San Joaquin Delta College President Jeff Marsee faces possible discipline or dismissal at a closed session Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday, and he says it is because he has taken action to correct two trustees’ questionable practices.
The board scheduled a special meeting at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the Horton Administration Building Room.
Marsee said the meeting is in retaliation for two separate incidents. If there is a disciplinary action on Tuesday, Marsee warns that it could trigger the California Whistleblower Act, which gives state employees protection against retaliation from their employers after they expose inappropriate activities.
Marsee said he is bringing his concerns to the media ahead of time because he is concerned a violation of the Whistleblower Act could result in the college losing accreditation.
“The community deserves a community college that functions well and has strong leadership. This behavior is not just about me. It’s not about me at all. It’s presenting a scenario where the college could have its accreditation in danger,” he said.
Marsee said the first incident involved Trustee Mary Ann Cox. After he found out Cox made a phone call to a Classified School Employees Association official, he brought it to the board to see if it was a violation of policy, he said.
Cox called a union official, and was accused of intervening on behalf of her daughter, who was up for a position in the Financial Aid Department. Marsee said that when he found out about the call, he was required to let the president of the board know.
Cox said the allegations were false, pointing to a letter in The Stockton Record that ran in November from Rose Roach, the union employee. She said that Cox was simply calling to make sure she could pass along Roach’s phone number to Cox’s daughter.
“The allegations with my daughter were not true,” Cox said.
Because it is a personnel issue, Cox could not comment on why the meeting was called for Tuesday, but said she does not know why Marsee is talking about the whistleblower law.
Marsee said the second incident happened recently. He said he questioned why Delta College was being billed by the Stockton Unified School District for board president Janet Rivera’s release time when she was at board functions. Rivera works for the Stockton district.
Marsee spoke with the district’s superintendent, and he agreed to discontinue the billing, Marsee said. When he told Rivera, Marsee said Rivera insisted that Delta College keep paying for her time.
Marsee then asked the attorney that represents the board whether the payments were authorized in the education code. He said it is an unauthorized disbursement because school board officials are only allowed to receive $400 a month in stipends from the board.
When Marsee told Rivera this, he said she accused him of “harassment.”
Marsee is worried that his job is at stake on Tuesday because he stepped in during both of these situations.
“These two trustees are using their power to influence the rest of the board. It’s retaliation for the conflict of interest and, in the case of Rivera, having me follow a process to discontinue the payments,” he said.
Rivera did not return a call for comment.
Lodi trustee Taj Khan said he could not comment on anything at this point.
“It would be inappropriate for me to comment on any of these items until the board meets. Then whatever the board’s decision is will be announced in public,” Khan said.
Trustee Steve Castellanos said he feels like the meeting Tuesday is “emotionally based,” and that the board should be focused on more important issues like the budget and union negotiations.
He said that he knows Rivera was upset that Marsee was interfering with the past payment practice.
“I understand he raised the issue with Janet and, in turn, Janet became upset about it. He was trying to protect her and the college in correcting something that has been handled improperly in the past,” Castellanos said.
He is worried that any action on Tuesday could hurt the college’s image with the accreditation board.
“It’s really important for the board to observe proper decorum and not step outside of their lines with their responsibility and their oath. There are personal agendas guiding this rather than any professional issues that should be considered,” Castellanos said.
Since Marsee started last May, Castellanos said he has heard from community leaders that the president is doing a great job reaching out to the community. He feels like it would be irresponsible to get rid of Marsee, because they would have to pay him an 18-month severance.
“We don’t have the money, and even if we did, it would be a tremendous concern to taxpayers that the board would even consider, after six months or so, to spend that kind of money to fire a leader where it would be difficult to explain why,” he said.
Marsee said that Delta College is his last career stop, and he wants to work with the board to provide the best community college possible.
“The community needs to have its college functioning well, so that people are able to get an education to get back into the workforce during this economy,” he said.
His biggest concern is how an action from the board could effect the accreditation process. The college has a meeting in March with the accreditation officials.
While it is unlikely, Marsee said the worst possible situation is if the college were to lose accreditation. Then students would not be able to get financial aid, their coursework would not transfer to other schools and the college would not receive state or federal grants.
Marsee hopes that the trustees will not take any action on Tuesday, and he said they need to get back to more important issues affecting the college.
“These petty and inappropriate behaviors by certain trustees are really impacting the community they are supposed to be representing” he said.