Chancellor Suarez told the district board at its July 18 meeting that the state investigation into Cuyamaca's noncredit classes was over. But on August 17, Marty Rubio again e-mailed the Faculty Research Council, specifically in regard to exercise science noncredit classes. Rubio wrote, "Since July 1 we (accountability staff) have been without a filled position. Effective September 1 that position will be filled and your concerns will be back on track. Our goal is to not only address your concern but ensure the district and college are accurately reporting their apportionment...."
In the meantime, the Grossmont-Cuyamaca district published a news release saying that on September 13, Jim Austin, vice chancellor of business services, "will be splitting his time between San Diego County and Sacramento during a four-month stint overseeing fiscal policy for the chancellor's office of the California Community Colleges.
"An interjurisdictional agreement between GCCCD Chancellor Omero Suarez and state Chancellor Mark Drummond has cleared the way for Austin to serve as the interim vice chancellor for fiscal policy for the state community college system."
Austin is a temporary replacement in Sacramento for an employee who has taken another job. But critics are saying his new assignment includes overseeing the investigation into Cuyamaca College's noncredit classes, which as a local district employee he is also responsible for administering.
Omero Suarez has been facing other troubles in the past year, including ongoing faculty contract negotiations, a San Diego County lawsuit to force the district to pay for roads to accommodate growing traffic next to Cuyamaca College, fallout from the firing last December of popular Grossmont College president Ted Martinez Jr., and a Grossmont faculty vote of no confidence. But in the view of Tim Caruthers, most threatening to Suarez's agenda is the potential loss in next week's elections of the three incumbent boardmembers. Caruthers is not up for election this time, but he says that those boardmembers who are -- Deanna Weeks, Rick Alexander, and Bill Garrett -- have been thoroughly compliant to Suarez's wishes. "I don't remember any one of them ever voting against something the chancellor wanted," Caruthers tells me.
Without naming which one, Caruthers calls one of next week's challengers a "very strong candidate," all the while expressing willingness to work with any of the winners. Running against Weeks for Seat One are Mary Kay Rosinski, Donald Sauter, and Emad Bakeer. Alexander is facing Larry Octon, Rafah Alkhafaji, and Barbara Alexander for Seat Two. Seat Three is being contested by Garrett and educator Shannon Anne O'Dunn. One more position, Seat Five, became vacant when boardmember Wendell Cutting died this summer. That race features Arkan Somo, supported by the Friends and Neighbors of Grossmont and Cuyamaca Colleges PAC, against former high school teacher Greg Barr and school administrator Scott Cioffi. Another PAC, Citizens for Educational Responsibility, is endorsing Rosinski, Octon, O'Dunn, and Barr.
I ask Caruthers whether the discovery of Omero Suarez's altered contract is likely to affect next week's elections. "The challengers sure ought to be focusing on it," he says. Seat Three challenger Shannon O'Dunn, who calls herself a moderate Republican, tells me by phone that the contract fiasco is not surprising given the lack of transparency shown by Suarez and the incumbents. "It comes from their business rather than educational orientations," she says. "They hold too many secret [closed door] meetings with no minutes." When I ask whether she thinks the district has gotten state money from illegitimate classes, O'Dunn remarks, "Noncredits are not always naughty. But it would be shocking if there was a babysitting component to the nursing-home classes and people were signed into them without their knowledge. That would be abuse of our most vulnerable citizens."
When Suarez's contract change first came to light, Tim Caruthers says he filed a Public Records Act request for all documents and e-mails relating to it. He still has not received the e-mails, he says, but he did see that two days after his request, the contract had been changed back to its original wording and was signed again by both Suarez and Weeks. He then attempted to bring it up at the October 17 board meeting. But board president Weeks called the attempt out of order because it was not an agendized item. She had security escort Caruthers out of the meeting room after he pressed the issue.
"In the board meeting, when I asked, Deanna said she reads everything from the district that crosses her desk," Caruthers tells me. "So she can't now be saying she didn't know she was signing the contract change. Both she and Omero knew what they were signing. If you worked for the district and secretly changed your contract, you know you'd be fired."
And so Caruthers, at his October 19 press conference, called for the resignations of both Suarez and Weeks and announced that he has been meeting with the FBI to bring about a criminal investigation into the altered contract. In his own defense, Suarez sent an e-mail to district faculty and staff explaining that he took responsibility only for a procedural error. He accompanied a second e-mail with two legal opinions from district counsel that exonerate him. "But those guys aren't criminal attorneys," says Caruthers.
A Cuyamaca professor, who asked not to be identified, criticizes Caruthers for ambushing Weeks at the board meeting and bringing in the FBI. "Couldn't he have gone to Deanna first," he asks, "and found out what was going on? But Caruthers was looking for maximum influence as the election approaches.
"What Chancellor Suarez did was extremely unwise," the professor tells me. "But the Research Council is determined to dig up dirt on him. Whenever the Grossmont faculty doesn't get its way, they jump on the chancellor. Suarez wasn't the first chancellor they gave a vote of no confidence. They did it to his predecessor too. They don't like the board incumbents for standing up to them. And what's going on now is simply a struggle for resources. Because of its size, the Grossmont faculty has always been the more dominant force in the district." (Grossmont's full-time faculty numbers 220 to Cuyamaca's 75.)