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San Mateo Conflict Of Interest Suit Filed

The San Mateo County Community College District sued five contractors earlier this month. SMCCD alleges that they provided gifts and other favors to former Chancellor Ron Galatolo and Vice Chancellor Jose Nunez in exchange for lucrative construction contracts. If nothing else, the suit explains why all officials involved in public contracting (including an institution’s trustees) must disclose interests and relationships. Further, it neatly explains why Board Policy must prohibit gifts to individuals with purchasing responsibilities.

The local district attorney filed criminal charges against both the Chancellor and the Vice Chancellor. Coincidentally, Galatolo’s criminal trial on public corruption, tax fraud, perjury, and conflict of interest charges will get underway next month. Nunez has already pleaded guilty to using public funds for political purposes.

In its lawsuit, SMCCD seeks to bar the contractors from future public works projects. According to SMCCD, the contractors allegedly supplied gifts, vacations to the Middle East and Southeast Asia, home improvements to a residence Galatolo owns in Hawaii, World Series tickets, a job for his daughter, travel accommodations, golf outings and other gifts. In addition, the district wants the court to void the contracts and recover taxpayer funds it says were improperly awarded to the companies. The district contends that it was unaware of the relationships between Galatolo, Nunez, and the contractors when it made the awards.

Conflict of Interest disclosures are first step toward transparency

You could reasonably argue that people will not disclose illegal activities on a conflict of interest form. You would be right. But simply requiring everyone who is involved in public purchasing, or spending authorizations of public funds to disclose can act as a deterrent. When it doesn’t, prosecutors can use the failure to disclose against them in court.

In the San Mateo case, there are tens of millions of dollars at stake. The public deserves to know how their money is being spent, who’s spending it, and what their relationships are to the people and companies who are receiving funds.

It should concern every Washtenaw County taxpayer that WCC Trustees – who authorize the expenditure of millions of tax dollars – do not have to disclose relationships that could pose a conflict of interest. WCC Trustees have no gift policy, beyond allowing the WCC president to accept gifts to the College.

When you consider the amount of money that flows through the College, the lack of accountability is astounding. Rather than wait until a problem arises, why not take steps to let a little sunshine in right now?

We deserve much, much better than what we’re getting.

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk, via Flickr