Pleasanton Weekly

Column - March 18, 2011

Government transparency at its best

by Jeb Bing

I've waited outside closed-door meetings of a number of municipal, city, school district and other government agencies while they deliberated secretly over candidates for police chief, superintendents and even interim appointments to elective offices that opened after an election. So I was surprised at how easy it was to take a look at the four top prospects the administration and board members of Las Positas College are considering for their new president.

There in Room 801, the auditorium of a regular classroom building on the school's Livermore campus, were Stephen Schoonmaker, Kimberly Perry, Joe Olson and Kevin Trutna, all holding doctorate degrees and also all holding key positions at West Coast schools. There were probably 50 of us at any given time, with students coming and going between class breaks and some even there as part of a class assignment.

Joel Kinnamon, chancellor of the Chabot-Las Positas Community College District, served as the emcee, introducing each candidate for opening remarks and then helping to choose those wanting to ask questions. Besides the open forum, the whole day (from 11 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.) seemed terribly casual for this series of serious presentations. Not that any of us actually voted one of the four into the job at the end, but we all were asked to list our impressions of the candidates' professional strengths and weaknesses.

Trutna, vice president for Academic and Student Services at Northern California's Yuba College was the most casual of the group, almost Joe College in his answers to student questions about sports budgets and other campus concerns. As the only woman to make the final four, Kimberly Perry seemed the most approachable, a warm, compassionate leader who would hear you out in a time of need. She's vice president of Academic Affairs at Los Angeles City College, a crowded urban two-year college with a number of branch campuses that keep its administrators on the go much of the week.

The first candidate to speak, Stephen Schoonmaker, had walked the Las Positas campus beforehand and was able to relate to buildings and sports fields when asked questions about the school. He's vice president of Instruction at Clatsop Community College outside of Portland, with a broader geographical background than the others, having earned degrees from colleges in New Mexico, Illinois and Vermont. He also served as V.P. of Student Services at Southwestern Oregon Community College, a position that endeared him to those asking about how he would relate to the variety of social issues at Las Positas.

Wearing a dark suit with spit-polished shoes, Joe Olson looked every bit the part he plays as vice president for Military, Community and Economic Development at Copper Mountain College in Joshua Tree, a desert community in southwest California. Olson was good at story-telling as a way of responding to most questions but seemed somewhat out of place in the more fast-paced, carefree campus environment at Las Positas. But that's all right. Not long after his trip here, Olson was hired as president of Umpqua Community College in scenic Roseburg, Ore.

These final four presentations have been long in coming at the leaderless Las Positas since DeRionne Pollard resigned last May to move to Maryland. The college just eliminated 26 positions this week and with California's state budget in disarray, Las Positas needs someone at the top to help Chancellor Kinnamon in Sacramento budget battles. No date has been given for making their choice, but with Olson out of the running and two others interviewing at other colleges, Kinnamon and the Chabot-Las Positas board need to make their decision soon. This openness in interviewing is great for those of us who enjoy "transparency" (today's favorite buzzword), but it's also a slippery slope in trying to hire the very best before he or she gets away.

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