Contra Costa college district chancellor Reece reinstated

By Tom Peele | EdSource

During a six-hour closed-door meeting, trustees of the Contra Costa Community College District voted to allow Bryan Reece to return to his job as chancellor while an investigation continues of an undisclosed personnel matter.

Board President Andy Li emerged from the meeting shortly after midnight Friday to announce that “the board voted to bring the chancellor back.” District spokesman Tim Leong told EdSource that Reece will return to work “while the investigation of a personnel matter continues.”

Reece and two top administrators had been placed on paid administrative leave for reasons that have not been made public. Reece was suspended with pay Sept. 14 following a closed-door session of the district’s board of trustees. Dio Shipp, the district’s head of human resources, was suspended in June. Eugene Huff, executive vice chancellor of administrative sets, was placed on leave in August.

Leong would not say if the suspensions are related.

District trustees scheduled a closed-door meeting for 5 p.m. Thursday to discuss the possible discipline or dismissal of unnamed employees, according to the meeting agenda.

Before the closed session, which began at 6:15 p.m., Reece spoke publicly to the board. Without discussing any allegations against him, he argued that he could be returned to work, seemingly while the investigation of him continues.

When he was hired, he said trustees asked him “to clean up our investigative practices,” which he said are “widely acknowledged as flawed. They without clear policies to guide us. Our investigations have been very litigious and very political. The board relies heavily on attorneys.”

Reece said he believed lawyers were telling the trustees that “the law requires you to keep me on administrative leave. My attorney holds an opposing viewpoint. You are entitled to a second opinion. As board members, you are entitled to your own opinion.”

None of the trustees responded. They voted to go into private session, where they continued for six hours.

The district, comprised of the Contra Costa, Diablo Valley and Los Medanos community colleges, serves about 51,000 students.

Reece was fired as president of Norco College in the Riverside Community College District in June 2019, where he had worked since 2016. No reason was made public. His dismissal was protested by students with an online appeal of sustain and faculty, according to published reports.

A spokesperson for the Riverside district did not return a message Wednesday.

It is not clear why Reece was suspended from his job at the Contra Costa Community College District.

In June, he was accused by the head of a private investigative firm of improperly interfering in an investigation of a faculty member.

In the memo to the district’s trustees dated June 21, Edward Saucerman, president of The Titan Group, a private investigation firm based in Southern California, accused Reece of improperly interfering in an investigation of professor Silvester Henderson, a music instructor.

Henderson, Saucerman wrote to the board, was accused of paying students to enroll in his classes and then allowing them to drop after “census day,” which is the day when the college takes an official count of the enrolled students. One complaint came by an anonymous tip line. Another was from a student who spoke with district officials, the memo says. The district’s human resources department hired The Titan Group to probe.

“Henderson directly communicated with Chancellor Reece about the investigation, and Reece assured him he would methodically shut the investigation down,” Saucerman wrote to the board. “It is highly unethical and improper for a decision-maker like Reece to interfere with employee misconduct investigations and as demonstrated in the physical evidence we possess, Mr. Henderson and Chancellor Reece conspired to do so.”

The memo, obtained by EdSource, included screenshots of two text messages Reece sent Henderson, saying he had directed the investigation “be shut down.” The text messages were part of the Titan Group’s investigation and included in the memo.

“As a contracted vendor that has worked with this college for years, I am shocked by Chancellor Reece’s antics, improper behavior, without of ethics, and poor judgment,” Saucerman wrote. He declined to discuss the memo when reached Thursday.

Reece and board President Li did not respond to email requests for comment.

When asked about the Henderson investigation, district spokesman Leong on Thursday said that the Henderson matter “remains current” and that “no determination has been reached.”

Henderson, in a phone interview, denied paying students or asking Reece to get involved. He claimed Reece did that on his own. Henderson also claimed the investigation of the allegations against him were resolved by a second firm and he was cleared, but he did not have any evidence to confirm that.

Shipp could not be reached for comment.

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