By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The argument convinced L.A. Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs, who granted the board of trustees a temporary restraining order. In her ruling, she said some of the provisions of the state takeover were questionable. It was a short-lived victory for the trustees. Eventually, the order was made moot when the Legislature intervened on Drummond’s behalf with A.B. 61 in July 2004.
Yet problems remained with the state’s reasoning for the takeover. The state said the takeover was partly a response to allegations of corruption, raised by the Times, against board members, including Peña, Carl Robinson and college President Williams, a 1964 Olympic gold medalist. But by the time the state moved in, three new trustees had been placed in office by voters: Burgess, Lorraine Cervantes and Willie O. Jones. (Jones, elected in 2002, was implicated in the Times story for overnight use of a Compton College district car with “a multidisc CD player and leather seats.”)
The state also said Compton College was in financial distress, but an audit conducted shortly after the state stepped in heralded “discovery” of $600,000 in overlooked funds. The state also argued that the Compton College administration essentially needed a cleaning out, a fresh start. But key administrators who might have been responsible for some of the financial problems were — at least initially — not affected by the takeover.
Finally, the state said Compton College was unique, its financial problems especially dire. It said Compton was the only college with a negative ending balance in 2002-03. But for that fiscal year, two other districts were listed as critical “Priority 1” on the chancellor’s office watch list of financially troubled colleges: Palo Verde and Santa Monica. One community college district, Ventura, was “Priority 2,” a less serious level. And nine districts were “Priority 3,” including the districts of Glendale, Los Angeles, Peralta, San Francisco and West Hills.
In interviews, members of the board of trustees said that’s only half the story. The state takeover happened after Drummond sought to protect his friend Ulis Williams, according to current and former trustees, and various Compton community residents, elected officials, activists and others familiar with Compton College who were interviewed for this story.
In January 2004, two months after voters in the district sent two new members to the college board, Drummond called the Compton College trustees to a dinner in Sacramento. At this dinner, according to three board members who attended, Drummond warned the board against removing college President Williams.
It was widely known that a new alliance of board members, conscious of the cloud of scandal that had enveloped the district since the L.A. Times story, wanted to fire the administrators whom they saw as problematic. Williams was a target.
But Drummond warned the board members that Williams was a friend, and that he would “move to Compton if you try to do something,” said trustee Cervantes, elected in 2003.
“He made it clear to us that Ulis Williams was his friend and that he supported him as president and superintendent,” Cervantes said.
Robinson, himself the subject of scrutiny in the Times investigation, described the evening with Drummond in a 2004 interview: “We ate, had fun, told jokes and then, at the end of the dinner, Drummond stood up, he turned to Cervantes, he said, ‘I know you have some problems down there. But I support Ulis, he’s my friend,’ and he said, ‘If you mess with Ulis, I will move to Compton.’ ”
Despite the threat, some members of the board went ahead with the idea of “messing with Ulis.” Four months later, Drummond arrived to announce the state takeover. This element of the dynamic that led to the takeover was widely overlooked.
Williams was eventually ousted, in February 2005, for reasons that remain unclear. Efforts to reach him were unsuccessful. Drummond said Williams retired and that “His whereabouts at this time are unknown to me, but I wish him well in his retirement.”
In his responses to questions, Drummond painted the dinner this way, printed here as written: “I attended only a portion of the dinner meeting . . . At that time I had only a small piece of the total picture — and strongly advise[d] them to obtain the best advice (legal, financial) they could get then to support President Williams in an effort to clean the place up before it was too late. In retrospect, it was already too late.”
Dymally described the incident this way: “Yes, [Drummond] was [protecting Williams], but he finally fired him. Ulis was his friend, there’s nothing hidden about it, nothing illegal about fighting for a friend.”
And responding to the argument that the trustees are being punished for the behavior of previous trustees, Dymally said, “It doesn’t matter. This board is equally responsible.”
Drummond and Dymally have a rich history of cooperation.
Dymally served as a consultant for the huge, nine-campus Los Angeles Community College District in 2000, while Drummond was chancellor of that district. Dymally earned a total of $62,500 advising the L.A. schools on “atriculation agreements between the district and historically black colleges and universities,” according to the L.A. district public information office. This was before Drummond was appointed chancellor for the whole state, in January 2004.