District Wants to Fire Aide for Being Informative

PUBLIC INFORMATIONPeralta
Community College District trustees in Oakland were to decide Tuesday night whether to fire
an employee who fellow administrators claim gave a newspaper public information that
embarrassed Chancellor Elihu Harris, report Matt Krupnick and Thomas Peele in the Contra Costa Times in Walnut Creek.

District administrators have
recommended the board fire Jennifer Lenahan, an executive assistant to
Vice Chancellor Tom Smith. The action comes after Bay Area News Group
published four articles July 12 noting several questionable decisions
by Harris and other Peralta leaders, including a no-bid contract
awarded to Mark Lindquist, Harris' longtime business partner.
Among
the district's claims are that Lenahan — in response to a request under
the California Public Records Act — provided this newspaper a document
listing all payments from Peralta to Lindquist's company, 1701
Associates.

Bay Area News Group received no such document from Lenahan
or any other source, and public-records experts said Lenahan would have
been within her rights as a public employee if she had provided the
information.

Lenahan did compile a list of payments to Lindquist,
but she was ordered not to give it to the newspaper, according to a
document that notified Lenahan of the district's intent to fire her.
She showed the record of payments to Peralta spokesman Jeff Heyman and
asked whether the newspaper should receive it. "Can you believe that we
paid him that much?" Lenahan, according to district documents, asked
Heyman about the $940,000 no-bid contract awarded to Lindquist.

"We don't create documents for" reporters, Heyman answered. "He did not ask for that. We only give him what he asks for." California
law requires public agencies to help people find specific information,
often by providing a list of relevant documents, records experts said.

In
their notice to Lenahan, Peralta administrators called the Lindquist
payments "sensitive and confidential" and said they should not have
been disclosed. "Your decision to manufacture a document that would
reflect negatively on the chancellor and the district is not
acceptable," the district wrote.
Peralta investigators found no
record of the document they say Lenahan produced. The only proof
provided in the firing notice is a rough drawing of the document made
by Heyman.

Public employees should not be punished for following
the law, said Terry Francke, general counsel for the public watchdog
group Californians Aware. The Lindquist payments are clearly public
record, added Tom Newton, general counsel for the California Newspaper
Publishers Association.

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One thought on “District Wants to Fire Aide for Being Informative

  1. Thanks for the post, Terry. To clarify: The board is meeting Tuesday night. So difficult to figure out how to use words like “tonight” when one is publishing a story both in a daily newspaper and online. In this context, “tonight” was meant for readers of tomorrow’s newspaper.

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