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College Board in Orange County Lets Unions Take Over Taxpayer Oversight

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.

California Proposition 39 55 Percent Approval of School BondsIndependent 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.

2015 Rancho Santiago Community College District Citizens Bond Oversight Committee - Taxpayers Association Representative - VacantIn 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.

Sources

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)

Orange County Taxpayers Association

Middle Class Taxpayers Association

Rancho Santiago Community College District Board of Trustees

Rancho Santiago Community College District Project Labor Agreement – Measure Q

California Education Code Sections 15278-15282 – Citizens’ Oversight Committee

Strict Accountability in Local School Construction Bonds Act of 2000 (Assembly Bill 1908)

Proposition 39 (2000)


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.

Citizen Awareness Stops Project Labor Agreement in Orange County, California

Stopping the union political agenda on the state and local level in California entails the grinding, boring mundanity of ordinary grassroots organizing. It’s unglamorous. It’s not financially rewarding. And it certainly doesn’t enhance the professional or community reputation of anyone doing it.

But it often works, as shown on May 15, 2013, when the elected board of trustees of the Coast Community College District in Orange County voted 3-2 to reject a proposed union Project Labor Agreement.

In November 2012, 57.2% of voters in the Coast Community College District approved Measure M, which authorized the college district to borrow $698 million for construction by selling bonds to investors. (Under the conditions of Proposition 39 approved by California voters in 2000, these bond sales won approval with 55% – not 66.67% – of the vote.)

In total, the construction program at the Coast Community College District will be $1.5 billion when state matching grants (also funded through bond sales) and other sources of funding are added. That’s a lot of responsibility for an elected community college board whose members are generally unknown to the public and get virtually no press coverage of their meetings and decisions.

Residents of this college district are relatively educated, affluent, and engaged in their communities: the district includes Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Seal Beach, Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Westminster, and part of Garden Grove. Nevertheless, few people – including the local news media – were paying much attention to this bond measure and the activities of the elected college board of trustees who would oversee it.

Jim Moreno wants to give away $100 million to unions – YouTube

With one of the Democrat board members (Jim Moreno) considering a campaign to run for the Orange County Board of Supervisors in 2014, and only one Republican among the five board members, perhaps this district should have been regarded as a target for union infiltration. As it turned out, the Los Angeles/Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council was very interested in this college and its $1.5 billion in upcoming construction work.

After voters approved Measure M, construction union lobbyists began quietly working behind the scenes to get the college to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions as a condition of working on college construction projects. Two successive board agendas included discussion of the proposal, which was cleverly disguised as a innocuous-sounding “Continuity of Work Agreement.”

It’s possible the Coast Community College District would have ended up adopting a Project Labor Agreement if someone hadn’t snickered at the phony “Continuity of Work Agreement” now in place at the Pasadena Unified School District and decided to initiate a web search to see if unions were using this deceptive euphemism for Project Labor Agreements anywhere else in California. The web search pulled up meeting agendas for the board of trustees of the Coast Community College District. Meeting minutes revealed that union officials and their two political sycophants on the board of trustees (Jim Moreno and Jerry Patterson) were aggressively pushing for the college district to impose this costly union monopoly on its construction program. At the same time, no one was providing any opposing viewpoints during public comments or in written material.

How could this union plot be stopped with such late notice? Local opponents of Project Labor Agreements realized that a solid majority of voters in this college district support fair and open bid competition and oppose costly union monopolies on taxpayer-funded construction projects. In addition, opponents recognized that voters would have handily rejected Measure M if the college had admitted before the election that it planned to mandate a Project Labor Agreement. After all, it barely won.

For opponents, stopping the advancing union proposal focused on alerting the public that union lobbyists were trying to get control of the work through special favors from their friends in government. The obscure Coast Community College District board of trustees needed to become accountable to the public instead of union officials. This strategy was quickly implemented:

  1. Door-to-Door Education of Voters: Young Republican activists distributed flyers to voters exposing the two elected board members pushing the Project Labor Agreement on behalf of unions and at the expense of taxpayers. These flyers greatly agitated the two board members, who apparently never expected the public to hold them responsible for pushing a costly union sweetheart deal.
  2. Phone Calls to Educate Voters: Voters received phone calls informing them about the two elected board members pushing the Project Labor Agreement on behalf of unions and at the expense of taxpayers.
  3. Traditional News Media: Through articles, editorials, letters to the editor, and op-ed commentaries, local newspapers informed readers about what their elected college officials were planning to do with their tax money.
  4. Web-Based News Media: Local and state political news blogs and other web sites with an orientation toward principles of economic freedom highlighted what was happening.
  5. Social Media: Emails and other more traditional forms of communication circulated among political activists supportive of fiscal responsibility and economic freedom. A YouTube video was posted. A few political activists used Twitter to notify the public about the board’s consideration of a Project Labor Agreement.
  6. Civic Leadership: A few courageous local elected officials (such as Huntington Beach City Councilmember Matt Harper) risked stirring up union ire by speaking out publicly against the Project Labor Agreement. The Orange County Business Council also opposed the Project Labor Agreement.
  7. Taxpayer Groups: The Orange County Taxpayers Association was particularly outraged about the proposed Project Labor Agreement, because this group had endorsed Measure M based in part on a commitment from the college that it would not require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions as a condition of work. The credibility of the Orange County Taxpayers Association as a watchdog group for taxpayers was in jeopardy, and the group made sure the college and its elected board of trustees were made accountable for their plan to renege on their election season pledge. The Costa Mesa Taxpayers Association also opposed the Project Labor Agreement.
  8. Business Groups: the Southern California Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) organized local construction companies to oppose the proposed Project Labor Agreement and ensured that opposing viewpoints were presented at board meetings. Other construction associations also opposed the Project Labor Agreement with written material and public statements.
  9. Political Groups: the Newport Mesa Tea Party recognized the proposed Project Labor Agreement as an attack on fiscal responsibility. It issued a press release against the proposal, and members spoke out against it at the May 15 board meeting in defiance of a room full of union officials.
  10. Student Groups: student governmental groups and the student representative to the college board of trustees opposed the Project Labor Agreement. They didn’t like how professional union operatives were interfering with a construction program meant to provide students with better facilities.

As voters in the district learned about the plot for a union Project Labor Agreement, this quiet community college became mired in a well-publicized political controversy that distracted from its mission to provide a quality education to its students. Three of the five board members decided to resist the unnecessary, costly, union-driven contracting mandate. Surely public awareness and rejection of the Project Labor Agreement provided extra confidence for board members to take a position against an aggressive special interest group.

The Coast Community College District victory should inspire Californians concerned about inappropriate union political power in their community. You can make a difference:

  1. Monitor the meeting agendas and meeting minutes of some of your obscure local governments.
  2. Become familiar with the business of these local governments and identify and track the organizations and individuals that influence it.
  3. Become familiar with the elected and appointed officials who run these local governments, including their styles and their motivations.
  4. Encourage capable and qualified individuals to run for elected office in these local governments.

Where there is a political vacuum, unions will fill it. Prudent, responsible citizens need to consider becoming future candidates to serve the people on the elected boards of community colleges and other local governments.

News Coverage of Vote

College Board Refuses to Draft Labor Agreement: Trustees say Measure M bond would not have passed if so-called PLAs were part of the deal – Newport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot – May 16, 2013

Coast College District Rejects Union-Hiring Agreement for $689M Upcoming Work – via Engineering News-Record California – May 17, 2013, originally published in Orange County Register as Coast College District Rejects Union-Hiring Agreement – May 16, 2013

Coast Community College District Project Labor Agreement Defeated! – OC Politics Blog – May 15, 2013

Associated Builders and Contractors Defeat Union Discrimination On Largest California Community College Bond Passed in 2012 – www.OCPolitical.com – May 16, 2013

News Coverage Leading Up to Vote

Coast Trustees to Consider Union Construction Deal – Newport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot – May 13, 2013

Tea Party Objects to Proposed College-Union Pact – Newport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot – May 14, 2013


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.