Alioto Central Character In Foundation Investigation

Alioto Central Character In Foundation Investigation

By: Albert Fulcher, Senior Staff Writer

Published: Thursday, March 22nd, 2012 at 11:16 pm

An independent investigation of the Southwestern College Educational Foundation has lifted the curtains on two years of secretive operations by a former vice president, including a mysterious 2010 that mixed fund raising for scholarships with multimillion dollar construction contracts, extravagant gifts and campaign contributions while banning all news media and cameras.

 

Forensic auditor Scott Seo compiled a 33-page report released to the public by the governing board this week. Much of the carefully-worded report centers on the activities of Nicholas Alioto, SWC’s former vice president of business affairs. Alioto was cited for “inappropriate” activities during his involvement in the planning and management of the 2010 “Havana Nights” gala at the Loews Coronado Resort, including multiple instances of conflict of interest. Alioto solicited sizable donations from future Proposition R contractors and other construction firms who had made bids for contracts.

“It was inappropriate for the Vice President of Business and Financial Affairs to serve in such a direct fundraising capacity for the 2010 Gala, especially considering his responsibilities in the Proposition R contractor selection process,” wrote Seo. “Some of the maximum sponsorships and significant auction prizes were awarded by Proposition R contractors who were already or would eventually be awarded contracts.”

Seo’s investigation had a long list of “concerns” and “inappropriate” behaviors related to Alioto. Among them: nearly $15,000 in uncollected pledges, poor accounting practices, appearances of possible influence peddling, conflicts of interest, lax internal controls, inappropriate involvement of companies bidding for construction and architectural contracts, overpayment of vendors and use of Proposition R funds to pay for Foundation activities.

“It is not unreasonable to suggest that a potential donor could have been compelled to make a donation based on a solicitation from Mr. Alioto if his/her firm was currently or could potentially be considered for a contract that was under control of Mr. Alioto and his responsibility as the Vice President of Business and Financial Affairs,” read the report.

Alioto was able to insinuate his way into Foundation affairs follow a spring 2008 reorganization of the college by former superintendent Raj K. Chopra and approved by a previous governing board. Chopra fired or transferred Foundation staff, including its director, and transferred control of the Foundation to his office. Gutted, the Foundation lay dormant for nearly two years. Chopra cancelled two of the organization’s annual galas and conducted little visible fund raising.

In 2010, with Proposition R contracts out to bid and a contentious governing board election looming in November, Chopra ordered the gala resurrected. The March event at the Loews Coronado was attended by several contractors involved in the San Diego Country District Attorney investigation, including Seville Construction, Echo Pacific and BCA Architects. Other contractors also bidding for Proposition R funds were solicited for contributions by Alioto. Echo Pacific was the winning bidder for a weekend of wine tasting and golf with Alioto at a Napa resort hotel. Representatives of Echo Pacific joined Alioto on the getaway and three weeks later were awarded a $4 million contract from Alioto which was approved by the board. Incumbent board members Terry Valladolid and Yolanda Salcido later received large campaign contributions from Echo Pacific. Valladolid and Salcido were staunch supporters of Chopra and Alioto.

Alioto’s home was raided by the San Diego County District Attorney in December along with those of Echo Pacific’s Henry Amigable, former SWC director of facilities John Wilson, and four Sweetwater Union High School District trustees. Amigable and three of the trustees have been charged with multiple felonies for bribery and influence peddling. Alioto and Wilson have yet to be charged. Investigators reported they were unable to find Chopra, who may have fled the country. The U.S. State Department has a mutual legal assistance agreement in place with India, Chopra’s native country. San Diego County District Attorney spokespersons were asked if Chopra could face extradition if charged with felonies, but they did not reply before deadline.

Seo, in his report, said he examined several aspects of Alioto’s involvement with the Foundation, including:

Uncollected pledges in excess of $15,000. When an independent auditor requested documents in an attempt to reconcile the discrepancy, Alioto was uncooperative and took nearly four months to respond. Seo wrote that there were also $3,000 in uncollected sponsorships and a $1,047 overpayment to one unidentified vendor.

Fellow Circle sponsorships. Seo wrote that “many of the firms who were awarded Proposition R contracts also contributed…maximum sponsorships” of $15,000. In total, Seo reported, more than $190,000 was pledged for these sponsorships. “To the extent that contributions were made in response to aggressive solicitations made by SWC officials who were in positions of awarding Proposition R contracts would have been inappropriate,” Seo concluded.

Alioto’s involvement. Seo said that Alioto’s active participation in the gala “could have the appearance of a potential conflict.” Seville Construction also participated in the planning of the gala and the 2010 Foundation golf tournament “with the full knowledge and possible direction of Alioto,” Seo concluded. “To the extent that Seville was compensated for these activities from Proposition R funds under their contract with SWC would be inappropriate,” wrote Seo.

Insufficient internal control. Seo agreed with the Foundations auditor that internal controls were lax following Chopra’s dismissal and reassignment of Foundation staff. Governing board member Dr. Jean Roesch, a staunch Chopra supporter, was the board’s liaison to the Foundation in 2010.

Angela Amigable. Seo expressed concern that Alioto hired Henry Amigable’s wife, Angela, to work on the gala and paid her $3,000 without a contract or agreement between her and the Foundation.

Seo concluded that Foundation operations improved substantially for the 2011 gala. Chopra resigned following the November 2010 election. The new board majority of Norma Hernandez, Tim Nader and Nick Aguilar directed Interim Superintendent Denise Whittaker to restore Foundation staff and remove Alioto from Foundation affairs. Alioto resigned in February 2011. Hernandez became the board’s Foundation liaison. Seo said the 2011 gala corrected the problems and was “well-organized and well-managed.”

http://www.theswcsun.com/2012/03/22/alioto-central-character-in-foundation-investigation/

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Apple Award winners

Apple Award winners

Posted on March 20, 2012


Pictured above is Aaron Edwards, the editor-in-chief of The Ithacan at Ithaca College in upstate New York. His staff entered him in our annual Apple Awards for Best Student Media Leader.

He didn’t win.

Edwards didn’t even place or show. So why are we mentioning him? Because he came in fourth – and the margin between first and fourth was so razor-thin, we didn’t want him to go unnoticed.

This was our first year for the category of Best Student Media Leader, and we had no idea how to pick a winner. The sad fact is, we couldn’t find another contest in the country that recognizes a college newsroom leader. When we asked around, we heard from other journalism organizations, “How would you even do that?”

So we required a letter signed by at least three staff members, or a YouTube video featuring at least three staffers, attesting to the greatness of their EIC or station manager. Then our judges used those documents to decide the finalists. They interviewed them via Google Hangout and voted.

But if you want to see how good a fourth-place entry looked, watch this video that Edwards’ staff assembled. He didn’t win an Apple, but he’s won something much more crucial – the loyalty of his peers.

So who beat out Edwards? This guy, Albert Fulcher. His story is one of disease, certain death, endurance, censorship, and triumph. Really compelling stuff. Read what Fulcher’s staff wrote about him and weep (literally). Makes you wonder why no one else has done a best Student Media Leader award.

Then again, that’s what the Apple Awards are all about – rewarding college media efforts no one else does. Hence, Best Tweet, Best Sex Column, and Best Newspaper Under 5,000 Circulation, just to name a few.

Thus endeth the sermon for today. Here are your winners…


Best  Facebook  Page

  1. The Daily Collegian, Penn State University
  2. The Pendulum, Elon University
  3. The Lewis Flyer, Lewis University

Best  Tweet

  1. Collegiate Times, Virginia Tech
  2. The Oklahoma Daily/OUDaily.com,
    University of Oklahoma
  3. Distraction Magazine,
    University of Miami


Best  Homepage

  1. The Chronicle, Duke University
  2. Lake Front, Our Lady of the Lake University
  3. Collegiate Times, Virginia Tech

Best  Multimedia  Package

  1. Indiana University Student Media, Indiana University
  2. The Collegiate Times, Virginia Tech
  3. The Baylor Lariat, Baylor University

Best  Entertainment  Broadcast

  1. Texas Student Television, The University of Texas at Austin
  2. Mayhem Entertainment, Loyola Marymount University
  3. Henderson Television (HTV), Henderson State University

Best  Sex  Column

  1. The Chronicle, Duke University
  2. Golden Gate Xpress, San Francisco State University
  3. The Daily Titan, California State University, Fullerton

Best  Newspaper  (5,000  to  10,000  Students)

  1. The Ithacan, Ithaca College
  2. The Sentinel, North Idaho College
  3. The Creightonian, Creighton University

Best  Newspaper  (Under  5,000  Students)

  1. The Rice Thresher, Rice University
  2. RWU Hawks’ Herald, Roger Williams University
  3. The Mirror, Fairfield University

Best  Newspaper  (Over  10,000  Students)

  1. Indiana Daily Student, Indiana University
  2. Golden Gate Xpress, San Francisco State University
  3. InsideVandy, Vanderbilt University

Best  Yearbook  Cover

  1. The Kentuckian, University of Kentucky
  2. The Tower, Northwest Missouri State
  3. Ibis Yearbook, University of Miami

Best  Yearbook  Spread

  1. The Baylor Lariat, Baylor University
  2. The Tower, Northwest Missouri State
  3. Ibis Yearbook, University of Miami

Best  Magazine  Cover

  1. The Minaret, The University of Tampa
  2. Minero, The University of Texas at El Paso
  3. Echo Magazine, Columbia College Chicago

Best  Magazine  Spread

  1. The Connector & SCAN Magazine, Savannah College of Art and Design Atlanta
  2. Tempo Magazine, Coastal Carolina University
  3. Indiana University Student Media, Indiana University

Best  Print  Ad

  1. The College VOICE, Mercer County Community College
  2. The Daily Titan, California State University, Fullerton
  3. Indiana University Student Media, Indiana University

Best  Student  Media  Leader

  • Albert Fulcher, Southwestern College Sun, Southwestern College
  • Matthew Parrino, The Spectrum, University at Buffalo
  • 
Zach Crizer, Collegiate Times, Virginia Tech

Border Angels March Recalls Chavez

ALBERT H. FULCHER/ STAFF A BLESSING — Mark Valdez receives a blessing from Father Dermot Rodgers after his 10-day fast that ended at the beach of Borderfield State Park.

By: Albert H. Fulcher, Senior Staff Writer

Published: Tuesday, February 28th, 2012 at 9:33 pm

Exhausted after fasting and traveling for 10 days, Mark Valdez took the last weary steps towards the beach at Border Field State Park. He was met there by Father Dermot Rodgers, who blessed him for his prayers and dedication. Rodgers broke bread with Valdez, an historic echo of 1968 when presidential hopeful Robert Kennedy met Cesar Chavez to break bread with him after a 25-day fast in protest of the poor treatment of migrant workers.

“My fast is two-fold,” said Valdez, a member of the Border Angels’ board of directors. “First, in memory of Cesar’s cause and sacrifices that brings me closer to God. Secondly, to experience what migrants experience every day trying to get across the border, many of them losing their lives.”

Marcha Migrante VII celebrated the 50th anniversary of the United Farmers Workers, founded by Cesar Chavez in 1962. Each day of travel was a tribute to his 10 core principles reflected in its theme, “Walk with Cesar.” Chavez’s principles were determination, acceptance of people, celebrating community, respect for live and environment, non-violence, helping the most needy, knowledge, sacrifice, service to others and innovation.

“This park is a sacred park,” said Border Angels founder Enrique Morones. “This is home to Friendship Park where we normally end our journey. The idea was to have a friendship between both countries.”

Beginning Feb. 2, at Cesar Chavez Park, marchers enjoyed a sendoff by the Hummingbird Aztec Dancers. Next was the drive to Holtville Cemetery, a somber graveyard of more than 700 unidentified migrants.

“The names on some of the crosses you carry are some of the names of some of the 10,000 people that have died crossing the border since October 1994,” said Morones.

In Yuma they saw where Cesar Chavez was born and the remains of the small adobe home where he grew up. They rumbled to Coachella to hear California Assembly man Manual Perez announce a three-bill package to assist communities that rely on the migrant work force. On the way to Los Angeles, marchers protested in front of an INS detention facility. That evening they rallied in Plaza Mexico, where El Pueblo Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula was founded. Morones said they spent a wonderful evening in Boyle Heights at the theater of iconic Latina playwright Josephina Lopez. After watching her production of “King of the Desert,” Lopez put the group up for the night at Casa 0101 Theatre.

During a day of fasting the group journeyed to the Cesar Chavez Center in La Paz, high in the Tehachapi Mountains (see Back Page.)

“This is a magical place, an historic place and also a sad place,” said Morones. “Sad only because Cesar is buried here. But Cesar is not gone, he’s with us and he will always be with us.”

Warm rooms and beds awaited 25 marchers, but several stayed up late painting crosses for their next day’s journey to 40 Acres, the place Chavez planned his most momentous initiatives, of including the 1970 signing of the historic UFW labor contract. His son, Paul Chavez, president of the Cesar Chavez Center, said the center exists to fight for humane treatment of immigrants.

“(Latinos) have always answered the call to duty,” he said. “We’ve done the (worst) jobs, worked the hardest and we are not recognized for it. So let’s do it. Not so much on behalf of my dad, but we are going to do it on behalf of the larger Latino community.”

Moving on to Modesto, Morones said friends from El Concilio help the needy every day and do amazing work.

“We saw the work firsthand, from educating youth to visiting farm workers,” he said. “The work is exemplary and you can see the joy and the pride of the Concilio workers in the love they demonstrate.”

Many marchers headed to Sacramento and did interviews with local and international media. Morones visited offices of state legislators to seek humane immigration reform.

Marchers met in Escondido to support day laborers mistreated by the city’s law enforcement. Escondido has been dubbed “Little Arizona” by human rights groups.

Back home on the beach in the corner of the U.S., Morones gave thanks for everybody that participated in the march.

“There is so much work to do,” said Morones.

Chavez lessons continue.

http://www.theswcsun.com/2012/02/28/border-angels-march-recalls-chavez/

Worldly Bakhiet Helps Others Find Greatness In Their DNA

Omar Villalpando/ Staff GREATER THAN THE SUM OF HER PARTS — Dr. Nouna Bakhiet is a DNA scientist but no reductionist. She encourages students to remake themselves into learned, potent beings who can advance human knowledge. Bakhiet was honored by her peers as the recipent of the 2012 Faculty Leadership Award.

By: Albert H. Fulcher, Senior Staff Writer

Published: Tuesday, February 28th, 2012 at 10:15 pm

In the California deserts, lizards with heavy scales bask at the top of ravines to warm in the sun. Living in the dark, wet climate below are lizards smooth and sleek. Though different, they are the same species—a biological adaptation. Many spend their lives wandering up and down the ravines to mate, continuing the chain of life of a species not concerned with of the differences in their biological appearance.

Dr. Nouna Bakhiet loves metaphor. She also loves teaching science.

Beginning her journey in the hot desert sun of Sudan, Bakhiet, professor of biology, said her inner life is that of the wandering lizard.

“It’s all in the DNA,” she said. “There is an inherent nature for all populations that some of that population will venture away from that natural habitat. We are designed to do this so that we could populate the earth.”

Bakhiet wandered from the expected path. She was an accomplished research scientist in a modern day laboratory doing meaningful work. She came to Southwestern College in 1997 to work as an adjunct by night and lab rat by day. Her students won her heart and she left the lab for a professorship at a college that needed a new direction. Bakhiet was the first Ph.D. in the biology department when she was hired full-time in 1999. Her research colleagues did not understand her decision to walk away from a more lucrative career to teach.

“Really, my calling, my talent, my nature is embedded in what I do here at Southwestern College,” said Bakhiet. “This is who I am. This is what I was meant to do. I was able to bring all of my experience, inside or outside of the classroom or inside or outside of the lab and lay it at the student’s feet.”

Bakhiet is the recipient of the 2012 Faculty Leadership Award, chosen by her peers for her innovative teaching, grant writing and program creation. Nominated by Professor of Journalism Max Branscomb, he called Bakhiet a campus revolutionary who not only thinks outside the box, but destroys them.

“Dr. Bakhiet rocks her students’ world right down to the foundations and challenges them to throw off their old selves and become something greater,” he wrote. “Many of SWC’s best and highest achieving students of the new millennium were her students or are alumni of the programs she has created, inspired and fed over the past decade.”

More than just a teacher, Bakhiet is faculty advisor for the Biology Club and active in SWC’s Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) Program, directed by her sister, Dr. Raga Bahkiet. She designed curriculum as academic director of the biotechnology program providing teaching and mentoring for students, whether seeking a technical certificate or a full college education in biotechnology. She led the Bridges to the Future program collaboration between SWC and SDSU for underrepresented minority students seeking a future in biomedical research.

As head of internships for BETSI (Biotechnology Education and Training Sequence Investment), she began with a grant from the National Science Foundation. BETSI is now a national model that produces a 100 percent hiring rate of SWC students completing internships within the industry.

“We are the DNA people,” she said. “We are the ones that change, modify, and turn off and on DNA. The next level up from DNA is cells, which is our tool. At the training level here, we work only with bacterial cells. Students get the opportunity to work with mammalian cells in internships and hires.”

Bakhiet said the community college is the most basic teaching system she ever experienced, unique to America with a financially logical path for students. Community colleges have the same caliber of teachers as a four-year-universities, she said, but community college teachers that have more time to teach and spend considerably more time with their students.

“I have always known that I had the ability to teach and wanted to train myself to become a mentor,” she said. “I could be a holistic teacher, not just in the classroom but to anyone that walks in my office. I could leave them with something that would help them as well.”

Branscomb said her blend of Eastern and Western thinking embraces the communal learning system of Asian and African cultures with the individualistic and creative characteristics of the American system.

“Without trying to be noticed she is noticed,” he said. “Without putting herself in the limelight she is watched. Without striving to be out front, she leads. She is an indispensable part of the fabric of our college.”

Born in Khartoum, Sudan, Bakhiet said her wandering nature makes her comfortable living just about anywhere. She always sought people that were different from her she said, and confirmed to nothing. Her culture is a human culture, she said, not any restrictive labels or boxes.

One-half Saudi, a quarter Turkish and a quarter Sudanese, Bakhiet is part of the green people of the Sudan. Her features and color are common in the northern region. Sudanese language has no reference to black or white in regards to race. People of the nation are blue, yellow, green and red.

“I am green because I am a mix,” she said. “The blue people are the indigenous tribes of the Sudan. They are so dark they look purple in the sun.”

She said the yellow people carry the skin tones similar to Mexicans, Asians and Indians. Red is for Caucasians, the color they turn in the Sudanese sun.

Bakhiet spent her early years traveling and studying throughout the Middle East and Britain. Her native tongue is Arabic, but she was brought up to speak English and French. Her parents raised their children to be trilingual and able to live and thrive in an English-speaking country.

Sudan, a long time British colony, adopted the British educational system with a 10-year primary school and three-year universities. Her parent’s wandering culture took her education from the Sudan to England, where she earned her Certificate of Education (GCO) at the University of London. Her father’s work in irrigation engineering took the family to Libya where Bakhiet earned her first bachelor’s degree in zoology from the University of Tripoli.

While in Libya, her mother, only 51, died of breast cancer. Bakhiet said this is why she eventually moved into breast cancer research.

“On her deathbed, I sat next to her and said, ‘Mom, I’m going to do something about this someday’,” she said.

A short time after, her father died suddenly from a heart attack. Her family had already decided that she would take her younger sister to America. In 1980, with a sponsorship from American teachers who taught in Libya, they moved to Iowa.

At the University of Iowa Bakhiet earned a second bachelor’s degree in microbiology and a dual Ph.D. in micro and molecular biology. Though she was academically accomplished at a young age, she said she did not believe she had the life experience to become a teacher, her ultimate goal.

Bakhiet chose to do three post-doctorate tours. At UC Davis, University of Loma Linda and San Diego’s Sanford Burnham Institute she moved from microbiology to breast cancer research. She studied breast cancer for four and a half years and contributed to the creation of mixed drug cocktails used to treat breast cancer today.

Her gift for science blends seamlessly with her gift for teaching. Once she offered sage advice to Har Gobind Khorana of India, Nobel Prize recipient in 1968 for his “interpretation of the genetic code and its function in protein synthesis.” He received a quick tutorial in teaching from Bakhiet one day at a conference she attended with students at Point Loma Nazarene University.

Before the conference she saw Khorana sitting alone looking over the ocean. To her surprise, he motioned her over and confessed he was concerned about having community college and high school students in his audience. He had only ever spoken to post-graduates and professors.

“So how do I talk to them?” he wondered.

“I told him to tell them a story,” Bakhiet said. “There has to be a beginning, a middle and an end.”

Bakhiet said out of a folder of 300 slides of very high complex biochemistry work, Khorana picked 33 and gave his lecture.

“I then knew why he was a Nobel Prize winner,” she said. “Because it was a story, everyone understood it. Students asked questions and relayed it after we came back. It was a work of art.”

“Insights from a Wandering Lizard,” Bakhiet’s philosophical book of whimsical colloquialisms, evokes Mark Twain and Ramakrishna. East and West blend like Turkish curry.

“We, the wandering lizards, are the heroes of new memes,” Bakhiet wrote. “We strike out and away from tradition. We create what is different; we dare to live beyond what is known. We are human revolutions.”

“Woman without traditions,” she asserts, can create a brighter way of life.

She wrote the words, and then created the art from a Buddha board her sister gave her. Drawing on water, the picture disappears as the water evaporates.

“This is supposed to teach you impermanence,” she said. “However, being Western influenced, I took a picture of it. All of the drawings in the book were done in five minutes or less.”

She dedicated her book to President Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, because she is from Kansas, married a man from Kenya and then a man from Indonesia.

“She is definitely a wandering lizard,” she said. “Socially, she wasn’t looking around her to fulfill her social life. She was looking way beyond that.”

Embargos and sanctions against the government of Sudan left Bakhiet’s American citizenship application languishing for years. Finally, in November 2010, Bakhiet became an American lizard. Returning to Sudan was never an option, she said. Despite some progress and many highly educated-women, the culture remains male-dominated.

“It doesn’t work for me,” she said. “I may be different from most Americans because I don’t have its culture, but I am an alien from outer space in Sudan. I would be very different in the Middle East, being a woman that has her own mind.”

Bakhiet said she studied her choices carefully in life, but with no “baggage” to bring with her, she feels free and accepted. Her inner freedom fuels innovation. Research is her passion, but teaching is her talent and she had to answer the call.

“Talent will not let you rest.”

http://www.theswcsun.com/2012/02/28/worldly-bakhiet-helps-others-find-greatness-in-their-dna-2/

Unsigned: College Needs To Remain Transparent

Carlos Magana/Artist

By: Sun Editorial Board

Published: Tuesday, February 28th, 2012 at 3:13 am

Southwestern College’s season in Hell is over, but the door of Hades has been left cracked open. Three new trustees are working feverishly to close it once and for all.
Norma Hernandez, Tim Nader and Humberto Peraza have the courage and vision to end SWC’s suffering and steer the college into an age of rebirth. Part of their wisdom is their understanding that the college has to come clean and put all of the misdeeds of the past out into the light before SWC can really be free.
Our college suffered on all levels – academically, administratively, publicly and politically – when SWC’s previous administration chose to erect walls of secrecy and chicanery. Backed by a dysfunctional 4-1 governing board majority, the prior administration’s lack of transparency and blatant secrecy from 2007 – 2010 disgusted the entire community, leading to a toxic atmosphere that has proved epically destructive.
Raj K. Chopra, Nicholas Alioto and the board led by Yolanda Salcido brought the college to the brink of being shut down by its accreditation body. Little did we know they would also lead us into the biggest corruption scandal in San Diego County history.
Captured by Chopra, SWC’s annual golf tournament and Educational Foundation fundraisers became vehicles for money laundering and influence peddling. Instead of filling scholarship funds, these once-cherished events filled campaign warchests. With no regard for the Brown Act or the American value of open government, the board and administration hid documents and punished inquisitive faculty. “Transparency” and “openness” vanished from the college’s vocabulary.
This clampdown left people questioning the closed-door actions of the administration and board, forcing the public and the media into antagonistic positions to uncover the truth. Increasingly desperate efforts to hide that truth led to the incumbents’ defeat at the ballot box and the resignation of more than a dozen administrators.
Hernandez, Nader and Peraza brought a passion for education that the former governing board sadly lacked. They have also been champions of transparency and openness. They meet often and keep the public, students and press informed.
This house-cleaning board majority will need to consistently remind nervous employees that the old way of doing business is over. There will be none of the reflexive administrative circling of the wagons or other defensive behavior. Record requests will be honored. Investigations will be made public. Questions will be answered forthrightly. Administrators will treat faculty, students and media as allies and stakeholders, not enemies to deflect and deceive.
People who act guilty in this time of search warrants and indictments will be presumed guilty and part of the problem rather than part of the solution. It is important for all college trustees and employees to remember that we are being closely watched, and that our behaviors and actions will have heightened meaning. Stay on the side of the angels.
Right now, the district attorney is in the middle of a huge investigation into past and present board members of the Sweetwater Union High School District and its former superintendent. Three are connected to our college. Arlie Ricasa, SWC’s director of student development and health services, is currently on administrative leave. Greg Sandoval, the former acting superintendent/president, and Henry Amigable, who oversaw Proposition R construction in 2009 and 2010, have been charged with multiple felonies.
Questions abound. “Who’s next?” Former V.P. Alioto and former facilities director John Wilson are likely candidates. Other contenders for headlines are Salcido, former SWC superintendent Chopra, and Dan Hom, president of Focuscom, a PR firm in league with Alioto, Wilson and Amigable.
San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis released the dogs on Sweetwater and she has a few more in the pen, warming up for Southwestern College.
When it came to the D.A.’s 2011 investigation, the new governing board had three choices: work with the D.A.’s office, work against it, or to simply let the investigation happen by taking as little action as possible. Hernandez, Nader, Peraza and former trustee Nick Aguilar opted smartly to work with them, opening SWC’s doors and books, and promising them the first results of an internal review of the college’s finances that has been underway for most of a year. This is the high road, and it sends a powerful message to the community that this college will no longer hide misdeeds and unethical activities.
It is up to the courts to determine guilt or innocence, but the evidence collected so far is shocking. Voters who tossed out two ineffective trustees at Southwestern in 2010 are getting out their brooms to sweep out Sweetwater corruption this November.
For our new leaders, this is the point of no return. It falls upon them to make certain that the promises of truth and openness are actually reflected by the actions and deeds of the administration. It also falls upon them to not let the fear of bad press and shocking headlines overshadow the promise made to be fully transparent.
Nelson Mandela knew that South Africa had to come clean before it could heal. Southwestern College is in the same place. Hernandez, Nader and Peraza understand that. Here’s hoping our new administrators get it, too.

Southwestern College Reception Welcomes Superintendent Dr. Melinda Nish

A reception for Southwestern College’s new superintendent drew a crowd of more than 100 people from the college and local community. Student musicians entertained the party as the college’s culinary students catered the event. Dr. Melinda Nish came to Southwestern on January 2, with more than 20 years of educational experience from Orange Coast College after an extensive search resulting in 34 candidates.

Governing Board President Norma Hernandez said the search began in February 2011 with the establishment of a process that was open and inclusive. She said a 19-member committee consisting of faculty, students, staff, administrators and community members had specific values in searching for a replacement.

Hernandez said specific qualities necessary to take the college to the next level of academic success identified were the ability to be consensus builder and problem solver and a collegial and collaborative leader that is accessible and listens. A supporter of the teaching and learning environment, a strong advocate for college constituents and values partnerships with other segments of education, business and community based organizations also factored into the hiring selection.

“We found a leader with all of these qualities in Dr. Melinda Nish,” said Hernandez.

Nish said she had never encountered such a warm welcome as she has in the college and its community.

“It truly is a very special place and I am honored to have become a member,” she said. “Indeed I hope an adopted daughter of Southwestern College and the South Bay community.”

Seven Hours in Fifteen Minutes, Sweetwater defendants find little solace in open session’s public comment.

Seven Hours in Fifteen Minutes

For those that missed it, here is “seven hours in 15 minutes” of public comment at the Sweetwater Union High School District held On January 30.

Board members and administrator face almost 800 people in open session. On the agenda, a request for the district to fund an estimated $1.2 million in legal fees for current and past board members and administrators charges with several felony and misdemeanor charges in District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis’ pay to play corruption charges.

With almost seven hours of open session, teachers, students and the community speak out against the alleged corruption giving receiving little support.  Not only did public speakers speak against those charged with crimes, but Board Member John McCann and Superintentent Dr. Edward Brant got an earful from the public in their roles in what that majority of speakers called a long time of controversy, corruption and lies. Legal fees, the Vega Report, recall petitions, wrongful hiring, campaign contributions and Brown Act violations, stepping down from office and a strange cat fight between members of the public and Board Member John McCann dominated the long night.

Board Member Arlie Ricasa defended the need for funds, but offered “conditions” be added to the agenda that if found guilty of any charges, the money should be paid back in full.

 

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