Mayor Ed Lee named a new member to the City College of San Francisco Board of Trustees this week to fill a seat left vacant when Milton Marks III passed away earlier this month from a brain tumor. He selected engineer Rodrigo Santos, a local businessman and development advocate whose business skills Lee cited as relevant to CCSF’s current plight.
There can be no denying that City College is at a critical juncture in its history. The college, which opened in 1935 as an offshoot of the San Francisco Unified School District and became a community college in 1970, is under scrutiny after the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges ordered it to demonstrate that it is worthy of having its accreditation renewed.
In the most extreme case, the college could lose its accreditation or be closed. But probably the school will have to make some painful adjustments to revamp its operations in a way that the accreditation board approves of. The accreditation board identified 14 separate areas in which CCSF needs to make meaningful improvements, including college governance, facilities, technology, and student services and outcomes.
Meanwhile, as the board works through the issues needed to secure its accreditation, 10 separate candidates are vying for one of the four open seats on the board. The election for the four-year term is in November, and Santos is one of the 10 running.
With so much at stake in selecting the new City College board members, some observers were disappointed that Lee gave Santos an advantage by naming him to the board ahead of the election. By doing so, he made Santos an incumbent nearly two and a half months before the election, increasing his name recognition and giving him a much bigger soapbox for his candidacy.
Lee could instead have chosen to appoint a caretaker trustee. The BART board of directors also recently had an open position on its board, and there, too, several people are running campaigns for the right to represent that seat on a permanent basis. The BART board, however, waited until after all the candidates emerged so that it could select a caretaker who was not running for office, thereby not giving any candidate a leg up in the race.
Under all but extraordinary circumstances, such an approach is the fairest way to replace a vacant governmental officeholder. (After all, Mayor Lee himself was once considered a non-political caretaker replacement for his predecessor, Mayor Gavin Newsom. Of course, we all know how that worked out, but that comparison is nonetheless different since Newsom had no control over whether Lee would ultimately run for a full four-year mayoral term.)
In this instance, however, the dire situation facing CCSF argues for the value of continuity on the college board. The tragic loss of the dedicated Marks came at a poor time for the school. But since all the board candidates had already emerged, and since Santos had demonstrated his political viability by virtue of being the field’s top fundraiser by far, the mayor seems to have made the best possible selection — at least from the standpoint of continuity.
Come November, voters will appropriately have the final say regarding who will receive complete four-year terms to preside over reforms at CCSF. Santos may or may not be worthy of our endorsement at that time. But in the meantime, we urge him and all his new peers to roll up their sleeves and get down to the serious business of saving City College.