Southwestern College’s efforts to revive public trust regarding a construction contract tied to a 2008 bond measure recently went viral.
In a public video, college Superintendent Dr. Melinda Nish discussed “the challenges and opportunities” the college faces amidst an investigation by the San Diego District Attorney’s Office regarding pay-for-play contracts associated with Prop. R.
Prop. R is a $389 million bond measure overwhelmingly passed by voters for construction, reconstruction and rehabilitation of facilities.
In April 2011, Seo Consulting was hired independently by SWC outside counsel Dannis Woliver Kelley to perform an investigation and forensic audits involving the award of contracts pertaining to Prop. R.
The review focused on the procurement of services for contracts awarded to the program manager from Seville Construction Services, BCA Architects and the construction manager at risk from Echo Pacific Construction.
It also evaluated events that took place between 2008 and 2010, including information on the college’s past business practices and expenditures as well as fundraising activities of the college’s foundation, which led to termination of all contracts.
After receiving the final draft, the college’s governing board voted unanimously March 14 to reevaluate all Prop. R projects, including halting all work on its corner lot until April 2013.
“We are in a new normal and the assumptions that existed when the bond was passed is no longer valid,” Nish said in the video. “Our priority is to preserve and maintain the intent of voters who overwhelmingly supported the passage of this bond measure.”
Nish said the goal is to exceed compliance standards by realizing a new standard of transparent decision-making and institutional integrity.
“It ranges from the revision of code of ethics and conflict of interest policies to developing strong procedural firewalls to preserve the integrity of the contracting processes,” she said.
The reassessment updates its educational and facilities master plans by hiring outside firms to lay out the buildings, infrastructure, rehabilitation, IT and parking needs and moves the Prop R completion date up by 10 years to 2025.
“This will save millions of dollars and give us a decade’s use of these buildings that we would not have realized with our original plan,” Nish said.
The internal analysis provides seven recommendations and a 20-step action plan to improve college processes and strengthen transparency and fiduciary oversight.
In the report, Seo provided a potential conflict of interest in the relationship between Seville, former college senior director of business, facilities and planning John Wilson and then vice president of business and financial affairs,
Nicholas Alioto in an unfair advantage of being awarded the contract.
The board terminated its contracts with Seville and BCA Jan. 25, however, the firms were already paid for the majority of the deals.
In addition, in March 2010, the college foundation hosted its “Gift of Scholarship Gala,” where a fundraising prize was advertised as joining Alioto for a weekend of golf and wine tasting in Napa Valley. It was donated by BCA Architects.
Governing board trustee Tim Nader said the new proposed plan for Prop R offers the college a chance to start fresh.
“Not only in terms of the contracts that have received so much warranted bad publicity, but also in terms of giving our students, faculty and community the opportunity to tell us what they think the best use of public funds is to build new facilities,” he said.