By Christopher Yee
Despite evidence that the former head of the Los Angeles Community College District’s building program misused and mismanaged funds, the district Board of Trustees has not yet terminated his contract.
Instead, the board voted unanimously last Wednesday to put Larry Eisenberg on one-year’s notice of his contract’s termination and then placed him on administrative leave, effectively removing him from his position.
ELAC Academic Senate vice president Jeffrey Hernandez e x p l a i n e d t h a t i m m e d i a t e termination may not have been legally possible or that putting him on leave for another year might be a more cost-effective move.
District Academic Senate president David Beaulieu criticized the board for not firing Eisenberg sooner.
“He should have been fired two years ago when the Board was first informed that the energy program had spun out of control and that there was evidence of considerable mismanagement regarding consultant hiring and compensation.
“The trustees had an opportunity then, and another one year later, and both times they declined to take action. For that, we are all now paying the price, as the district’s good name has been thoroughly blemished,” said Beaulieu.
Hernandez said that the board should have kept a closer eye on Eisenberg right from the start.
“Maybe he served an important role early on, but he was a salesman. He was obviously used to selling b.s. and having people believe it,” said Hernandez.
The decision to remove Eisenberg from his position came in the wake of the Los Angeles Times’s series about millions of dollars of public bond money wasted as a result of decisions made directly by Eisenberg.
The Times reported that Eisenberg, who was hired as executive director of facilities planning and Development for the LACCD in 2003, had made several costly, ill-advised decisions including approving non-construction projects like a video biography of himself, aerial shots of the district colleges from chartered helicopters and hiring a feng shui expert.
During the board meeting open session, in an assembly room on the second floor of the student store building at Harbor, community members, faculty, staff and students present at the meeting applauded the board of trustees at the announcement of Eisenberg’s contract’s termination.
Board president Georgia L. Mercer announced the termination of Eisenberg’s employment after the meeting’s public speaking session, during which 10 community members and staff from different colleges spoke about the shame and anger they felt because the board had refused to listen to the community’s concerns before construction began.
Immediately after Mercer’s announcement, Chancellor Daniel LaVista said, “In efforts to ensure a smooth transition, Thomas Hall, will take on the position as provisional district executive director of facilities planning and development.”
Hall became Eisenberg’s deputy in January 2008. According to the district’s “LACCD Builds Green” website, “Hall has more than 30 years of experience in the administration of facilities in both higher education and health care.”
He had previously spent 10 years directing facilities in the Missouri State University system.
The Board of Trustees is not currently seeking out a permanent replacement for the executive director position. A district representative suggested the possibility of the interim tag being removed from Hall’s title.
Hernandez hoped that the Board of Trustees would learn from this entire experience.
“The board does not ask for responses consistently. It needs to be more assertive, ask questions, and demand answers (of its employees),” said Hernandez.
ELAC Academic Senate president Alex Immerblum explained that he felt the board took appropriate action given all of the revelations about Eisenberg’s decisions.
“It probably should have happened sooner, but the board made a wise choice. It’s a new day, new time, new opportunity to move forward,” said Immerblum.
Veronica Hurtado also contributed to this story.