Ron Galatolo

Ron Galatolo

Intending to avoid the problems that plagued the district under the administration of former chancellor Ron Galatolo, San Mateo County Community College District officials agreed to explore hiring an internal auditor.

The district’s Board of Trustees moved during a meeting Wednesday, March 10, to further examine bringing in a professional who will provide another layer of administrative oversight.

The proposal has gained momentum in recent months, following officials agreeing to cut ties with Galatolo amid an ongoing investigation by District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe into potential criminal conduct committed by the former chancellor during his nearly two decades atop the district.

Reflecting on the criminal investigation, as well as an internal examination that ultimately persuaded officials to sever their relationship with Galatolo, Trustee Lisa Petrides said she is hopeful the auditor will help officials fix a system found to be flawed.

“There are real systemic problems that need new ways of thinking to solve,” said Petrides.

Petrides’ perspective backed opinions from board Vice President Richard Holober and Trustee John Pimentel, who formed a subcommittee dedicated to refining expectations for the potential position.

“I think it is a healthy, functioning part of any government organization,” said Petrides.

Advocates for the position claimed that professional expertise is needed to help officials protect the district from the sort of financial malfeasance that Galatolo is alleged of committing.

Documents unveiled by the Daily Journal alleged the former chancellor directed district contracts to friends who in return showered him with secret, lavish gifts. He also privately negotiated with the district a contract for an annuity plan worth at least $1 million, according to the documents.

In light of the findings, officials agreed last month to terminate the $467,000 chancellor emeritus position which Galatolo transitioned to after unceremoniously departing from the active chancellor’s post before the district attorney’s investigation was made public.

With Galatolo’s successor Michael Claire moving to the district’s top post, those who favor the internal auditor position see an opportunity to install safeguards.

“This is a calm time with a great team, now is the time for us to optimize,” said Pimentel.

Not all officials supported the proposal so enthusiastically. The most notable criticism was raised by board President Thomas Nuris, who was unsettled by terms in the proposal that would allow the auditor to report directly to the board.

The proposed reporting protocol unsettled Claire too, who feared that the unorthodox arrangement would threaten the district’s accreditation. For his part, Holober suggested there is precedent for the proposal and favored allowing a third party to assess the appropriateness of the suggestion.

Officials agreed the issue needs further examination, and anticipate that it will return for discussion at another meeting later this month. But advocates steadfastly supported the proposal to fortify the district’s commitment to transparency.

“We are here to put as much sunlight on as many functions as possible,” said Pimentel.

In other business, trustees suggested they favored temporarily extending the contract with Exos to continue operating the San Mateo Athletic Center. But looking ahead, they plan to issue a request for proposals seeking other qualified operators and officials expressed their interest in allowing the district to run the facility.

Noting that the current contract with Exos is costing the district millions of dollars to run a facility operating at limited capacity due to the pandemic, officials looked for a more desirable arrangement.

“I hope that we don’t stick with the status quo,” said Trustee Maurice Goodman.

Officials have temporarily extended the Exos contract while they determine next steps, and with a deadline looming to approve the next extension, Pimentel raised the question of whether the district should seize the chance to take over operations.

Claire scoffed at the proposal though, suggesting that administrators are already spread thin and suddenly adding another task would be too burdensome.

“To put that on us now, it will be a disaster,” he said.

Rather than move rapidly, Claire urged officials to establish a vision for how the gym will operate, with an eye to what’s next when the new gym opens at the Cañada College campus.

For his part, Goodman said officials should consider all the options available.

“Now is the time to consider everything before keeping things as is,” he said.

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(3) comments

Ray Fowler

Thanks, Dr. Reiner

Your summary of what has transpired is very helpful in understanding why there is a need to inspect the prior district board's "arrangement to conceal."

As a taxpayer in this district, I would like one question answered... what was Ron Galatolo supposed to do as Chancellor Emeritus that would be worth paying him $50,000 per month in that position?

Michael B. Reiner, PhD

While the Board continues to hide behind the wall of "it was a personnel matter," that is questionable. Mr. Galatolo was not fired or disciplined in 2019. Instead, the Board created out of thin air a new position of Chancellor Emeritus that was not in the budget nor had an approved job description. It was, IMHO, an arbitrary and captious decision; totally expedient. But why?

As the transition from Chancellor to Chancellor Emeritus was to focus on developing CSU Cañada, this was a policy issue, not personnel, so should have been discussed in OPEN session, not closed session... Most interesting, the current Board used evidence uncovered in the DA's investigation to annul the Chancellor Emeritus contract. They then claim all parties go back to the 2017 Chancellor contract which gave them power to terminate... Wait a second, shouldn't Galatolo have resigned from his chancellor contract BEFORE the Board appointed him to a new Chancellor Emeritus contract? How could the 2017 contract still be active?

What the heck was the Board doing with your money?

Michael B. Reiner, PhD

I made the following public comment at the March 10 Board meeting... Many wish to just move on from the Galatolo years. That is human nature.

However, as an educational institution, SMCCCD should live up to the words chiseled in granite as you enter Skyline College: "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." George Santayana

In February 2019, Chancellor Galatolo told the Skyline cabinet, of which I was a member, that he won his battle with the trustees and he wasn’t going anywhere.

Soon thereafter, he left his post, was re-hired as Chancellor Emeritus, and was then placed on paid leave.

I was perplexed. Why would the Board rehire someone it wanted out, give him an exorbitant new contract, then sidelined him?

Apparently, this was part of a bigger plan.

“The opportunity for CSU at Cañada is once in a lifetime... the owner of the vision should focus solely on this monumental goal. In my mind, Ron Galatolo is the only person to lead this effort.” So said Board president Goodman in August of 2019.

Compare this glowing endorsement with Goodman’s more recent quote in the Mercury News:

“I believe Ron should have been gone before his contract was extended.” According to the paper, Goodman spoke and voted against the contract for chancellor emeritus.

I recently reached out to Trustee Goodman for clarification. I received no response.

The public needs to know why the prior Board did what it did with taxpayer dollars back in 2019 in what was called an “arrangement to conceal”

• Galatolo’s contract was extended by nine months, totaling $1.6 million.

• The job was spurious. CSU had yet to conduct a feasibility study. Cañada was eventually deemed too small.

• Mr. Galatolo was prohibited from coming to campus (this was pre-pandemic).

• Galatolo’s work was supervised by his former subordinate, Michael Claire. Some call this nepotism.

• And, the piece de resistance, Galatolo couldn’t be fired by anyone at the District. Only retired judge Richard Kramer could terminate him.

Does this sound like a legitimate contract for a public employee? Why did the Board do this?

Did the Board sign a long-term deal with someone they knew was under investigation by the DA?

I interviewed Mr. Galatolo back then. He told me the Board was so eager to remove him from the chancellorship that they gave him whatever he wanted.

But why? We still don’t know.

The new Board severed the relationship after Galatolo was paid $700,000. It took some slick lawyering. I give the Board credit for cleverness.

If this Board wishes to operate with transparency and accountability, it’s time for spring cleaning. Expose the dirty laundry behind the “arrangement to conceal.”

Develop governing principles that avoid the appearance of impropriety.

Public trust is needed by the District... but is easily lost.

--

Michael B. Reiner, PhD, is a higher education consultant and educational researcher. Previously, he was a professor of psychology and college administrator at City University of New York (CUNY), Miami Dade College, the Riverside Community College District, and the San Mateo County Community College District.  mreiner32205@gmail.com  LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-b-reiner-phd-14057551/

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