Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Santa Monica College's Failure to Provide Public Records

Here is the email I sent to Robert Sammis after our meeting yesterday. As you can expect, the District is still not complying with inspection and production of documents pursuant to the California Public Records Act. I sent copies of the original email to both my attorneys, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the three top people in charge of Santa Monica College's Faculty Association, the SMC Corsair school newspaper, Julie Yarrish, Nancy Greenstein (the chair of SMC's Board of Trustees), the newly appointed SMC president, Chui L. Tsang, as well as to the California First Amendment Coalition. Hopefully, one of these individuals will address some of these issues in my email to Sammis, as he himself is not. Let's see if Governor Schwarzenegger will keep his promise to us that "we are going to make this state the greatest state in the greatest country of the world again."

-- Des Manttari,
Phoenix Genesis

(c) 2005: Phoenix Genesis/MBS LP

---------------MY EMAIL TO ROBERT SAMMIS---------------------

DECEMBER 21, 2005


Dear Mr. Sammis,

This email intends to confirm our meeting at 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday, December 20, 2005 at your office at SMC's Academy of Entertainment and Technology.

Despite the fact that you received all my emails as well as my online Adobe PDF files with the detailed list of all five (5) outstanding public records requests to date (which as a courtesy, you printed out copies for me), Santa Monica Community College District (hereinafter, the "District"), has failed to provide the copies requested, has failed to make timely objections to production, and has additionally failed to allow inspection of files as required by law. To reiterate, I have granted endless extension upon extension, with little or no results whatsoever.

Although you brought 3 files to the meeting, you did not allow me to inspect them. Rather, you claimed that you would provide copies. When I attempted to go through the itemized lists of each outstanding public record, you would not cooperate with me. You stated that the District refuses to allow inspection of files absent a Court order.

Despite the fact that we have not received any of the contracts by and between the District and eCollege, you are refusing inspection of any files which would contain these contracts. You further allege that the District has none of these contracts. I find it hard to believe that the District would not maintain any contracts with eCollege when they are referenced in the Board of Trustee minutes and that the District has made substantial payments of taxpayer dollars to eCollege for at least seven years.

I pointed out that we have tried to obtain the Master Service and License Agreement between eCollege and the District. I pointed out to you that Randall Lawson has the original. You informed me that Mr. Lawson allegedly cannot find the original or any copy. Two months ago, the District agreed to authorize release of this document from eCollege. I asked you if you could email them our request and your authorization and you refused. You stated that you did not want any communication with eCollege in writing. I asked if you could call them in my presence and you refused, stating that would not have any communication with them with me present. From these events and communications between us, it is blatantly obvious that the District is withholding vital information in violation of the Public Records Act.

Again, I asked if you had the Animatics contract by and between Jim Keeshen and the District and you stated that you did not have it. I asked you if I could inspect the file and you refused. I inquired if you asked Mr. Keeshen if he had a copy to provide us under the CPRA and you stated that you would not tell me if you had asked him or not. Given the fact that you have provided me two contracts (one of which was an amended contact) with Mr. Keeshen doing business as the fictitious company Studio Animatics / Animatics for 2001, in which a questionable tax identification number was provided, I question why this earlier contract is being withheld.

Is it the policy of the District to merely hand out public funds without any accountability whatsoever? Since Mr. Keeshen received $10,000 from the District under very vague circumstances, there should be a file open to inspection and these documents should be produced. Furthermore, since Dean Katharine Muller authorized payment to him as an outside consultant when he was in fact an employee of the District, and she knew this information despite the fact that he signed contracts totaling at least $43,000 stating that he was NOT an employee of the District, I question the legitimacy of these financial transactions with the District and Dean Muller's involvement in such. I further question your reluctance to provide this information.

I then asked you pointedly if you were going to produce Mr. Keeshen's sabbatical application, report, and supporting documents, all of which we requested in writing. Again, you are alleging that the applications are confidential and I am denying this contention once again due to the fact that the sabbatical application requires the applicant to state how his sabbatical supports the goals and mission of Santa Monica College. Furthermore, as I have indicated in writing repeatedly, other professors' applications were disclosed to the public online on SMC's website.

As to Mr. Keeshen's sabbatical report, I again pointed out to you that this report was mandatory and that 3 to 4 copies were to be placed permanently on record with the District. It has been almost two years since Mr. Keeshen completed his alleged sabbatical. As the summary of his sabbatical indicated, it was to be undertaken to help AET students in seeking employment. Since I am a student at AET, I have a right to know if there was any benefit derived to us at AET.

As I previously indicated in writing, Mr. Keeshen stated to me that he did in fact file this report as mandated. I asked you if this was true or, alternatively, if the District removed this report on purpose or otherwise replaced it. You became upset with me, stating that I was "misbehaving" for asking such legitimate questions, removed the files that I was supposed to inspect from the conference table, and promptly ended our short meeting.

I contend that I have a right to clarify these issues to ascertain the status of our CPRA requests, to aid in locating relevant documents which are vital to public scrutiny, and to get direct answers rather than excuses as to why the District promised to fully comply and has not done so. As I stated to you, if you refuse to comply, we are left with no alternative but to seek relief from the Court and that we plan to do so this Thursday. You stated you never received such an email, but as I indicated to you, you responded to that email and all of this is contained in my response to you in which you referenced my Ex Parte notice.

The only documents that I received today were two pages. The first was Article 20 from SMC's Distance Education, which we already received, so this was nothing new. The second document was one page regarding Julie Yarrish. You wrote on a little purple post-it note that this document was in response to Request No. 3, dated October 24, 2005. Yet, if you review the language of this Fourth Request for inspection and production, this document is non-responsive. I further indicated that the document is illegible as it is too small to read and vital information is cut off.

I once again reviewed this document this evening and noticed that you provided Julie Yarrish's confidential social security number on this document, which is clearly legible. I find this rather disturbing that you would so freely provide this information to me when I did not request it and when you continually allege that every single file belonging to the District is otherwise confidential. If you had in fact allowed Julie Yarrish to respond to this request in which she was addressed, I am sure she would not have willingly provided this sensitive information to me, nor would I have wanted her to, as I didn't even request it. Yet, you are not allowing her to provide information which is non-confidential and which is required to be disclosed under the CPRA.

I find it additionally contradictory that the District has disclosed other social security numbers which are confidential, yet have redacted non-confidential information such as eCollege's address. Since eCollege is a publicly traded company (ECLG), their address is readily available online. Why would the District redact this information yet freely provide confidential information? I find no rhyme or reason to what has been provided to us and what has not.

Given the fact that the District has concealed information which should have been disclosed in the past, is denying having information which I have discovered does exist (to wit, the two History of Animation websites as referenced on the overpriced CD-ROMs which students are forced to buy and the Master Service and License Agreement), and has made false representations as to the existence of other information (i.e., the specific enrollment numbers of AET which are set forth in documents provided to the Academic Senate and referenced in other SMC documents), as well as falsifying documents (such as the forged signature on Mr. Keeshen's 2001 Animatics contract and removing information pertaining to my eCollege involvement), I feel that the District is not being forthright to our legitimate requests for public records.

I question how AET could apply for grants, enter into contracts with third party vendors and outside consultants, hire professors, as well as create occupational certificates and vocational programs if it does not have a clear idea of precisely how many students are enrolled in its programs and courses. I further question how AET could obtain funding if it did not have a distinct budget. How could AET be granted the status of an educational center by the California Postsecondary Commission if it did not file the required documentation such as mandated labor market demand statistics and enrollment figures? As we both know, there must be some type of accountability.

To deny access to public information regarding records which account for millions of dollars of grants, contracts, hardware and software purchases, scholarships, endowments, programs, internships, sabbaticals, and salaries which were paid for through district, state, and federal funds (taxpayer money and student tuition fees) is, at best, irresponsible and negligent accounting practices and principles and, at worst, deliberately fraudulent behavior.

Again, I ask you in a nutshell, where is the $1.25 million infusion given to AET by then Governor Pete Wilson? Where is the $10,000 given to Professor Jim Keeshen by and through Animatics? Where is the $200,000 endowment given through the Mary Pickford Foundation specifically for the benefit of AET students? Where is the hundreds of thousands of dollars given to eCollege and through the Title III, Title VI-A, and Title VI-B federal grant money? Where is the over $800,000 given to disabled students? Why did campus police attempt to arrest a disabled student confined to a wheelchair for attempting to make an appointment to view the public records regarding this disabled students' grant?

Where is the $15,000 paid to Carole Kirschner, as well as the money paid to Brooks/Flemming Associates? Why was BFA paid from public funds when they were on the AET advisory board, which was created to help provide jobs to AET students?

Where is the specific breakdown of services and expenses, along with the accompanying receipts, billed by Joan Abrahamson through her consultant contracts and grants paid to her non-profit Jefferson Institute, especially since she signed a tax form for the District stating that she was not affiliated with any business entity, yet payment was made expressly to her non-profit foundation? Why did she receive over $20,000 in expenses for one year when she signed a contract with the District stating that she would pay for all expenses incurred? How did expensive dinners at restaurants benefit students at SMC? Why is the SMC community paying her employee's salary?

Where are all the contracts, grants, invoices, receipts, proposals, final reports, applications, etc. which we have requested under the CPRA yet which the District has withheld unreasonably and in bad faith?

Why are so many administrators at SMC upset, angry, and scared that I am asking these questions? It appears that the District does not think twice about doling out unexplained financing to anyone who asks for it, as if they are entitled to public funds for personal use as some sort of entitlement and as if Santa Monica College is little more than a giant ATM revolving account, yet I am not entitled to an explanation of inspection to derive at some sort of accountability.

Why have the people who signed their names authorizing these funds now working elsewhere? If Piedad Robertson (the former president of SMC), Winniphred Stone (the former Dean of Distance Education) and your predecessor, William Shade (former VP of Planning and Development), were so committed to helping Santa Monica College, why are they all no longer working at SMC, yet they are all working together at the Education Commission of the States? Were the public guardians who were placed at SMC there to truly help the students and faculty or were they there to personally benefit themselves at the expense of the public?

Furthermore, how all of this information could be construed to be confidential when classes are being cancelled and cut down, student tuition has risen, enrollment at SMC is not recovering, and the state of California is in a severe deficit is unconvincing. I, along with all the other students and taxpayers of California, have a right to inspection of these files and to obtain copies of these records. You informed me that the Court would not agree with this, but I am confident that they will. It is a shame that you would rather waste more of SMC's vital funds on senseless legal fees with your former law firm than to help the SMC community to improve its accountability and to rebuild its much-needed sense of mutual trust and respect.

Very Truly Yours,
Des Manttari /s/

P.S. - Again, for your reference, here are the outstanding sets of public records due.

SMC Public Records Request: Set One

SMC Public Records Request: Set Two

SMC Public Records Request: Set Three

SMC Public Records Request: Set Four

SMC Public Records Request: Set Five

Feel free to link or print this; just include the SAVE SMC URL:

Technorati Tags:
, , , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home