Four candidates interviewed Wednesday to serve as interim chancellor of the Yosemite Community College District. Each impressed, offering a particular skill set and background that no doubt would benefit the district while the board of trustees seeks a permanent replacement for the retiring Joan Smith.
So who got the job? No one ... yet. The board members made the best choice for the time being. They voted unanimously to push the decision off until next week’s meeting when three newcomers – Darin Gharat, Leslie Beggs and Jon Rodriguez – are seated.
That is what should have happened all along. Or they should have been seated Wednesday and allowed to vote. As I wrote in Wednesday’s Bee, Stanislaus County Registrar of Voters Lee Lundrigan on Monday certified the results of the Nov. 8 election.
Beggs, replacing Mike Riley (who did not seek re-election) in Area 6, wrote to Smith demanding that the agenda be changed to include swearing in the new members. Smith replied that she could not do so without the direction of at least four board members, citing a potential Brown Act violation.
Beggs begged to differ, as did trustee Tom Hallinan, who lost his Area 7 seat to Rodriguez. Hallinan agreed with Beggs and the rest and, in fact, said he made that clear to Smith and other board members weeks ago. At that time, they were interviewing candidates for the permanent job.
“I said in our initial search to select a new permanent chancellor that it should be the new board (whether or not I was on it) which makes the selection since they will be the ones responsible for the new chancellor’s performance,” Hallinan said.
Underwhelmed by the candidates for the permanent position, the board opted to go the interim route and take more time to find Smith’s long-term successor. Wednesday’s meeting agenda called for interviewing interim candidates and perhaps selecting one.
Again Hallinan, an attorney, agreed with Beggs that the new trustees should be sworn in Wednesday to help make that selection. So did trustee Anne DeMartini, who said the board needed to follow the law as it’s spelled out in state Education Code Section 5017. That section states the new board members be seated the first Friday in December, or after they are “qualified.” Certifying the election, Beggs maintained and Hallinan and DeMartini agreed, qualified them.
But Riley and board President Abe Rojas disagreed. Riley, in fact, seemed more interested – in the name of transparency, of course – in finding out who had brought the issue to my attention, which was neither illegal nor any of his business.
There was never a doubt, though, whether they would interview the four candidates, two of whom – Mary Retterer of Nevada and Jane Harmon of Southern California – traveled long distances to Modesto for the meeting. Modesto Junior College President Jill Stearns and Albert Alt, MJC’s vice president of administration, are the candidates from within the district. Again, all impressed. They were interviewed during the public session, with questions allowed from current and incoming board members.
Stearns went last, and when her session ended and decision time came, Beggs again stated the new board should be making the call. Riley, though, took a parental tone with the members-elect, asking if they felt “comfortable making this decision,” adding that if he were so new and inexperienced, he would defer to the more seasoned, if outgoing, trustees. He set about trying to poll them individually.
Gharat calmly replied, “I wouldn’t have run for the position if I wouldn’t be able to make the decision,” adding that he’s on the county retirement board with its $2 billion in assets and helped hire a new executive director. “I’m fully confident. I owe that responsibility to the people who voted for me.”
Beggs didn’t need to answer. She won her race with 80 percent of the vote. Rodriguez pointed to his service on numerous other local boards and commissions.
Hallinan made the motion to delay the vote, and was joined by DeMartini (Area 4) and Lynne Martin (Area 1) as “ayes.” Riley, Don Viss (Area 2) and Rojas (Area 3) voted against it. Trustee Linda Flores, whom Gharat defeated for the Area 5 seat, did not attend the meeting, so the motion failed at 3-3. The old board then went into closed session. When the trustees returned about 20 minutes later, Rojas announced they’d voted in unison to delay picking the interim until the Dec. 14 meeting, when the new members are in place.
As it should be, and as it should have been all along.