City College Trustee resigns, protesting state takeover

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Chris Jackson speaks at a rally against cuts at CCSF.
Mike Koozmin/SF Media Co.

Democracy is a thing of the past at City College of San Francisco, and now one member of its elected board has had enough. City College Trustee Chris Jackson announced today that he is resigning from the college board to protest the state takeover of the school, and he explains his reasoning in an op-ed in this week’s Guardian.

“I came to City College to do good work,” Jackson told the Guardian. “At this point it’s impossible to do that work I set out to do. That’s why I’m leaving.”

Jackson was first elected to City College’s board in 2008, but in 2013 he was a trustee in name only. The day City College was told it would lose its accreditation was also the day it lost its Board of Trustees. Those democratically elected by San Francisco voters to lead City College were pushed aside by California Community College Chancellor Brice Harris.

It was a state takeover, and the board was rendered powerless.

The seven-member board holds no more meetings, drafts no more legislation, casts no more votes. The public cannot hold elected officials accountable when things go wrong -- because the man in charge is no longer someone San Francisco elected.

Robert Agrella is the “super” trustee, appointed by the state chancellor to make unilateral decisions regarding City College’s future, something they say is necessary to save the school. Agrella holds no public comment sessions, and told the Guardian previously that personal emails to him would suffice. Agrella hardly ever answers his phone, we’ve found.

Paul Feist, a spokesperson for the California community college state chancellor's office, said that the takeover was necessary to make the hard decisions needed to save City College quickly.

"Tremendous progress has been made since July, with key positions having been filled, collective bargains agreements reached and fiscal controls implemented," Feist told the Guardian. 

To Jackson, it’s a mockery of democracy.

“If my resignation can bring a light to this public policy issue, I hope it does,” he said.

In the last month a vote by the California Community College Board of Governors made Agrella’s stay indefinite. Legally, he won’t leave until the state tells him he has to.

"There is not a formal timeline for returning governance of CCSF to local trustees, but it is hoped that this happens soon after the college demonstrates it has addressed the deficiencies identified by [its accreditors]," Feist said. "The state has no interest in running City College indefinitely under a special trustee arrangement." 

To those who wonder what this all means, and to understand Jackson’s grievance, one look only as far as two of Agrella’s latest unilateral decisions.

A performing arts center long planned to be built by City College was canned by the super trustee, citing funding concerns.

“Clearly, the college is in no position to make this commitment at this time," Agrella told the San Francisco Chronicle when he cancelled the project. It was $6 million shy of its estimated $95 million cost.

The school’s only performance venue is the Diego Rivera Theater. It is the lone theater serving a school of 85,000 students (and sometimes more) but it seats only hundreds, and is dilapidated and crumbling.

That was the first of Agrella’s motions to overturn decisions by the Board of Trustees, but his next decision was directly challenged by Trustee Chris Jackson.

Just last month the super trustee overturned a decision by the board to drop Wells Fargo as its bank. Last year, the board voted to find a more ethical bank to do business with, instead of one that foreclosed San Francisco homes and held questionable ties to the student loan industry.

An investigation by the San Francisco Examiner found that after Wells Fargo exerted pressure on Agrella and promised the school at least $500,000 in grants, the super trustee repealed the decision to shop for a new bank.

The unilateral decisions of Agrella make Jackson furious, but it’s not as if he didn’t see it coming.

In a September 2012 meeting, the Board of Trustees faced a decision: Does it ask the state for a special trustee? It was quickly communicated to the trustees that if they didn’t ask for one, one would be imposed anyway.

It was a false choice. A public relations move designed to make the board look like they sought help when newspapers and TV stations asked them about the super trustee. In the end, no matter what decision they made the state would take control of the school.

“This special trustee, while not ideal, I don’t personally like, I think it’s appropriate for right now. But we need to understand how long they’ll be there, and what position need to be in for them to leave,” Jackson said.

“I hope this board doesn’t just cede power to the special trustee,” he said.

That was a year ago. Now five months without the board, City College has lost the vision a local politician can bring.

“I’ve certainly called him the conscience of the board,” Alisa Messer, the faculty union president at the college, said of Jackson.

“Chris made himself accessible to those who felt besieged. He’s for the underdog, regardless of being black or brown,” former student trustee William Walker told us.

“I’m just really sad to see Chris go,” said the current student trustee, Shanell Williams, who first met Jackson while on San Francisco’s youth commission.

All of them mentioned Jackson’s work to secure childcare for the two City College campuses in the Bayview. When City College’s accreditors tasked them with scaling down its mission of who to serve, Jackson championed the college’s GED program and won. He also worked closely with the group Students Making a Change, which endeavors to close the achievement gap for students of color at City College.

Jackson’s departure leaves a seat open on the board which Mayor Ed Lee can make an appointment to fill. But the legality of an appointment while the board is effectively out of power is an open question. The Guardian contacted the mayor's office to find an answer, but did not hear back from them before press time.

“I think the thing San Franciscans ought to be asking is: Do we even have a board, and when are we going to?” Messer said.

As for Jackson, he’s looking forward to concentrating on his family and his career. He currently works at a nonprofit which helps people in Africa and India find new jobs in tech.

“I’ll have more time to spend with my daughter,” he said.  “I’ll have more time to focus on my own professional career, and am looking to go to law school.”

The 30 year old Jackson said he wants to be an attorney to help young men like D’Paris Williams, who was stopped for a traffic citation at Valencia Gardens in a case of alleged racial profiling. Jackson, who lives in the Bayview, wants to defend the people in his community.

“I want to be a part of that,” he said.

Update: Commenters and sources that called the Guardian rightly asked what Chris Jackson's Ethics Commission fines had to do with his stepping down. Jackson was late filing his campaign reports and was fined about $3,000 by the commission. When the Guardian spoke to them a few months ago about this, they told us it was a routine matter and that Jackson was complying with their requests for payment. Jackson had already reached a payment agreement well before his resignation, which does not affect the fine, he said. 

Comments

entity might object to that doomed entity being doomed?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 27, 2013 @ 9:15 am

Good. Let him go.

He was the worst possible spokesman for an institution plagued by accounting issues.

http://www.sfexaminer.com/sanfrancisco/ccsf-trustee-chris-jackson-under-...

Posted by generic_ on Nov. 27, 2013 @ 10:11 am

City College needs leaders not sunshine soldiers. Jackson helped make the mess and now he walks away. Pathetic. I hope you never hold public office again because you've shown that you don't deserve the public's trust.

Posted by BeckyBayside on Nov. 27, 2013 @ 10:22 am

Now if only the rest of the worthless members would resign. They have shown over the last several years that they cannot do their job and that there positions rely solely on the people of SF not being informed enough to vote them out. I mean, really, why is Lawrence Wong even on the board still?!

Posted by John Gravener on Nov. 27, 2013 @ 10:52 am
Posted by Guest on Nov. 27, 2013 @ 11:32 am

But John Rizzo's been screaming his head off about fiscal responsibility to anyone who'll listen for years now.

Posted by generic_ on Nov. 27, 2013 @ 12:22 pm

“I’ll have more time to spend with my daughter,” he said. “I’ll have more time to focus on my own professional career, and am looking to go to law school.”

Posted by Guest on Nov. 27, 2013 @ 11:27 am

He's the one that didn't want to collect tuition from students. He's one of the reasons why the college is in such bad shape. So long and good riddance! Although the faculty union sure is sad he's leaving...

Posted by Guest on Nov. 27, 2013 @ 11:47 am

Please shutdown the comments page. It is clearly a place where ill informed, hateful people look to spew their venom.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 27, 2013 @ 12:37 pm

With its renowned respect for free speech and a diversity of ideas?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 27, 2013 @ 12:53 pm

Typical losing loser behavior when you're losing a debate.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 27, 2013 @ 1:06 pm

The other guy wants to shut down the comments section, which you spend all day, every day, posting to.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 27, 2013 @ 1:23 pm

Please shut down the comments page; it is clearly a waste of time and the ill informed, hateful comments are not worthy of anyone's time. I wouldn't be surprised if these people are paid to comment.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 27, 2013 @ 12:41 pm
Posted by anon on Nov. 27, 2013 @ 12:53 pm

Let the readers decide whether the material is worth their time.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 27, 2013 @ 3:43 pm

I mean Chris.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 27, 2013 @ 12:48 pm

Chris Jackson's resignation means that Mayor Ed Lee will be responsible for appointing his replacement.

The last person Lee appointed to CCSF's board was Rodrigo Santos. At the time, a Bay Guardian article had this message: "The appointment continues Lee's pattern of appointing and relying on controversial conservatives in key areas..." and that Santos is not "someone who seeks political compromise, Santos' reputation is as more of (a) polarizing and ideologically conservative firebrand who regularly criticizes government and progressives as part of the downtown alliance..."

see http://www.sfbg.com/politics/2012/08/21/lee-appoints-santos-staunch-deve...

To quote Charlie Brown "Good grief."

Posted by Guest on Nov. 27, 2013 @ 12:51 pm

Chris Jackson's resignation means that Mayor Ed Lee will be responsible for appointing his replacement.

The last person Lee appointed to CCSF's board was Rodrigo Santos. At the time, a Bay Guardian article had this message: "The appointment continues Lee's pattern of appointing and relying on controversial conservatives in key areas..." and that Santos is not "someone who seeks political compromise, Santos' reputation is as more of (a) polarizing and ideologically conservative firebrand who regularly criticizes government and progressives as part of the downtown alliance..."

see http://www.sfbg.com/politics/2012/08/21/lee-appoints-santos-staunch-deve...

To quote Charlie Brown "Good grief."

Posted by Guest on Nov. 27, 2013 @ 12:59 pm

Does anyone know if Jackson has filed the necessary paperwork with the SF Election Board. Until he does that he can change his mind at any time.

Either Jackson is using this as a political stunt or he is so genuinely clueless that he thinks saying "I quit" magically makes it so.

Posted by count2ten on Dec. 03, 2013 @ 11:52 am

Chris was perhaps the most courageous of the Trustees at fighting the negative impacts of the ACCJC's attempt to roll back the civil rights revolution and turn away thousands of students from City College for no good reason. He was especially dedicated to the people of Bay View and Visitacion Valley, fighting for adequate funding for educational programs for those in our city who need them the most. He should be praised and congratulated for all he did for us and for San Francisco.
City College of San Francisco has among the best transfer records of any community college in the state, employers love our vocational program graduates and many communities find a way into the system through our adult ed programs. Accreditor Barbara Beno and company should be called out for what they are - throwbacks to an earlier era where working people and people of color had little or no access to higher education.
Chris had the guts to do this. Driven from office in an undemocratic takeover of the taxpayers' institution, he decided to make his statement. I, for one, will miss him and as a CCSF teacher based in the Bay View, can only hope that someone his equal will replace him.
Best of luck, Chris, and thank you for all you did for us.

Posted by Bill Shields on Nov. 27, 2013 @ 3:36 pm

"Democracy is a thing of the past at City College of San Francisco, and now one member of its elected board has had enough. City College Trustee Chris Jackson announced today that he is resigning from the college board to protest the state takeover of the school..."

Democracy is a thing of the past not just at City College but in this country. We only have the illusion of democracy. Corporations, their lobbyist and the MIC run this bourgeois elite Establishment government through bribery schemes called "Lobbying contributions." When corporations run the government it's called corporate fascism.

Posted by Hyacinth Bouquét on Nov. 27, 2013 @ 4:56 pm

I wonder if the Guardian has a way to let all of us know whether the person posting actually lives in San Francisco.

For the record, I have lived here and voted in every election for the last 29 years.

One can’t help but notice that some posters views are rooted in an ideology rather than the experience of living here and being part of the community.

Just saying.

Posted by CitiReport on Nov. 28, 2013 @ 10:12 am

it is trivially easy to employ a proxy server to make it appear like you are somewhere that you are not.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 28, 2013 @ 12:17 pm

Ugh! Any opportunity for Ed Lee to appoint someone to an office is most unfortunate. Too bad Jackson couldn't hold out. Since the Board isn't meeting or carrying out any of its duties, I wonder how much time his Board membership could have been taking from attention to his daughter or pursuing other goals.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 28, 2013 @ 12:10 pm

Well I live in SF and its pretty clear to me that the Board failed. The only reason an accreditation gets pulled is because of gross incompetence and mis-management (ahem New College of SF).

I love how then people calling out the accreditation agency for racism or some other ridiculous charge. That's classically what losers do when they've been caught screwing-up.

CCSF has been mis-managed. So there is an interim appointed board. So what? Is this really a debacle? They will make some changes, get the institution on track and keep it operational.

Obviously it deserved to be taken over by the state. This is just the typical whinings of a group that screwed-up big time. Sorry, no pity for Chris Jackson. Clearly you failed at your role. Move-on. Yeah, law school sounds good. Just move on to something else.

Posted by Alejandro on Dec. 02, 2013 @ 11:50 am

except in your comment falsely imputing charges of racism to others. What made you think of racism, Alejandro?

*real lillipublicans -- or imp lillipublicans? You decide.

Posted by lillipublicans* on Dec. 02, 2013 @ 1:33 pm

CCSF being an institution particularly for "people of color" (to use that odious phrase).

Like it matters.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 02, 2013 @ 1:54 pm

What political office is the DCCC putting Chris Jackson into next election? Trying to spin his poor performance as a trustee positively. Hope voters don't believe it. The members of the board are primarily to blame for the current state of affairs. They are the governing body. This is what happens when people blindly fill out ballots using slate cards and DCCC recommendations.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 04, 2013 @ 1:06 pm

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