Court Document Reveals Allegations Against Former Long Beach City College President
A court document filed this week reveals for the first time specific allegations from a fraud investigation against a former Long Beach Community College District President and a sitting trustee.
The district alleges that Romali used college staff for personal errands and that the trustee, Sunny Zia, asked for campaign donations from a contractor with the Port of Long Beach, where Zia works. The details were revealed in a petition filed by the board in Los Angeles Superior Court to compel Zia to recuse herself from closed-door board meetings to discuss the investigation.
According to the document filed on Monday, the college district’s lawyer asked Zia to recuse herself from four meetings this summer.
In an interview with LAist on Thursday, Zia said she refused to sit out the meetings because she’s done nothing wrong.
“It's very much a fishing expedition and a political witch hunt,” she said. “I didn't go along with political interests and that's what happens.”
Zia clashed with fellow trustees Vivian Malauulu, Douglas Otto, and Uduak-Joe Ntuk earlier this year when the five-member board voted to fire Romali. Zia said she did not ask the Port of Long Beach contractor for campaign donations.
Romali, now a vice president at LA Mission College, could not be reached for comment.
Nathan Hardy, a political, election, and government ethics lawyer at L.A. law firm Reed & Davidson, said state law requires trustees of government agencies to recuse themselves from discussions in which they have a financial interest. Additionally, he said, bodies like the Long Beach district have policies in place that require trustees to recuse themselves if there’s an appearance of conflict of interest.
Hardy said the filing’s argument about Zia’s financial interest isn’t as compelling as the argument that Zia must recuse herself because of an appearance of conflict.
“I think as a matter of policy, you don't want public officials involved in making decisions about investigations that pertain to them … on the financial [conflict] I think you could actually argue it both ways. But from a policy perspective, she should recuse herself,” Hardy said.
The issue of fiduciary responsibility by administrators of public agencies, he said, is key in this case and it’s in the public interest to find out if there was wrongdoing by college employees.
Trustees said in the filing that closed-door discussions could lead to action regarding unjust enrichment, breach of fiduciary duty, and use of public resources for personal purposes.
Long Beach Community College District runs Long Beach City College at two campuses. Its roughly $200 million general fund is taxpayer-funded. The college educates about 35,000 students.
Long Beach College spokeswoman Stacey Toda declined to comment. “Long Beach City College does not comment on pending legal matters,” she said in an email requesting a response from board president Vivian Malauulu.