The Long Beach Community College District Board of Trustees voted to increase the cost of a contract with its board counsel to nearly 18 times its original amount as it continues to feud with and investigate a current trustee and the school’s former superintendent-president.

The 3-0 vote Wednesday night by the board approved a second amendment to the contract with Alvarez, Glassman and Colvin for the services of Vincent Ewing. The lawyer was originally retained by the board in September 2019, about five months prior to the board’s vote to fire former Superintendent-President Reagan Romali, a week after she accused members of the board of corrupt behavior.

The change to his contract now allows for up to $350,000 in public funds to be spent. The original contract amount in 2019 was set at a maximum of $20,000.

Internal figures provided to the Post estimate that the college has spent over $192,000 on the investigation through November.

Trustee Sunny Zia, who is a target of the investigation, abstained from the vote and was joined by Trustee Virginia Baxter, who abstained from a separate procedural vote involving the legal costs.

“I think my constituents would be very concerned that we’re spending this great deal of money for legal services,” said Baxter, who made the motion to restrict the original contract amount.

Ewing was originally retained by the board in part due to anticipated legal action in the wake of Romali’s firing, according to sources close to the decision-making at the time. Romali has yet to file a lawsuit.

The scope of his work has now been expanded to include an investigation of Romali and Trustee Zia.

When asked Wednesday to explain what his work for the board entails, Ewing said he has offered a variety of services including advising the board and staff on legal issues and interacting with board members, the superintendent-president, staff and outside counsel, as well as investigators.

An investigation completed in August by an outside firm looking into allegations that Romali was abusive and had possibly misused public funds was expanded to include Zia and allegations that she inappropriately sought political contributions from a contractor at the Port of Long Beach, where she works as a program manager.

The college has yet to release the contents of the report to the Post, which filed a Public Records Act request for a copy more than six months ago. It’s unclear when or if the college will release any of its findings.

Portions of the unreleased report were used in a court filing in November that sought to block Zia from closed session meetings regarding the investigation.

However, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge denied the board’s request to bar Zia from closed session meetings, noting there was insufficient evidence to support keeping her out and that Zia had volunteered to recuse herself from votes involving any potential legal action against her.

Zia, who has maintained her innocence, said the board is wasting public money to pursue a political vendetta against her.

“This is basically a cash cow for this guy,” Zia said referring to the attorney involved.

Zia has in the past said that President Uduak-Joe Ntuk has targeted her with the board’s ongoing investigation. Ntuk did not comment on the board counsel’s contract Wednesday, and has previously denied comment on the matter due to ongoing litigation.

The board, which has been marked by infighting for years, held a discussion earlier in the meeting Wednesday on ways it could improve the flow of meetings.

Trustee Vivian Malauulu said that the board could work on its collegiality. She said when she prepares for the board meetings she feels like she’s “walking into the lion’s den” and said that the board has been “catty” and has developed a “tit for tat” approach to business.

“We make people cringe,” Malauulu said. “Our board makes people wince and it shouldn’t be like that.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that the investigation is looking into whether Trustee Sunny Zia inappropriately sought political contributions, not illegally sought the contributions.

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.