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By John Harte / Special to The Californian
By The Bakersfield Californian
Q: First, who is paying the attorney’s fees for Bakersfield College’s lawsuit attempting to reverse the sanctions against its football program? And second, is this the best use of the college's money?
— Craig Holland
A: You wouldn’t believe the hurdles we had to clear with the Kern Community College District to get answers to your very straightforward first question. So let us tell you about that, and then we’ll get to what we ultimately learned.
On Sept. 20, a Friday, we asked Bakersfield College’s spokeswoman where KCCD was coming up with the money to appeal sanctions levied against BC’s football team for various rule violations. The district had sued the California Community College Athletic Association and Southern California Football Association in Kern County Superior Court following the denial of administrative appeals.
We also wanted to know whether KCCD was using in-house or outside counsel to handle the lawsuit, what it had spent so far and what hourly rate it was paying any outside attorneys involved.
Spokeswoman Amber Chiang told us the district board had decided to set aside funds to cover the costs of litigation and that it had hired an outside attorney.
But if we wanted exact dollar figures, she said, we’d have to file a public records request.
We say that because going the public records request route can take a while since it gives agencies 10 days to respond and — this is key — only requires them to produce specifically requested documents, not answer questions. We didn’t know what documents contained the answers — we just wanted the answers.
But in our experience, local agencies are pretty good about quickly answering questions posed in records requests — they just want a written record of the questions being asked. So we emailed a formal request Wednesday, Sept. 25.
Sure enough, when we called the college district legal office for an update 10 working days after sending our request (we’d heard nothing back), an official there first wouldn’t answer our questions, either because we had not asked for specific documents (which we had acknowledged in our request) or — in the case of the dollar amounts being paid to lawyers — because it was a matter of pending litigation.
The district was helpful in that it told us what documents contained some of the basic KCCD budget information we were seeking and that we could obtain them with an amended records request. It said it would look for documents showing what the hourly rate of the attorney was.
But it said it wouldn’t divulge the overall legal costs being incurred until closer to the litigation being over. And it wouldn’t give straightforward answers as to whether the board had officially set aside a certain amount of funds for the lawsuit and what kind of funds.
We knew vague answers and that long a wait for overall cost information wouldn’t sit well with many taxpayers. So we emailed the district with our understanding of its position to make sure we had it right.
Wouldn’t you know, the district almost immediately produced documents answering most of our questions.
It gave us what appear to be meeting minutes showing that on June 13, the Kern Community College District board authorized its chief financial officer to execute a retention agreement with Foster Employment Law at a cost not to exceed $50,000, to be paid from unrestricted funds.
The law firm was to provide legal services related to the appeal of California Community College Athletic Association and Southern California Football Association rulings that, among other things, stripped BC of its 2012 state football championship and vacated its football wins of 2011 and 2012 over rule violations.
The cost of those attorney services and related expenses was to be $295 per hour, the document said.
On Sept. 13, attorney C. Christine Maloney of Foster Employment Law filed a lawsuit on behalf of the district, Bakersfield College and BC Head Football Coach Jeff Chudy against the CCCAA and SCFA in Kern County Superior Court, saying the school was treated unfairly.
We, of course, wanted to know how much money KCCD had in unrestricted funds and how that compared to the last five years. The district asked us to file a public records request for that. We did, and very soon after, the district responded — by providing a link to its budgets online and offering to answer any questions we had.
So with just the links, we had to go hunting for the information. The 2013-2014 adopted budget seemed to indicate KCCD’s unrestricted revenues total $104.5 million this fiscal year, up from $94.7 million in 2012-2013.
We wanted to make sure we were looking at the right number and so Thursday, emailed what we had to the district legal office that had been handling our records requests. On Friday the district responded that its chief financial officer wouldn’t be in until Monday. We asked if the CFO was the only person in all of KCCD who handles budgetary matters (thinking surely somebody else could help us). The answer we got back: yes, he’s the only one.
There’s a district web page that lists all sorts of employees in the business services office of the district, and we emailed the list to the legal office asking if any of them could read the budget and check our numbers. We didn’t hear back.
In all fairness, it’s hardly unprecedented for local public agencies to demand a records request before giving up information. But rarely do they make us jump through this many hoops to get simple questions answered — so we wanted to shine a light on it.
Q: Driving north on Highway 99 just past the Hosking Avenue overpass, there is some type of work going on to the right.
Is that going to be an on-ramp to the 99? And I also noticed more work being done on the empty field just southeast of Hosking heading north on the 99.
Just wondering if all this is future development for housing or if we will have on- and off-ramps on Hosking and Highway 99.
— Jaime Acevedo
A: Janet Wheeler, a spokeswoman for the Thomas Roads Improvement Program, fielded this one:
The reader’s questions reference activity at the site of the future State Route 99/Hosking Avenue interchange. This project will replace the existing non-standard, two-lane bridge that crosses over SR 99 today, and will replace it with a new six-lane bridge that will have on- and off-ramps to/from both northbound and southbound SR 99.
This interchange project is shovel-ready in that it is environmentally cleared, has been designed, and the land for it has been acquired. The city is seeking funding for construction of the project.
In the meantime, the contractor for the South Bakersfield State Route 99 Widening Project is moving excess dirt from that project to the city-owned property at the site of the future Hosking Interchange. As the SR 99 Widening Project has excess dirt and as the future Hosking Interchange Project will require additional fill dirt, allowing the SR 99 widening contractor to place excess dirt at this location now results in cost savings to the city for the future interchange project.
The city will also be renting some of the future interchange area to the contractor, in the short-term, for a concrete batch plant for the SR 99 Widening Project.
Ask TBC appears on Mondays. Submit questions to email@example.com or to The Bakersfield Californian, c/o Christine Bedell, P.O. Bin 440, Bakersfield, CA 93302.