, Gordon and Trustee John Márquez in a complaint later investigated by a third-party firm, and that Reece ultimately ruled against a number of the assertions from Huff as well as disagreed with several key conclusions from that outside investigator.

"The District's administrative determination is in fact little more than a cover up seeking to obfuscate the facts determined by an independent investigation to be correct," Huff's claim argued.

According to Huff's allegations, Gordon falsely accused the administrator of a number of statements that she knew to be false, including saying he was guilty of misconduct and bullying, when he was being considered as interim chancellor at the end of 2019.

Gordon resigned from her previous role as board secretary, according to the board report from that meeting. Huff's claim alleges that acknowledging wrongdoing publicly "only strengthened (Gordon's) resolve to retaliate against" Huff for his role in the investigation that gave way to this public acknowledgement.

The claim attributes a similar motivation to Enholm, who was also accused of ethics violations in a private investigation that said he'd inappropriately pressured former chancellor Fred Wood to appoint a district professor as interim president of Contra Costa College, and consider the professor for the position permanently.

Huff was once again involved in this internal investigation, and he alleged that the public allegations against Enholm spurred retaliation against him, after being forced to acknowledge misconduct in the same July 22, 2020 meeting Gordon had.

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Gordon and Enholm signed resolution agreements acknowledging ethics violations prior to this meeting on July 2, 2020, which were made public at the July 22, 2020 meeting.

However both largely denied the findings of misconduct in the investigations, and Enholm later expressed regret at having signed the agreement.

Gordon and Enholm also alleged the timing of the investigations was suspect and likely politically motivated, with their seats each up for election that fall. Gordon ultimately lost her reelection bid to Judy Walters in November 2020, when Enholm also failed to regain his seat, being defeated by Fernando Sandoval.

Huff's claim accuses trustees of additional retaliation at the same meeting in July 2020, in their vote not to renew the contracts of then associate vice chancellors Dio Shipp and Jonah Nicholas, contrary to Huff’s recommendation as interim chancellor.

Nicholas and Shipp are now fellow signatories along with Huff on a civil petition accusing the district of withholding public records, including the full findings of several investigation reports and supporting documents, including Huff’s.

McCoy, legal counsel for all three in the joint lawsuit, said that not releasing the findings of investigations defeated the purpose of investigations, in an interview with DanvilleSanRamon on Oct. 22.

"The whole purpose of getting an investigator is getting (their final report)," McCoy said. "Yet we go through that exercise and the district doesn’t produce that report."

Allegations of interference

Huff's claim additionally accuses first-year chancellor Reece of having "inserted himself into all human resources functions of the district" in order to "manipulate personnel complaints against the District by silencing any independent review."

Bryan Reece, chancellor of CCCCD. (File photo)

A memo from Titan Group investigators, sent to the board on June 21, raised similar concerns about the chancellor. The investigators, who were looking into allegations that a district professor had paid students to enroll in his classes, attached a text message exchange reportedly between that professor and Reece that points to some of their concerns with the chancellor’s involvement in the investigation.

In the exchange, Reece reportedly affirmed twice that the investigation into the complaint against the faculty member would be suspended. The investigators also detailed concerns about their experience looking into the complaint, and what they saw as disruption and meddling in the investigation process by the chancellor.

The memo also raised concerns about an apparent motive for putting Shipp, associate vice chancellor and chief human resources officer, on administrative leave earlier that month.

“Additionally, Chancellor Reece has removed already assigned Legal Counsel assigned to provide legal support and placed the Vice-Chancellor of HR on administrative leave after they spoke up about the unethical actions Chancellor Reece was proposing,” said Edward Saucerman, Titan Group president and CEO, in the June 21 memo. “These actions are clearly part and parcel of his obstruction and intolerable.”

The reason for Shipp's ongoing paid leave has not been specified publicly by the district, only said to be an undisclosed personnel matter.

"During this time, the HR department will be reporting directly to me," Reece said, as part of an emailed statement to the district community on June 10, after the decision to put Shipp on leave.

Reece himself was also placed on administrative leave for just over two weeks this year before being reinstated on Oct. 1 in a 3-2 vote allowing him to return to work while an ongoing investigation into undisclosed "personnel matters" continues.

Among the issues Huff alleges in the July 31 claim is Reece’s use of administrative determinations that reject, or only partially accept, the findings of third-party investigations.

The recent joint suit for public records argues that without making the findings of these investigations public, instead only selecting portions of them to quote in justifying the final administrative determinations, the district is asking that the chancellor be taken at his word regarding investigations, when he allegedly has a history of interfering in such matters.

On July 30, one day before Huff filed a claim against the district, Reece released the administrative determinations regarding an investigation into Huff’s complaints of retaliation by the district.

The allegation that Gordon made improper remarks about Huff was sustained in part, due to findings that she’d read an anonymous complaint with false allegations against Huff, but the determination said there was not sufficient evidence to suggest that this was in retaliation for Huff’s role in previous investigations.

The administrative determination also partially sustained investigation findings that Huff had not been notified of the complaint about him, read by Gordon in a closed session on Dec. 11, 2019, but argued that no such notice was legally required by the Brown act.

Huff also alleged, in the complaint that spurred the investigation, that his contract was not renewed, and his recommendation to renew the contracts of Shipp and Nicholas were rejected, as retaliation by members of the board for his involvement in the investigation into Gordon. He additionally alleged that Gordon and Enholm had made improper and untrue statements in his 2020 performance evaluation.

The third-party investigation findings, which supported these assertions, were not sustained in the district’s administrative determination.

The administrative determination, signed by Reece, also addresses a separate finding in the outside investigation, which pointed to concerns about Reece meddling in district investigations.

“In a footnote in her investigation report, the investigator noted that ‘staff and management overwhelmingly expressed concern that Chancellor Reece or Board member may not comply with the District's Whistleblower policy regarding their involvement in this investigation,’” the administrative determination said. “The investigator provided no evidence from you or other witnesses who participated in the investigation to support such an assertion.”

DanvilleSanRamon.com editor Jeremy Walsh contributed to this report.

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Jeanita Lyman
Jeanita Lyman joined the Pleasanton Weekly in September 2020 and covers the Danville and San Ramon beat. She studied journalism at Skyline College and Mills College while covering the Peninsula for the San Mateo Daily Journal, after moving back to the area in 2013. Read more >>

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CCCCD: Details emerge about executive vice chancellor's claim of retaliation against college district

Huff's allegations target former board members, current chancellor; follows internal ruling against many aspects of his underlying complaint

by / Danville San Ramon

Uploaded: Fri, Oct 29, 2021, 4:09 pm
Updated: Sun, Oct 31, 2021, 8:50 am

Months before joining in a public records lawsuit against his own district, a longtime top administrator with the Contra Costa Community College District filed a claim against the agency alleging retaliation, discrimination and an inappropriate lack of transparency in internal investigative processes.

The claim from Eugene "Gene" Huff -- a redacted copy of which has been obtained by DanvilleSanRamon.com -- alleges a series of retaliatory actions by now-former Governing Board members Greg Enholm and Vicki Gordon as well as interference by new Chancellor Bryan Reece, who was hired by the board just weeks before incumbents Gordon and Enholm lost their reelection bids in November 2020.

"The actions of the District have had a lasting and negative impact upon (Huff's) reputation in the education profession and Claimant's ability to earn income," the claim stated.

"The impact upon Claimant's future incoming earning ability, along with a reduction of reportable income as a result of the biased performance evaluation, will similarly translate into a reduction in retirement benefits," Huff's claim added.

Huff, a longtime San Ramon resident who works as CCCCD's executive vice chancellor of financial services and served as interim chancellor before Reece's appointment, filed his claim with the district on July 31 -- one day after Reece issued an administrative determination rejecting many elements of Huff's prior complaint alleging violations of whistleblower protections and retaliation.

Huff was placed on paid administrative leave on Aug. 12. His claim was ultimately denied by the current Governing Board in a notice sent to Huff on Sept. 9, on the grounds that it had been filed more than six months after the events in question took place.

CCCCD spokesperson Tim Leong did not offer a comment when contacted about the denied Huff claim this week. Enholm and Gordon have both publicly denied the allegations of retaliation against them.

Huff’s legal counsel Gregory McCoy was unavailable for comment as of Friday afternoon.

A member of the CCCCD staff for nearly two decades, Huff got his start working in human resources in 2001, rising through the ranks to become vice chancellor of that department in 2004. Huff was promoted to his current position, executive vice chancellor of financial services in 2013.

He served as interim chancellor from January through October 2020, until Reece was hired to start Nov. 1.

Huff remains on paid administrative leave, Leong said on Thursday, amid an ongoing investigation -- the nature of which has not been disclosed publicly.

A claim of retaliation

Huff's claim, as well as his public records lawsuit filed this month, bring to light new details about what has been occurring largely behind the scenes during tumultuous times for the district's upper administration in 2020 and 2021.

They include revelations that Huff alleged retaliation, whistleblower protection and ethics violations by Enholm, Gordon and Trustee John Márquez in a complaint later investigated by a third-party firm, and that Reece ultimately ruled against a number of the assertions from Huff as well as disagreed with several key conclusions from that outside investigator.

"The District's administrative determination is in fact little more than a cover up seeking to obfuscate the facts determined by an independent investigation to be correct," Huff's claim argued.

According to Huff's allegations, Gordon falsely accused the administrator of a number of statements that she knew to be false, including saying he was guilty of misconduct and bullying, when he was being considered as interim chancellor at the end of 2019.

Gordon resigned from her previous role as board secretary, according to the board report from that meeting. Huff's claim alleges that acknowledging wrongdoing publicly "only strengthened (Gordon's) resolve to retaliate against" Huff for his role in the investigation that gave way to this public acknowledgement.

The claim attributes a similar motivation to Enholm, who was also accused of ethics violations in a private investigation that said he'd inappropriately pressured former chancellor Fred Wood to appoint a district professor as interim president of Contra Costa College, and consider the professor for the position permanently.

Huff was once again involved in this internal investigation, and he alleged that the public allegations against Enholm spurred retaliation against him, after being forced to acknowledge misconduct in the same July 22, 2020 meeting Gordon had.

Gordon and Enholm signed resolution agreements acknowledging ethics violations prior to this meeting on July 2, 2020, which were made public at the July 22, 2020 meeting.

However both largely denied the findings of misconduct in the investigations, and Enholm later expressed regret at having signed the agreement.

Gordon and Enholm also alleged the timing of the investigations was suspect and likely politically motivated, with their seats each up for election that fall. Gordon ultimately lost her reelection bid to Judy Walters in November 2020, when Enholm also failed to regain his seat, being defeated by Fernando Sandoval.

Huff's claim accuses trustees of additional retaliation at the same meeting in July 2020, in their vote not to renew the contracts of then associate vice chancellors Dio Shipp and Jonah Nicholas, contrary to Huff’s recommendation as interim chancellor.

Nicholas and Shipp are now fellow signatories along with Huff on a civil petition accusing the district of withholding public records, including the full findings of several investigation reports and supporting documents, including Huff’s.

McCoy, legal counsel for all three in the joint lawsuit, said that not releasing the findings of investigations defeated the purpose of investigations, in an interview with DanvilleSanRamon on Oct. 22.

"The whole purpose of getting an investigator is getting (their final report)," McCoy said. "Yet we go through that exercise and the district doesn’t produce that report."

Allegations of interference

Huff's claim additionally accuses first-year chancellor Reece of having "inserted himself into all human resources functions of the district" in order to "manipulate personnel complaints against the District by silencing any independent review."

A memo from Titan Group investigators, sent to the board on June 21, raised similar concerns about the chancellor. The investigators, who were looking into allegations that a district professor had paid students to enroll in his classes, attached a text message exchange reportedly between that professor and Reece that points to some of their concerns with the chancellor’s involvement in the investigation.

In the exchange, Reece reportedly affirmed twice that the investigation into the complaint against the faculty member would be suspended. The investigators also detailed concerns about their experience looking into the complaint, and what they saw as disruption and meddling in the investigation process by the chancellor.

The memo also raised concerns about an apparent motive for putting Shipp, associate vice chancellor and chief human resources officer, on administrative leave earlier that month.

“Additionally, Chancellor Reece has removed already assigned Legal Counsel assigned to provide legal support and placed the Vice-Chancellor of HR on administrative leave after they spoke up about the unethical actions Chancellor Reece was proposing,” said Edward Saucerman, Titan Group president and CEO, in the June 21 memo. “These actions are clearly part and parcel of his obstruction and intolerable.”

The reason for Shipp's ongoing paid leave has not been specified publicly by the district, only said to be an undisclosed personnel matter.

"During this time, the HR department will be reporting directly to me," Reece said, as part of an emailed statement to the district community on June 10, after the decision to put Shipp on leave.

Reece himself was also placed on administrative leave for just over two weeks this year before being reinstated on Oct. 1 in a 3-2 vote allowing him to return to work while an ongoing investigation into undisclosed "personnel matters" continues.

Among the issues Huff alleges in the July 31 claim is Reece’s use of administrative determinations that reject, or only partially accept, the findings of third-party investigations.

The recent joint suit for public records argues that without making the findings of these investigations public, instead only selecting portions of them to quote in justifying the final administrative determinations, the district is asking that the chancellor be taken at his word regarding investigations, when he allegedly has a history of interfering in such matters.

On July 30, one day before Huff filed a claim against the district, Reece released the administrative determinations regarding an investigation into Huff’s complaints of retaliation by the district.

The allegation that Gordon made improper remarks about Huff was sustained in part, due to findings that she’d read an anonymous complaint with false allegations against Huff, but the determination said there was not sufficient evidence to suggest that this was in retaliation for Huff’s role in previous investigations.

The administrative determination also partially sustained investigation findings that Huff had not been notified of the complaint about him, read by Gordon in a closed session on Dec. 11, 2019, but argued that no such notice was legally required by the Brown act.

Huff also alleged, in the complaint that spurred the investigation, that his contract was not renewed, and his recommendation to renew the contracts of Shipp and Nicholas were rejected, as retaliation by members of the board for his involvement in the investigation into Gordon. He additionally alleged that Gordon and Enholm had made improper and untrue statements in his 2020 performance evaluation.

The third-party investigation findings, which supported these assertions, were not sustained in the district’s administrative determination.

The administrative determination, signed by Reece, also addresses a separate finding in the outside investigation, which pointed to concerns about Reece meddling in district investigations.

“In a footnote in her investigation report, the investigator noted that ‘staff and management overwhelmingly expressed concern that Chancellor Reece or Board member may not comply with the District's Whistleblower policy regarding their involvement in this investigation,’” the administrative determination said. “The investigator provided no evidence from you or other witnesses who participated in the investigation to support such an assertion.”

DanvilleSanRamon.com editor Jeremy Walsh contributed to this report.

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