The following article was extracted from the Millbrae - San Bruno edition (The Sun) of the Independent, September 15, 1999 . It was also published in the other Peninsula editions of the Independent serving South San Francisco, Colma, Brisbane, Daly City, Foster City, Hillsborough and Burlingame. The Redwood City, Belmont and San Carlos editions should publish it on Wed. Sept. 29, 1999.
College bond-marketing campaign called ill-timed
Trustee candidate accuses board of misusing funds
By David Burutto
After placing a $148 million bond on the
November ballot, the San Mateo County Community College District Board of
Trustees has been accused of promoting the bond via a marketing campaign paid
for with public funds.
College district board of trustees candidate Jack Hickey has characterized the college district's recent marketing campaign to promote the three colleges in the district and their respective programs, as thinly veiled promotion of the bond.
Although the current marketing campaign sponsored by the district, which includes the College of San Mateo, Skyline and Canada Colleges, has coincided with the bond, board members deny one had anything to do with the other.
In fact, said district trustee Tom Constantino, the marketing materials and advertisements make no reference to the bond at all.
Instead, the materials describe programs offered through the colleges and feature testimonials from students describing their experiences at the colleges.
The marketing campaign, said Constantino, actually stems from a "needs assessment" commissioned by the district in 1996 when the district experienced declining enrollment at its three campuses. "The findings of that study indicated that many people lacked an awareness of the colleges," he said. "They received little information at home or from the press. From that we decided that we should have a more aggressive outreach and marketing effort."
Hickey, a Libertarian and candidate vying for a seat on the five member district board, is staunchly opposed to the bond, characterizing it as a de facto tax. "I am opposed to the bond measure because it adds essentially one percent tax," he said. "In other words, it is effectively a tax override of the Jarvis-Gann Act (Proposition 13)."
When the college district commissioned the needs assessment in 1996, however, the district had no funding available for the suggested marketing a campaign.
That changed in September of last year when the district was informed by the state that it did not have to make its annual contribution to the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPers).
For the past two years, according to CalPers spokesman Brad Pacheco, the investments from the state pension fund have performed so well, earning as much as 19 percent in 1998, that contributions from school employers were reduced to zero percent for that year.
For the college district, that freed up approximately $738,000. With the unanticipated funds, the district board, according to Constantino, diverted $250,000 into the outreach program suggested in the 1996 needs assessment which had never been funded. Subsequently, after soliciting several bids, the board engaged Bay Relations, a Daly City-based
MARKETING: page 5A
de facto -
I am familiar with de facto and de jure I did not
use either in this instance, but the tax would definitely be de jure, and would
be a result of the bonded indebtedness contained in Measure A, to be paid by
because it adds essentially one percent tax - this is a misquote. The next sentence is accurate. Jarvis-Gann imposed a 1% limit on property tax. Measure A would increase property taxes above that 1%.
outreach program - a.k.a. PR campaign apparently targeted to influence voters.
marketing firm, in early spring this year to
create a public relations campaign that has included
television advertisements and printed literature distributed through the
To date, according to district spokeswoman Barbara Christensen, the district has spent approximately $200,000 of the $250,000 allotted in September.
"We think the campaign has been very successful," she said.
"We started in May and our summer enrollment was up 7.8 percent and our fall enrollment looks like it is up a percent or two."
The same month that the marketing campaign began, the campaign committee sponsoring the bond measure also convened.
"It was in early May that we began meeting and since then we have raised about $100,000 and spent approximately $20,000," said Pat Miljanich, college trustee and chair of the Citizens for Higher Education, the campaign committee sponsoring the bond.
The bond money, according to the campaign statement for the bond, will go toward upgrades for science labs and computers; repair leaky roofs; remove asbestos; seismic upgrades; retrofitting classrooms; improve disabled access; improve safety on the three campuses and make other real property acquisitions and improvements.
The bond measure will require a two-thirds vote for approval.
The bond measure itself was not approved by the district board until its June 23 meeting, after both the bond campaign and district marketing effort were underway.
"It appears like a normal step in influencing voters," said Hickey. "Whether the measure had been on the ballot yet, to me, is not relevant. The bond measure was forthcoming and the effort was directed at influencing voters as opposed to reaching out to the community to get them to know and love the college district."
About the time that the Citizens for Higher Education began meeting, the bond campaign received the first of two $20,000 donations from the San Mateo County Community Colleges Foundation.
The foundation is the 33-year-old philanthropic, non-profit organization that raises money for scholarships and services such as childcare for low-income students at the three district campuses.
The foundation approved a $20,000 donation for the bond campaign in March of last year, three months prior to the district board placing the bond on the ballot.
The second $20,000 donation was approved by the 22-member foundation board on July 20, according to Darwin Patnode, executive director of the foundation.
College district trustees Tom Constantino and Helen Hausman also serve on the Foundation Board. Their presence on both boards, according to Hickey, amounts to a “... pattern of activity that is seeking to influence elections.”
Of primary concern to hickey, is whether or not the marketing materials designed to promote the college were sent to the public at large or simply to registered voters.
Bay Relations, the marketing firm hired by the district, has declined to make public its mailing list, according to Christensen, stating that the material proprietary.
"If they revealed how they derive their lists anyone could (use it), it's their competitive -advantage," she said.
By law, marketers are precluded form obtaining voter registration rolls directly from local agencies according to San Mateo County Registrar of Voters Warren Slocum.
Political campaigns or journalists, for example, are allowed access to voter rolls and can easily transfer that information elsewhere.
John Ruben, the college district's liaison at Bay Relations did not return calls for comment.
What is known is that the target audience for the marketing materials was, in part, 30-60 year-olds in the county, according to Christensen.
"That target market was chosen based on a three-year old community needs assessment done in 1996 that indicated that we had the least representation of those people among our student population and those people also knew the least about us," she said.
Despite an apparent lack of direct evidence of misappropriation of public funds for a political purpose, Hickey has contacted the Fair Political Practices Commission, an independent agency that governs disclosure of political campaign contributions and spending by candidates and ballot measure committees in the state, and may make a complaint with the San Mateo County Grand jury.
"The district has a legitimate purpose in mailing out materials and advertising their classes, their curriculum or special events - but this is not just a public relations flyer," he said. "It's a feel-good piece of literature trying to get people to support the colleges through the ballot box - that's their goal, stated or not”.
advertising their classes - Barbara Christensen of the District informed me that these mailings go out three times a year to 250,000 households. That seems like plenty of community contact!
television advertisements - contributors of $10.00 or more to Hickey for CCD will receive a copy on CDROM upon request. e-mail jackhick@cwnet,com or call Jack at 650-368-5722
“... pattern of activity that is seeking to influence elections.” This appears to be a bit of creative journalism possibly gleaned from my website, but clearly out of context.
Hickey has contacted the Fair Political Practices Commission. I have not. Other associates of mine may have.