At the annual organizational meeting of the Contra Costa Community College District governing board on Dec. 15, board members came to a unanimous vote in selecting new officer positions for the upcoming year, despite tensions in earlier public comments.
The board voted 5-0 to select Judy Walters as board president, Fernando Sandoval as vice president, and John Márquez as secretary, for a term that began immediately after the vote on Dec.15, and is set to run until the next annual organizational meeting in December 2022.
Last year, the board selected Andy Li as president, Walters as vice president, and Sandoval as secretary.
This year's board selection came in spite of numerous public comments calling for the board to elect Sandoval as president rather than Walters, as well as supporters of Walters who called on the board to uphold the traditional board rotation, which sees the vice president as the de facto nominee for president for the following year. As Sandoval's supporters emphasized, however, this tradition is not a rule or requirement.
"As a trustee for 2012 to 2020, I voted in eight annual board officer elections," said former trustee Greg Enholm in a public comment. "Now as a constituent, I want to ask the current board to think carefully about who should be the officers for 2022 because of the first-ever decision by this board to have the chancellor placed on and then removed from paid administrative leave in two consecutive September 2021 meetings."
Enholm noted that the board president in the district "is in effect, the supervisor of the chancellor," and maintains closer contact with the chancellor than other board members. Regarding the decision to put Chancellor Bryan Reece on administrative leave, Enholm pointed out that while most governing board decisions are unanimous, these two votes had not been.
"Vice president Walters voted twice to place or keep the chancellor on paid administrative leave," Enholm said. "Those actions together this year would make it very challenging …for vice president Walters to effectively supervise the chancellor in 2022."
Enholm said that because Sandoval had been absent for the first vote, to place the chancellor on leave, and had made the motion in the second vote, to reinstate him, "it is far more appropriate for vice president Walters to remain vice president in 2022 and have secretary Sandoval become president."
When the trustees arrived at the organizational meeting item on that evening's agenda, a number of other public comments came in, with a clear line forming between supporters of Sandoval's and supporters of Walters'. Outgoing board president Li was among the latter group, and encouraged the trustees to defer to the traditional board rotation, which would see Walters become president, and said he was eager to work with her in this capacity.
Initially, Walters made the unusual move of nominating herself as board president.
"...Leadership rotation had been a longtime practice of the 4C board for decades, prior to the actions of the last board," Walters said. "I'd like to continue the effective practice with my motion for the following slate: myself as board president, secretary Sandoval as vice president, and Trustee Márquez as secretary. I look forward to bringing collegiality along with a steadfast focus on students to the board."
Li and Walters voted yes on the motion, with all other trustees abstaining.
Márquez nominated Sandoval as board president, Walters as vice president, and Barrett as secretary, which he and Sandoval voted yes on, Walters and Li voted no on, and Barrett abstained from.
"Talk about stating the obvious, but we're really broken," Barrett said. "... It was one thing to deal with it last year. It's another thing when you have hope of renewal, to come back and see ourselves fall into similar toxic patterns."
Barrett said she was concerned about the precedent that such tumultuous board meetings were having on other parts of the district.
"The saying goes, the fish rots from the head," Barrett said. "And our employees and our district staff, cabinet, faculty, classified, the public, are seeing this and imagining what it's going to be like to walk into work tomorrow, and imagining what it's going to be like to walk into work a month or two months from now. And some of our behavior contributes to, I do think what is fundamentally becoming – which is heartbreaking to say – a broken district."
Barret added that it's "not unprecedented for us to skip people" in reference to board rotation, noting that she hadn't held any officer position on the board prior to her term as president last year, and was in just her second year as an elected official.
"We need to get to a 5-0 vote tonight," Barrett said. "And I will hold us here until three in the morning if that's what I have to do … I do feel like some of this has to be said, because the last meeting wasn't great either, and if we allow ourselves to fall into this pattern, it excuses it for other people who are below us."
Sandoval proceeded to nominate Walters as board president.
"I think we need to move forward," Sandoval said. "And it's about unity. I will continue to work as hard as I can. I'll be working with Judy, and the chancellor, and this district to right the wrongs and for us to be strong."
Márquez said he agreed with Sandoval and Barrett, and emphasized his support of Walters' nomination as board president.
"I think we have to move on, and like Trustee Barrett said, we have to change that mentality that we're accused of using all this time," Márquez said. "So let's become positive and let's do the right things."
Barrett said she was glad to see Sandoval and Márquez come to a consensus and appreciated what she saw as a constructive dialogue, but said this might not be sufficient, and suggested the board discuss reconsidering some of the responsibilities the board president position is tasked with.
"I think to go even further with that though, we need to have a conversation as a board about 'is there some shared responsibilities and roles' that the president in this case would be willing to share with the nominated vice president. I ask this of the board because we have been split, and this is an opportunity for a unity ticket."
In particular, Barrett pointed to the board's current rules and regulations, which state that only the board president is allowed to talk to an attorney.
"For it to truly be a unity ticket here, I would like to see Fernando as VP get some of those roles and responsibilities as well, and for you two to both work as a team."
Legal counsel Kathryn Meola said that there was no way of changing board rules and regulations at that night's meeting, since the action was not an agenda item, but said it could be considered at a future meeting, with the board president's approval. Walters said she had no desire to "monopolize" authority on the board, and would be willing to consider Barrett's suggestion.
"If that means we can have a final vote tonight, so this is over and done with, I would be so happy," Walters said.