Unions continue to undermine the independence and effectiveness of citizens bond oversight committees at California school and community college districts.
In December 2015, the elected board of trustees for the Rancho Santiago Community College District voted 4-2 to reject an application from the President & CEO of the long-established Orange County Taxpayers Association to serve on the college district’s Measure Q bond oversight committee. For two years, the obviously-qualified applicant had sought an appointment from the board to a vacant position on the committee.
This vacant position was designated in state law (California Education Code Section 15282) for someone “active in a bona fide taxpayers’ organization.” The board had never filled it.
Eventually the board found its champion for the taxpayers. On February 22, 2016 – exactly three years after the deadline for people to apply for the bond oversight committee – the board appointed a taxpayers’ association representative. The lucky appointee claimed to be active in the “Middle Class Taxpayers Association,” an organization founded in 2011 that is closely connected to labor unions. This board action is another example of the continual union-instigated chipping away of checks and balances at California local governments.
Independent citizens bond oversight committees for school and college bond measures were once portrayed as a taxpayer protection. They were established in state law in 2000, when Governor Gray Davis signed into law Assembly Bill 1908, the “Strict Accountability in Local School Construction Bonds Act of 2000.” This requirement for independent oversight was promoted during the successful fall 2000 campaign to convince voters to approve Proposition 39, which reduced the voter threshold for passing certain school and community college bond measures from two-thirds to 55 percent.
Sixteen years later, the appointed and elected leadership of school and community college districts in California has shifted to a new generation. Many of these leaders (and the special interests that support them) don’t appreciate legal restrictions meant to assuage the ancient concerns of a dwindling demographic of fiscal conservatives.
In some districts, bond oversight committees are regarded as time-wasting meddlers that interfere with how bond finance and construction has to be done nowadays in California (keeping the politically-powerful happy with favoritism and payoffs). And among all the activities of bond oversight committees, none is more irksome to these school and college districts than the demand to study and make a recommendation on the fiscal impact of a proposed Project Labor Agreement. It’s embarrassing and even politically threatening when independent citizens dare to evaluate the cost of a board mandate lobbied for by unions.
Rancho Santiago Community College District, based in Santa Ana (in Orange County) is an example of one such district. In November 2012, voters authorized the district to borrow $198 million by selling bonds. In April 2014, after a year of negotiations with unions, the board voted 4-2 to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement for most work funded by that borrowed money.
In February 2013, separate from this process, the President and CEO of the Orange County Taxpayers Association applied for the taxpayers’ association position on the college’s new Measure Q Citizens Bond Oversight Committee. The board appointed the other members but left the taxpayers’ association position vacant, in violation of state law.
Almost two years later, a couple of board members pushed for an agenda item for the board to finally fill the vacant taxpayers’ association position. The board responded on December 7, 2015 with a 4-2 vote to reject the Orange County Taxpayers Association applicant.
It was rumored that construction trade union officials had told their allies on the board to reject the Orange County Taxpayers Association applicant because of the group’s past criticism of government-mandated Project Labor Agreements. A few months later, on February 22, 2016, the board finally complied with state law by appointing a former site representative and Political Action Coordinator for the California School Employees Association Chapter 41.
In her very brief application submitted to the district on February 16, 2016, the victorious appointee declared “I am a member of the Middle Class Taxpayers Association, and with so many middle class families in Santa Ana, I look forward to being considered for the Measure Q Oversight Committee.” The board appointed her to the position.
The Middle Class Taxpayers Association is a union front group. For more information on it, see the May 30, 2012 article posted on www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com entitled Don’t Be Fooled! Meet Some Sneaky Fake Taxpayer Groups In California and the April 5, 2015 article from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association entitled Look for the Union Label.
Minutes of December 7, 2015 Rancho Santiago Community College District Board of Trustees (Item 6.6 – rejection of Orange County Taxpayers Association applicant as taxpayer association representative on the Bond Oversight Committee)
Minutes of February 22, 2016 Rancho Santiago Community College District Board of Trustees (Item 6.9 – approval of Middle Class Taxpayers Association applicant as taxpayer association representative on the Bond Oversight Committee)
Kevin Dayton is the President & CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC, and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.