Chancellor Elihu Harris to leave Peralta

Board opts not to renew contract, announces search

Peralta Chancellor Elihu Harris
Photo: Sustainable Peralta.

Peralta Colleges Chancellor Elihu Harris will leave Peralta when his contract expires after this spring semester. The former Oakland Mayor and state assembly member has been Chancellor since 2003.

Trustees opted not to renew Harris' contract at their Tuesday night Board meeting, and announced a search for a new chancellor. Abel Guillen, the Board's new president, declined to discuss the decision further.

The meeting was headed for controversy before it started. Trustees were scheduled to approve the District's annual budget, despite a December 17 protest at the Board's last meeting by students. The Budget presented at the time was full of discrepancies, according to faculty and protesting students, and was ultimately postponed until Tuesday night.

At the time, Peralta students were angry that the Board considered postponing the vote until January 12, instead of January 26. The spring semester begins January 21. It would also give students, faculty, staff and the public adequate time to read the budget, demonstrators said.

The budget (Item #18) was removed the Peralta Board of Trustees agenda prior to the meeting.

Yet, the meeting was in stark contrast to December. Few students were present, despite a vote by the Board to place its annual Capital Outlay fee on international students, a long-time complaint by many students and, recently, a key issue for some student representatives.

It has also been reported that Peralta TV, the district run cable channel "blacked-out." While the broadcasts automatically shift to pre-programmed shows at 11 p.m. on the nights of Board meetings, the entire meeting was broadcasted without audio, according to a Peralta employee.

In addition to Harris' contract not being extended, most other managers have been placed on one-year contracts. Peralta Union's have been critical of Harris for granting "secret raises" for all his managers last year -- without approval of the Board. The Board has not retracted the raises.

A source told The Black Hour that Harris' Executive Assistant Alton Jelks, Harris' former Chief of Staff when he was Oakland mayor,will likely be gone by the end of the month.

Harris came under fire this past summer following a series of damaging reports by the Bay Area News Group. Harris allegedly declined to speak with the mainstream press, but did respond to the accusations in the "Back to School Edition" his bi-annual Chancellor's Report sent out to the colleges.

The Peralta Board -- also criticized by BANG for lavish spending -- later called for an independent investigation. Still, former California Community Colleges Chancellor Mark Drummond was critical of Peralta in a report this past fall.

The chief complaint; Harris granting a $900,000 "no-bid" contract to a former business partner, Mark Lindquist. Although Harris did not personally benefit from the deal, this led to an unprecedented front-page editorial by the Oakland Tribune calling for Harris to be fired. The Bay Area News Group also sued Peralta until Peralta agreed to hand over records.

Lindquist's company, 1701 Associates was handling construction management for Laney College renovations, but the contract was ended from the job after complaints, and their inability to do the work needed.. Lindquist is currently the Treasurer of the Peralta Foundation.

Vice-Chancellor of Finance Tom Smith was placed on administrative leave and escorted of the premises by Peralta Police Services -- Alameda County Sheriff's Deputies who contract with Peralta to provide services.

Trustees declined to speak regarding this decision; however, there is speculation. Smith refused to dismiss his former executive assistant -- a confidential employee -- Jennifer Lenahan -- who reported leaked information to the press, saying she hadn't acted improperly. Harris reportedly attempted to have her fired for being a whistleblower. After "embarrassing" Harris, the Board declined to terminate her employment. She now works at Berkeley City College, and is represented by SEIU.

The other likely reason is a lack of financial transparency, pointed out by the last year's accreditation report by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

There were numerous "bugs" involved in Peralta's implementation of the PeopleSoft software program, which led the Peralta Colleges gigantic financial aid fiasco in the fall of 2008.

Although not in attendance at Tuesday's meeting, both the Bay Area News Group and the East Bay Express have reported on the ouster of Harris. As the Berkeley Daily Planet reports, since 2007, no corporate news outlet has provided regular coverage of the Peralta District, with the exception of the Laney Tower student newspaper.

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