In a special meeting held on Sept. 30, the Contra Costa Community College District (4CD) Governing Board voted 3-2 to immediately reinstate Chancellor Bryan Reece. Board members John Márquez and Rebecca Barrett, and Board Secretary Fernando Sandoval, voted in favor of Reece’s reinstatement.
Reece had been placed on administrative leave after a Sept. 14 special board meeting amid reports of an unspecified “personnel matter.”
Jeffrey Michels, Executive Director of United Faculty of 4CD, spoke to The Inquirer on Oct. 6 about the uneasy environment that the “instability in management” creates. Since last year, three contract administrators have been placed on paid administrative leave, and Michels said the distracting effect of a “scandal” is taking energy away from serving students.
“I think Chancellor Reece came into a very difficult situation, and it’s hard to evaluate the decision of the Governing Board when we don’t have facts,” Michels said. He credited the district’s “huge collaborative effort” as it moved forward amid the pandemic, acknowledging the significant obstacles overcome during the switch to distanced learning.
“It helped that we had an effective team, [with] everyone pulling together, not a lot of politics, just getting the job done,” he said.
But now, with the chancellor’s sudden administrative leave followed by his recent reinstatement, “this kind of atmosphere undermines trust and confidence.”
“The Chancellor Reece situation was incredibly distracting and continues to be,” Michels said.
For the district itself, the task of explaining what happened continues to pose challenges.
“The hard part about these kinds of investigations is that there’s so many moving parts,” Timothy Leong, District Director of Communications and Community Relations, told The Inquirer in an Oct. 4 phone call.
Leong reiterated that an investigation into the “personnel matter” involving Reece remains ongoing, and said the district is waiting to receive additional information about the unspecified reason for Reece’s administrative leave.
The date for Reece’s evaluation by the Governing Board, which is rapidly approaching, will determine whether or not his contract with 4CD gets extended.
Leong called the board’s upcoming evaluation of Reece “an important part of the mix,” and said the chancellor’s possible contract renewal is “a decision point that is looming.”
Reece himself had a lot to say at the Sept. 30 meeting.
“Let me start by saying, I love being 4CD Chancellor,” he announced from the podium at the special meeting, which was recorded via Zoom and uploaded online. Reece addressed the district’s investigation processes, which, he stated, was one of 45 objectives the district had asked him to address last March.
“Without clear policies, our investigations have historically been very litigious and very political,” said Reece, who noted there was a “tremendous amount of pressure on… the board” due to a lack of “defined processes” in investigations.
As a result, Reece claimed, district investigations take “extreme amounts of time, energy, and money” to conduct.
He pointed out that his own attorney had opposed the viewpoint of the board’s legal counsel that, by law, Reece should remain on administrative leave. That opposition also echoed the view of the attorney who conducted what Reece called “a deep dive on the [request for proposal] process for the Board.”
As his allotted three minutes for speaking wound down on the time display, Reece reminded board members that despite the efforts by the district’s legal counsel to “double down on his argument” for the legal necessity of Reece’s leave, they were entitled to a “second opinion,” and “also certainly entitled to [their] own opinion.”
“Don’t forget that your constituents put you in charge,” Reece said as 4CD President Andy Li announced his time to speak had ended.
Leong said it would be a disservice to both the chancellor and the district if the ongoing investigation were not carried out in a fair, thorough and objective manner. But the more time the district invests in the personnel situation, Leong admitted, the less time it can spend focusing on serving students.
“We look forward to the point in time [that we can] put this behind us,” he said.
Michels expressed a desire for clarity and resolution. “Like everyone, I’m hoping to see [the situation] stabilize,” Michels said.
“We have a responsibility to create a district that our community trusts.”
**CORRECTION NOTICE: The statement: “Since last year, three district board members have been placed on paid administrative leave” has since been corrected to: “Since last year, three contract administrators have been placed on paid administrative leave.” The Inquirer apologizes for the error.