Daily Journal endorsements

The San Mateo County Community College District fills an important role in our area in that it provides job training, a path to a four-year university and community enrichment. Its role is often amplified in recessions as those newly without jobs look to brush up on skills for a new career path.

There has been some controversy in recent years about a botched sale of the KCSM-TV spectrum and allegations of wrongdoing in the former chancellor’s office under investigation by the District Attorney’s Office.

Anyone stepping into an oversight role that the Board of Trustees provides will have a full plate of substantial issues with which to contend. This particular race is the second to have district elections and, again, pits two incumbents against each other. For Area 3, Dave Mandelkern and Maurice Goodman are vying for one available seat. District elections aimed to increase participation, which is happening according to the number of overall candidates for all the open seats, but it also sets up situations in which good incumbents must run against each other. Such is the situation in this area.

Mandelkern has served since 2003 and has always been a straight shooter who is thoughtful and smart with his eye on bettering the district. In an ideal world, he would continue serving. However, Goodman deserves to have a tenure as long as Mandelkern’s too. Goodman is also poised to responsibly shepherd the district into a new conversation on equity as this has been his focus for 20 years since he fought for it as the Skyline College student body president. Goodman is also a trustee focused on accountability and transparency and will serve the district well as it begins its transition into new leadership in the chancellor’s office.

In Area 1, former district administrator Eugene Whitlock is running against educator and nonprofit CEO Lisa Petrides. In a unique twist, Whitlock received around $2.3 million as part of a settlement agreement reached to terminate his position that essentially requires him to have no contact with the district and prohibits him from its three campuses. Whitlock maintains the settlement agreement cannot legally limit his ability to run, but it might lead to court action. Without this, Whitlock is a strong candidate with a good knowledge of the district’s inner workings and ideas on how to change it positively. However, by choosing to sign the settlement, he chose to agree to the terms. Whether he must adhere to them would likely be decided in court, which would both be costly and distracting. While it might be appealing to support him, the practical reality suggests otherwise.

Petrides has no such entanglements and is a good candidate in her own right. Her big ideas include emphasis on teacher retention and supporting students in a variety of ways. She is a solid choice and will hit the ground running.

In Area 5, there are three quality candidates for one open seat vacated by departing Trustee Karen Schwarz. Blair Whitney has a no-nonsense style and makes keen observations. Lisa Hicks-Dumanske is incredibly knowledgeable of the district’s goals and has a strong focus on keeping students first. However, John Pimentel has the strongest grasp on the district’s issues with the emphasis on transparency, equity and connectivity with the community overall. His main goal is to eliminate barriers both traditional and nontraditional to ensure this area’s youth have access to the academic setting that both suits them but also poises them for future success. He is a deep thinker who will collaborate without backing down when the situation calls for it.

These races brought out bright candidates with great ideas but the district board will be best served with Maurice Goodman continuing his service and Lisa Petrides and John Pimentel joining him.

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(1) comment

Michael B. Reiner, PhD

I am not a lawyer, but I am well read on Constitutional issues. The Whitlock situation is one that brings up an important conundrum: Can the San Mateo County Community College District act as prosecutor, judge and jury about an individual's right to run for public office? Mr. Whitlock did not commit any crime; perhaps such a settlement agreement by a government agency is unconstitutional?

Here is the rationale:

The validity of a contract signed by Mr. Whitlock in an agreement with the District which, in essence, gives away his constitutional rights may be in question. While such settlement agreements are standard in private industry to protect the corporation's "brand," the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against government's ability to silence dissent even if a contract was signed in a settlement (and disallowed the government's ability to withhold "payment in full" as pressure on the plaintiff to conform) . See:

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT No. 17-2444 ASHLEY AMARIS OVERBEY; BALTIMORE BREW, Plaintiffs – Appellants, v.THE MAYOR AND CITY COUNCIL OF BALTIMORE; BALTIMORE CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT, Defendants – Appellees.

It has been argued that such agreements by the government raise serious political accountability questions. In matters of public concern, if the electorate learns that government agencies are requiring parties to sign non-disparagement agreements for payments of cash, the people may begin to speculate that the government is trying to hide something. This, thereby, may be more damaging to government integrity, transparency, and confidence than the facts themselves.

We see suppression of truth happening in Washington daily. Why deny someone the right to run for elected office and let the voters decide his fate? Should that be left to the San Mateo County Community College District Board of Trustees? Who made them prosecutor, chief judge, and jury?

This is not a "lawyering" sleight of hand (I am not an attorney - I am speaking as a citizen). We are talking about powerful government agencies (the SMCCCD budget is about $200M + billions in construction bonds) using taxpayer dollars as "hush money" in a quid pro quo.

In what circumstances can a government agency prevent a citizen from running for office? Can a citizen give up Constitutional rights in a settlement agreement with the government (unlike a private corporation), even if they do so willingly? Might there be coercion?

And, most important, why did the Board agree to pay Whitlock over $2M to stay away? That question is still unanswered.

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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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