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When trustees hire the next Delta College president, they’d better get it right

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Posted: Saturday, March 10, 2012 12:00 am

When they decided to fire San Joaquin Delta College President Jeff Marsee and triggered a $350,000 severance payment, the Delta College trustees muffed their job, pure and simple.

Marsee was known as a confrontational administrator. There was no reason to be completely blindsided when he rattled the staff, publicly questioned the conduct of a couple of board members and generally set about doing things his way.

Now he's gone, taking his expensive severance with him.

It's hard to assess blame when a committee makes a mistake. And it's not election time anyway. So let's leave the question of personal responsibility to another day.

We hope the trustees take a long look at what they'll do next time. How will they do a better job of hiring Marsee's replacement? How will they counsel the next human being they put in Marsee's place when that person inevitably makes a mistake or displeases them?

And how will they handle allegations of misconduct by the board and the president in the future?

We would urge the board to consider these questions:

First, should there be an investigation and report on Trustee Mary Ann Cox's involvement in the promotion of her daughter and Trustee Janet Rivera's compensation for days missed at her work while conducting Delta business? The board has handled these matters in closed session. There may have been no misconduct, but the cat's out of the bag. The voters have a right to some accountability.

Allied to this question is the question of handling complaints about the president from students and staff. They are common enough. Is there a procedure for sorting valid complaints from union rabble-rousing and whining by emotionally worked-up students?

Second, was Marsee's background checked well enough? Should background checks be handled solely by a headhunter, or should trustees personally make discreet, sensitive reference checks? Not many corporations leave the hiring of top management solely to the HR department.

Third, when a president strays from the direction of the trustees, how is this communicated? Past Delta boards have been badly divided and sent incomprehensibly mixed signals to the president. Marsee clearly thought that his strong, unilateral actions would unify the Delta board and the campus.

That didn't work.

So what happens with the next person?

The trustees had better show voters they can do a better job before they stand re-election in November.

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