Superintendent-President Eloy Oakley at the March 10 LBCCD Board Meeting. Photo by Jason Ruiz
During tomorrow’s regularly-scheduled meeting, the Long Beach Community College District (LBCCD) Board of Trustees is set to explore whether or not the district has exposed itself to possible litigation because of an alleged gift of public funds, specifically, claims that the LBCCD granted an undocumented raise to Superintendent President Eloy Oakley in January 2014.
The item was added to the agenda and will be discussed in closed session.
The controversy comes in the wake of the school receiving a letter that alleged an automatic four percent raise was written into Oakley’s previous contract and was voided when he signed a new contract in July 2013.
The letter claims that because the school carried out the four percent raise—amounting to $10,608—without authorization or documentation to the board, it amounts to a public gift of funds.
Both the letter sent to the board and a complaint filed in May with the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office detailing the allegations were placed by Long Beach resident and former political blog publisher Chris Prevatt.
Earlier this year, Prevatt also filed a complaint with the DA’s public integrity division claiming that the LBCCD board violated the Ralph M. Brown Act by discussing and approving Oakley’s extension in private.
The DA’s office acknowledged receipt of the complaints but would not discuss whether or not they would be investigated.
Before Tuesday's meeting, the board will also undergo Brown Act training. Although it's unclear if the training was handed down from the DA's office, a directive for training was included in Prevatt's cease and desist letter sent to the college and the DA in April.
In the letter, Prevatt claims that the contract signed in July 2013 superseded the previous contract, which was set to expire in 2014. According to the old contract, Oakley was to be given automatic raises in January of each year. The school claims the raise was tied to Oakley’s performance evaluation and therefore did not need to be included in the 2013 contract for Oakley to receive it.
In a document acquired through public records requests, the school stated that because Oakley’s annual performance evaluation was performed in June 2013, the month before the new contract was signed, the “four percent increase still applied.”
Prevatt disputes that claim, stating that not only did the old contract lack any sort of language tying Oakley’s raises to his annual performance evaluations, the new contract, which does include a clause making raises contingent upon performance evaluations, fails to address the January 2014 raise.
“It’s real simple, they dropped out of the contract,” Prevatt said. “There’s no record to say otherwise.”
LBCCD's original contract with Oakley, signed in 2010.
LBCCD's 2013 contract with Oakley, which ties a performance evaluation to an annual raise. Prevatt says the most recent contract supercedes the 2010 contract.
In a statement from LBCCD Board President Jeff Kellogg, he acknowledged receipt of Prevatt’s letter and stated that it would be added to a future agenda as requested, but defended the school’s position that the raise was legal.
“As I and other members of the Board have stated before, regarding the Superintendent-President’s contract, the Board of Trustees has acted upon advice of legal counsel and we are confident that all actions regarding the contract and any salary increases specified in the contract have been fair, transparent and legal,” Kellogg said.
The board’s lawyer, Spencer Covert was the same councilor who advised the board during Oakley’s extension approval in March. During that meeting he stated that the details of Oakley’s contract need not be discussed in public, though the Brown Act states that public servant contracts are subject to public review.
Covert and his firm, which represents the LBCCD and LBUSD, were the subject of a 2013 Orange County Register article detailing his history of losing Brown Act cases levied against his clients. Attempts to reach Covert went unanswered by the time of publication.
The closed session discussion comes on the same night the board will perform Oakley’s annual review for the 2014-2015 school year. This is problematic, says Prevatt, because as he stated in his letter to the board, the unapproved raise in January 2014 has inflated Oakley’s base salary and affected his two percent raise in January 2015, increasing the base figure on which his contract extension in March 2015 was based, including future contributions by the district to his retirement account.
The sum eclipses $12,000 and could grow if the board votes to approve another raise of up to 4 percent due to Oakley in January 2016. Even if he doesn’t receive a raise, another school year could pass in which an unapproved $12,000 in salary is paid to him.
Prevatt said that the fact that the item has been agendized could serve as tacit proof that the DA has already contacted them regarding the item, as the sum of money constitutes grand theft.
While he does anticipate that the board will try to retroactively approve the 2014 raise, he stated that it would be difficult for the board to do that and maintain any credibility.
He added that while this misuse of public funds, if found to be true, highlights an administrative failure on behalf of the district, one that certainly deserves a “hand slapping” at the least. However, as far as the litigation goes, he hasn’t planned on taking any legal action against the district.
“They say [in the agenda item] that there’s significant litigation exposure and the way in which they’ve written it it’s almost like they’re saying the litigation exposure is that I might sue them,” Prevatt said. “But actually, I think the litigation exposure is whether their superintendent gets in trouble, which is not litigation for the district, but if he were to get in trouble he could sue them for amending the contract.”