Southwestern College and Sweetwater Union High School districts have been engulfed by bond-construction scandals and district attorney investigations. Many anticipate a fresh round of indictments in the near future.
Southwestern superintendent Melinda Nish and trustees are taking steps to distance themselves from these past problems.
The board will soon be considering limiting campaign donations. Trustee Humberto Peraza, who will be a candidate for the board in November 2012, is bringing the motion forward.
Board president Norma Hernandez has set another example: Her latest campaign finance disclosure statement shows she returned a donation from Jeff Flores. Flores is the CEO of Seville Construction Services, the company that had, until recently, managed Southwestern’s Proposition R construction.
Hernandez also returned donations of three members of the public relations group Focuscom, including the contribution from Focuscom CEO Dan Hom.
As the Reader reported in 2010, Focuscom initially had a $100,000 public relations contract with Seville Construction Services for Proposition R. The contract promised to “isolate and expose extremists.” The cover letter for the contract was written by former Southwestern College vice-president Nicholas Alioto and addressed to Dan Hom. (The district attorney’s agents searched Alioto’s home in December.)
Recently, Superintendent Nish set another house-cleaning effort in motion. According to a February U-T article, Nish will ask trustees to restore $89,150 of the Proposition R monies paid to Focuscom. The money would come from the general fund.
Sweetwater Union High School District has also used Focuscom; however, it is unclear what services the company provided.
At Sweetwater’s last board meeting, teacher association president Alex Anguiano called for an investigation into Focuscom’s expenditures. Receipts submitted to the district by the former district counsel (Garcia Calderon Ruiz LLP) on behalf of Focuscom are only totals; there is no itemized description of the work.
Focuscom invoices for August, September, and October ’09, obtained through a public records request, total $33,195.
Sweetwater recently released an internal investigation called the Vega report, which indicated that previous public relations spending was linked to election tampering. The Vega report stated, “Alevy [the public relations consultant] billed the district for meetings and discussions with potential and actual board candidates in possible violation of California election laws.”