Amongst the various governmental institutions in the City of Long Beach there is a commonly understood problem with transparency. Former City Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske made “Open Long Beach” the central tenant of her time in public service, as has perennial nutbag Bill Pearl of LB Report. Since re-locating to Long Beach, former LAPD Deputy Chief Steve Downing has carried on an incredibly important effort to force some accountability within our local police force through public records request. And most recently the city worker’s union, IAM 947, won a huge multi-million dollar victory against the City for unilaterally imposing a furlough (without proper negotiations or disclosures) in 2009.
Given this obvious problem with our public sector telling the complete truth to non-governmental stakeholders, you would think that our local news services would be all over this issue with the precision and tenacity of the post-Watergate press corps. Unfortunately you would be horribly mistaken in this assumption:
Last night—for the fourth month in a row—Long Beach City College (LBCC) Trustee Sunny Zia put forth a motion: to have a breakdown of all the expenditures that the board is approving.
Oh my is the LBCC board trying to pull a fast one on the public by hiding spending allocations? Umm not exactly…
Under LBCC’s Board of Trustees’ bylaws, purchase orders that are under $25K do not need to be itemized or elaborated upon; instead, they are grouped together and approved as a single line item. Zia’s issue is the fact that every month, these small purchase orders account for the vast majority of LBCC’s expenditures.
Of this month’s $1.9M in expenditures—which the Board approved last night, with Zia abstaining—$1.6M were unitemized purchase orders—about 80% of the expenditures for the month.
“None of this is itemized,” Zia said at the meeting. “For the past four months, I’ve been asking for this information and these appropriations are being spent. This is something that nobody on this board knows what they are, who this money goes to, what the sources of funds are and what items are being approved. I’ve abstained from voting on it because, frankly put, I need to know what I’m approving. Again, I’ve repeatedly asked for this information and for some reason, it is being kept from us.”
Removing the subtext of this entire article (which is: “Sunny Zia positions herself as a reformer in the hopes of running for city council soon”), the real issue here is that Ms. Zia doesn’t truly understand her position as a part-time trustee.
Simply put, a college trustee at any level is specifically NOT supposed to be making decisions regarding the individual appropriations of how much an institution spends on mechanical pencils or what not. Those sorts of minor judgements are delegated to the management and bureaucracy. This division of power is based on the accepted public interest in having our trustees devoted mainly to making determinations regarding the macro-economic issues and mission of the college. We do NOT want trustees wasting their time on becoming part-time micromanagers. If this sort of limited responsibility doesn’t suite Ms. Zia, she should have sought a different position before deciding to run last year.
Making matters worse in this clusterfuck of a story is the LB Post’s apparent (continued) comfort in re-printing press releases from the people they cover without much in the way of objective critical analysis. Where are the rather obvious questions regarding Zia’s reasons for pursing this particular issue? Where is Zia’s specific evidence of wrongdoing by the board?
To be fair the author did print this quote from Board Chair Jeff Kellogg:
“I gotta tell you, Trustee Zia, when you make an allegation toward me personally as a member of this board in conducting in unethical behavior, I take that very seriously,” Kellogg said. “I am insulted by that kind of comment […]. It is the policy of this board [to not itemize purchase orders under $25K]; it is how we do things. You have said you wanted to do this repeatedly and no other member of the board agrees with you. I gotta tell you, to make allegations of unethical behavior against this board is unfounded, it is inappropriate, and it is absolutely insulting […].”
This should have been the main point of the article. Zia is accusing her colleagues of unethical behavior in an incredibly reckless fashion. She has taken no time to understand either the purpose of her job or the mechanisms available to her to position, and she’s doing seemingly for personal political gain. It would be nice if our local press corps highlighted this obvious fact.