Southwestern College held a social gathering in May of this year at Frida’s, a Mexican restaurant in Chula Vista. The event was well attended by many local dignitaries, a plethora of contractors, and most of Southwestern’s boardmembers. They all came to see the unveiling of plans for the “corner-lot” project being financed by Proposition R.
Nick Aguilar, on Southwestern College’s Board of Trustees, refused to attend and wrote an open letter to governing board president Yolanda Salcido, calling the event a “frivolous expenditure” at a time when Southwestern students were suffering from course cutbacks. Those who did go to Frida’s were given two free-drink tickets and a selection of hors d’oeurves.
In his letter, Aguilar wrote, “To conduct a reception in an expensive restaurant with free hors d’oeurves and beverages instead of using campus facilities…is a clear violation of the public trust in the public’s reasonable expectation of the SWC Governing Board’s prudent stewardship of limited public educational resources.”
Chris Bender, Southwestern’s chief of communications, wrote in an August 9, 2010, email exchange that “the event was paid for by the business community. It was a business-related event and therefore our feeling was that business should cover the expense.”
However, a recent public-records release from the college conflicts with Bender’s answer. Raj Chopra, Southwestern’s superintendent, signed a check from Southwestern College Foundation’s account for $4,796.70 for the food and drinks served at the event. Chopra is listed as a member of the foundation’s board of directors on the college’s website. Also included on the website is information about foundation expenditures: “Funds are used to build the College’s endowment, to guarantee student scholarships for future generations, to promote success, and to enrich the student experience.” (Students were not invited to Frida’s.)
According to the released public records, another $1041 check for unspecified purposes was signed by college vice president Nicholas Alioto. Also, for services rendered from March through May of this year, the public relations firm Focuscom billed $10,580.81 to Seville Construction Services, Inc., the company managing Southwestern College’s $389 million in construction projects. Many of the services performed by Focuscom were related to organizing the May soiree at Frida's.
photo: Artist's rendering of finished corner-lot project
image source: buildswc.com