For the second time in less than four years, Pima Community College has been found in violation of Arizona’s open meeting law.
The latest ruling relates to a recent PCC Governing Board meeting where college executives gave several key presentations that weren’t listed on the board’s agenda as the law requires.
The board and administrators must now undergo training in the law’s requirements, says a decision by the Pima County Attorney’s Office. The county attorney also “will monitor future agendas from time to time” to ensure PCC is complying with the law.
The latest violations occurred despite PCC’s publicly-stated commitment to openness and transparency.
Deputy County Attorney Karen Friar recently reviewed the college’s compliance with the law after the Arizona Daily Star filed a formal complaint about PCC’s Nov. 19 board meeting.
At that meeting, Chancellor Lee Lambert had several members of his Cabinet give presentations to the board that weren’t on the agenda.
- A presentation on a $17,000 trip to China that Lambert and three others made last year to try to lure Chinese students to study at PCC.
- A separate report on the projected long-term cost of a new international outreach effort.
- A report on shortcomings in PCC’s online education system and steps to improve it.
- A report on PCC’s past failure to link its planning with its budgeting and to measure whether the college is meeting its stated goals.
- An update on a review that found deficiencies in PCC’s student services such as advising, career planning and financial-aid support.
In an email to the Star after the November meeting, college officials maintained the presentations were legal, even though they weren’t on the agenda because the law gave Lambert discretion to authorize them.
In her March 18 letter to the college, Friar said PCC has routinely failed to “adequately inform the public” about matters to be discussed or decided at board meetings.
The problem isn’t limited to the November meeting, she said. The board agendas “not only for this meeting, but for many others” lacked sufficient detail to let taxpayers know what’s going on, she said.
That’s the same conclusion Friar reached in November 2011, when she last investigated PCC for open meeting law violations in response to a taxpayer complaint.
Back then, Friar provided PCC with an approved format for what its agendas should look like. But the college stopped following the format at some point and instead returned to the practices that got it in trouble the first time, she said.
Sylvia Lee, chairwoman of PCC’s Governing Board, who campaigned in 2012 on the need for openness in the college’s affairs, defended the board, Lambert and college attorney Jeff Silvyn, who is responsible for assessing whether the board’s agendas comply with the law.
In an email to the Star on Tuesday, Lee said she hadn’t seen Friar’s letter but said any mistakes made were unintentional.
“I know that Lee (Lambert) and the Board’s intent is always to be transparent and open. If the interpretation is that we deliberately kept information off our agenda then as Board Chair, I apologize. That certainly was not our intent.
“Jeff Silvyn has done a good job as our attorney and has advised the College through difficult times. I know it was never his intent to keep information from the public,” she said.