Two members of the Contra Costa Community College District governing board have formally acknowledged ethics violation complaints against them, as laid out by separate district investigations, asserting transgressions including unduly pressuring district administrators and harassing colleagues.
But both trustees, Vicki Gordon and Greg Enholm, have denied most of the specific allegations, and said that the complaint process and resulting investigations were unfair and overly political.
Gordon said that, in her case, the whole process smacks of vindictive retribution for pointing out procedural missteps by board President Rebecca Barrett and others, and for trying to help fix a district culture she feels has become one of fear.
“I didn’t think that voicing your opinion could be a conflict of interest.”Trustee Vicki Gordon
“I’ve been trying to do the right thing, to help clean up the toxic mess, and this is the payback,” Gordon said last week.
One investigation upheld three allegations against Gordon, stemming from anonymous complaints the college district received on Sept. 7 and Sept. 18, 2019, the investigation report says.
One assertion upheld was that Gordon, who was serving as board president at the time, contacted both Barrett (before she became board president in December 2019) and board member Andy Li asking for their support for Gordon to remain board president. Neither committed to such support of Gordon, documents show.
Investigators said that while these contacts did not violate the Brown Act open meeting law, they were “clearly an attempt to skirt around the Brown Act and whip votes in a private setting,” and constitute a violation of the district’s ethics policy.
Harassing behavior alleged
Another assertion upheld by that investigation is that Gordon, while intoxicated, called several district employees and fellow board members to “influence, threaten, and/or harass them,” beginning in early 2017.
The third allegation upheld is that Gordon told a district employee in September 2019 she wanted pulled from a meeting agenda an item that, if approved, would have raised her health coverage premiums.
Gordon said she was questioning the merits of that proposal, and not trying to illicitly manipulate.
“I didn’t think that voicing your opinion could be a conflict of interest,” Gordon said.
As for late-night calls with colleagues, Gordon admitted to a few instances where she spoke to them after having had too much wine. She said she drank wine to ease stress, and has since quit drinking except for special celebratory events.
She also admitted she had conversations with Barrett and Li that were interpreted as bullying; “I’ve apologized until the cows come home,” Gordon said.
In a separate investigation of an anonymous November 2019 complaint, a different firm retained by the college district determined Enholm “strongly and inappropriately” tried to convince former district Chancellor Fred Wood to approve an upgraded classification of a district professor.
The investigation also determined Enholm had put pressure on Wood in October 2019 to consider that same professor as a candidate to become president of Contra Costa College in San Pablo, and be installed as interim president there while the search for a permanent president continued.
The investigation report also said Enholm “ghost wrote a message” for that professor to send to district Human Resources officers asking why he was not interviewed for the president’s position.
Gordon and Enholm each signed “resolution agreements,” both dated July 2, 2020, agreeing to remedies addressing their individual issues. Gordon agreed to refrain from communicating with district board members or employees after 6 p.m.; to resign as the governing board’s secretary and seek treatment for alcohol issues.
Enholm agreed to copy the district governing board’s president on any written communication to the district chancellor, and to refrain from advocating for any candidate for district employment, other than referring job candidates to the board or to the chancellor.
Board president Barrett announced the resolutions publicly, without detailing the allegations against either trustee, at the college district board’s July 22 public meeting, which was conducted over Zoom.
Gordon, who cooperated with investigators, said last week that signing the resolution agreement was a “mistake,” and didn’t rule out pursuing the matter further with the district.
Enholm, who did not meet with investigators in his case, said he views his signing the agreement akin to a “nolo contendere” or no contest plea in court, and that “I believe my actions were completely appropriate.” He doesn’t plan to appeal the findings.
The bigger issue, as Enholm sees it, is that the anonymous-complaint process doesn’t allow him to confront his accuser.
Barrett said last week that these investigations aren’t court proceedings, and don’t have the same rules. She also rejected Enholm’s contention that the district should have to pay for subjects’ legal defense in such investigations.
“The solution to that is for people to stop behaving badly,” Barrett said.
Barrett denied that the process, or the timing, were politically motivated. The college district’s website has an “ethicspoint” portal where confidential complaints (including these) are filed, and Barrett said that is a commonly accepted method for fielding workplace complaints.
She also said that, given the governing board’s recent history of “not great behavior,” that the district must be open about its problems and efforts to fix them.
“I’m hoping it leads to better behavior in the long run,” Barrett said. “We’re not going to cover for each other.”
Both Gordon and Enholm have been governing board members since December 2012, and both are running for re-election in November to their third four-year terms. Gordon represents Ward 2 including Walnut Creek, the Lamorinda cities and Hercules; Enholm represents Ward 5 that includes Oakley, Pittsburg, Bay Point and parts of Antioch and Brentwood.
Both said last week that they intend to continue their campaigns. Gordon is being challenged by Judy Walters, Diablo Valley College’s president from 2007 until 2010. Gordon said she does not plan to make the ethics investigation a campaign issue, but won’t back down from addressing it, either.
Enholm said that he recently received an anonymous letter from someone imploring him to abandon his campaign against Fernando Sandoval (also his opponent in 2016) and resign his board seat immediately. He said he is doing neither, and is optimistic about his prospects.
“I don’t think voters will be overly concerned with this,” Enholm said.