Last night—for the fourth month in a row—Long Beach City College (LBCC) Trustee Sunny Zia put forth a motion: to have a breakdown of all the expenditures that the board is approving.
And for the fourth time in a row, her motion was not seconded. And for the fourth time in a row, Zia abstained from voting on approving the expenditures.
Zia says her request comes with, according to her own philosophy, the idea of transparency and ethical responsibility. Under LBCC’s Board of Trustees’ bylaws, purchase orders that are under $25K do not need to be itemized or elaborated upon; instead, they are grouped together and approved as a single line item. Zia’s issue is the fact that every month, these small purchase orders account for the vast majority of LBCC’s expenditures.
Of this month’s $1.9M in expenditures—which the Board approved last night, with Zia abstaining—$1.6M were unitemized purchase orders—about 80% of the expenditures for the month.
“None of this is itemized,” Zia said at the meeting. “For the past four months, I’ve been asking for this information and these appropriations are being spent. This is something that nobody on this board knows what they are, who this money goes to, what the sources of funds are and what items are being approved. I’ve abstained from voting on it because, frankly put, I need to know what I’m approving. Again, I’ve repeatedly asked for this information and for some reason, it is being kept from us.”
Zia feels that the public shouldn’t have to go through a public records request to obtain the information about how public funds are being spent. Districts throughout the state, she pointed out, have this information publicly available.
“The remedy in this case is to provide this information,” Zia said. “I am not suggesting there is unsavory spending here in our district. However, I believe it inappropriate and unethical for me to approve items I, nor we, have no knowledge of…
“Again: 81% of the funds facing us today for approval we have no knowledge of. For that reason, I am abstaining again on this item and will continue to do so and continue to request this information until it appears in our docket. The way we are operating with these types of approvals is non-transparent and a disservice to us as a governing board. This is not the way to garner the confidence of taxpayers.”
Going on to read the preamble to the Brown Act, Zia wanted to remind the Board that they cannot legally act as an entity whereby they hold the power to “decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know.”
At last night’s meeting Zia again made her motion, to have the Board discuss, at its November 11 meeting, how information should be reported, with a breakdown of all expenditures under $25K and including a listing of the associated vendors’ names, description of services, and the amount of each expenditure.
Failing to get a second, the motion did not go forward.
Despite Zia clearly reiterating she was not accusing any of her fellow board members of improper spending, but rather questioning the way they are required to approve the expenditures, other trustees, particularly Board Chair Jeff Kellogg and Trustee Doug Otto, took offense.
“I gotta tell you, Trustee Zia, when you make an allegation toward me personally as a member of this board in conducting in unethical behavior, I take that very seriously,” Kellogg said. “I am insulted by that kind of comment […]. It is the policy of this board [to not itemize purchase orders under $25K]; it is how we do things. You have said you wanted to do this repeatedly and no other member of the board agrees with you. I gotta tell you, to make allegations of unethical behavior against this board is unfounded, it is inappropriate, and it is absolutely insulting […].”
Otto, also claiming to be personally insulted, expressed concern that the work ahead of the Board, were they to approve Zia’s motion, would be too “voluminous.” Zia points out that according to the Board’s Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice, Trustees are expected to “[Devote] adequate time to board work,” while “Acting only in the best interests of the entire community.”
“There are 271 items[…] Amounting to about 50 more pages of things we would have to consider,” Otto said.
Zia told the Post that she intends to “continue to fight and push for transparency,” and will also continue to introduce her motion at the Board’s monthly meetings.
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