Changes at COD amongst a year of scandal

POSTED: 04:18 PM PST Dec 31, 2012    UPDATED: 07:29 AM PST Jan 01, 2013 
College of the Desert

2012 has been a challenge for College of the Desert.  From a football player being shot and killed by police to allegations of fraud from the state of California. But the school's president says 2013 will be a new year and a new opportunity to gain the public's trust.

President Joel Kinnamon inherited a lot when he took up the post this summer. 

In February, police shot and killed 20-year-old Frank Tanuvasa, a COD football player, during a robbery in Palm Desert.

Joel Felix, a football player, said at the time, "Man, the whole team down right now about this. That was our number one "O Line" right there. About to get signed and everything, you know. Whatever happened, it went out the wrong way."

The incident came just five months after another COD football player attacked a teammate with a knife.  The violence launched an investigation into the athletic department's disciplinary actions and allegations about eligibility and recruitment practices.

Thomas Armstrong, a coach at COD, said in June, "I think the best thing is to be completely transparent. If anybody wants to look into any allegations, we're more than happy to let them."

The investigation resulted in two years of probation for the football program as well as a one-year ban from postseason play.

In September, a grand jury report made allegations about the school's law enforcement program, labeling it as ineffective.  Some graduates and the school disagreed with the report.

Angel Mata, an academy graduate, was asked, "You have confidence in the academy that they're going to give you everything you need?"

"Oh yeah, 100 percent," Mata responded.  "Our RTOs are current law enforcement officers, so they're always on the beat. They know what's going on. As far as teaching us, they prepare us 100 percent."

Then, in November, the state accused the college of wrongfully receiving more than $5 million after misreporting the number of full-time students.

Paul Feist, vice chancellor of communications of the California Community Colleges chancellor's office, said, "This is pretty extraordinary.  It's one college out of 112, so its not a widespread practice by any means."

An anonymous tip started the investigation at the chancellor's office in 2011.  When President Joel Kinnamon took office in July, he says, he immediately took action.

 "I knew there were some issues around our FTES (full-time equivalent semesters) reporting, so I've been in contact with the state chancellor's office early on, and then we worked together to bring in an audit team," said Kinnamon.  

Kinnamon says he has already put new practices into place, and he's working with the audit team on implementing more.

"I want to make sure they take another look at us and make sure we have best practices in all of the processes that we do, because again, it is important that we demonstrate that we are good stewards of taxpayers' money," said Kinnamon.

As for the current attendance numbers, Kinnamon says someone will be looking at those, as well.

"So that when I sign off, I have been assured by a third party that everything has been reviewed and that we are fully in compliance with our reporting," said Kinnamon.

Kinnamon is also working on reorganizing how the school is run.  That includes directing the board of trustees not renew the contract of Dr. Edwin Deas, the vice president of business affairs.

"In no way is this a termination.  This is just a -- this contract was for three years; it ends June 30," said Kinnamon.

But Deas didn't feel that way at all.  At a special board meeting, Deas said he worries the move will make him the "sacrificial lamb" for the attendance fraud scandal.
"I can only construe that this recommendation by Dr. Kinnamon as a retaliation against me and my involvement in the past," said Deas.

"This is not a performance issue, this is not related to any of the issues that have been brought up related to FTES and other matters.  This is just a nonrenewal of a contract," said Kinnamon.

Kinnamon and several trustees stressed Deas has in no way been accused or implicated in the school's misreporting of attendance figures.  

At one point, trustee John Marman voiced his concern about the meeting not being behind closed doors.  He called the proceeding a sideshow and threatened to walk out.

Marman ultimately stayed after a member from the audience called for his resignation after his remarks.

Deas' contract will now end on June 30, unless he's offered a new one.

After the start of the year, Kinnamon will meet with the state chancellor's office to work out a plan to pay back the $5 million owed to the state from the misreporting of attendance figures.