About Me

My photo
After 35 years in public education as a university administrator and a high school English teacher, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalists awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.

Friday, February 14, 2020

The San Marcos City Planning Men's Club

All three male members of the San Marcos Planning Commission whose two-year terms expired in December were reappointed by the mayor and city council in January. The only woman on the seven-member commission, Wendy Matthews, was also reappointed.

There are no term limits for commissioners, allowing for the growth of the good old boys network. Kevin Norris begins his eleventh year on the council, while Bruce Minnery stepped down after eleven and a half years.

Five women were among the twelve new applicants who failed to win a seat on the commission. Filling vacancies with incumbents was a missed opportunity for the city to bring gender balance to the commission.

Here are a few of the qualifications of the women applicants who were passed over.

--A real estate and business attorney

--A marketing and strategic operations manager

--A local business owner

There are also only three women on the fifteen-member San Marcos Creekside Specific Plan Oversight Committee.

Given the scarcity of women on city planning groups, it’s ironic that the five individuals appointing its members, the mayor and city council, outnumber men, three to two.

San Marcos is not alone in North County in its male-dominated city planning. There are no women on the five-member Encinitas commission, one woman on Escondido’s seven-member group, and two of seven commissioners in Vista.

Carlsbad is the lone exception, with four women out of seven.

The San Marcos city website explains, “The planning commission is responsible for evaluating and making determinations on a variety of land use matters for both long-range and short-range planning.”

Given the importance of the city’s land use decisions, adding women would make the commission more representative of the 96,847 residents, the majority of whom are female.

According to the 2018 U.S. Census estimates, the tally of city household ownership shows, while 61% of all city households are owner occupied, 45% of women own the homes they live in, compared to 38% of men.

Research in the business world suggests having more women involved in group planning can improve the value of its decision making.

In a September 21, 2017 article in the business magazine Forbes, (New Research: Diversity + Inclusion = Better Decision Making At Work), Erik Larson, the founder and CEO of Cloverpop, a leadership consulting firm, writes, “According to the research, teams outperform individual decision makers 66% of the time, and decision making improves as team diversity increases. Compared to individual decision makers, all-male teams make better business decisions 58% of the time, while gender diverse teams do so 73% of the time.”

In my fifteen years as a university administrator, I learned how diversity on campus committees reduces groupthink, where the loudest voices, rather than the best decisions, can carry the day.

The need for more inclusive representation and better decision making suggest it's time for term limits on the San Marcos Planning Commission.

Monday, February 3, 2020

What Patrick Mahomes and I Have in Common

As I watched 24-year-old Kansas City Chief’s quarterback speaking to the press about his team’s miracle come-back to win the Super Bowl last night, hearing commentators remarking on his achievement at such a young age, I was reminded of my own youthful rise.

Unlike Mahomes, of course, I did not have the size or talent to achieve my dream of a career in professional basketball. No matter how many pushups I did daily to get stronger, no matter how many times I hung by my arms from overhead playground bars to make me taller, I could not grow to match my dreams.

As kids, my older brother and I participated in pickup basketball games, where I would be the last one chosen, called “Little Riehl,” after my older brother, “Big Riehl” got the call to join the team.

But what I don’t have in common with Mahome’s athletic ability, I do share with him in achievements at an early age, beginning with skipping the fifth grade. That didn’t turn out well, since I missed everything about fractions.

Being the youngest in each grade through high school had its challenges, including some bullying in my first year in junior high school, where my father had just been appointed principal.

I’ve have been unusually young in every job I took. My first salaried position, upon graduating from college at 21, was as head basketball coach at Sequim High School on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. I was only three or four years older than my players. That was brought to my attention on one occasion when a school janitor where we were scheduled to play an away game, looked at me and said, “I can’t open the door to the gym until your coach arrives.”

When I was appointed Director of admissions at Western Washington University at the tender age of 28, I encountered the same misunderstandings from admissions applicants and their parents visiting campus. When I greeted them in my office they often thanked me for talking to them, but asked if they could speak to the director.

Okay, I’m no Patrick Mahomes, even though I, too, found myself in positions often reserved for older individuals. What separates us is not only his athletic ability. It’s the respect he gets from his older teammates, showing his extraordinary leadership skills.

That’s an achievement I can only envy and admire.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Enrollment Mismanagement Plagues Palomar College

After a campus visit, a state-funded agency, the Fiscal Crisis Management Assistant Team (FCMAT) issued its November 8, 2019 report, describing Palomar College’s financial position and management practices. The news wasn’t good.

The report gave the school’s Fiscal Health Risk Analysis a 44.5% rating, indicating its probability of insolvency in the near future. According to FCMAT, in two years the school will have drained all its reserves, forcing it to borrow $6.5 million from an external source to stay solvent.

Here’s but a sample of what FCMAT found.

--The college has not provided clearly written and articulated budget assumptions, supporting revisions, to the board at least quarterly.

--After eight years in the position, the chief business officer has recently been “separated from the office.” An interim appointment has been assigned.

--The managers and staff responsible for the college’s human resources, payroll and budgets do not meet regularly to discuss issues and improve processes. With no formal documentation in meeting minutes to show communication about the personnel budget, one board member says the report reveals the offices are not on speaking terms.

--The college does not have a comprehensive enrollment management plan. Enrollment projections and assumptions are not based on historical data, demographic trend analysis, high school enrollments, and community participation rates. They’re based only on goals developed in master plans using prior year actuals as a baseline.

In a December 18, 2019 San Diego Union Tribune article, Palomar College Puts President on Paid Administrative Leave, Paul Sisson writes: “Craig Thompson, president of the faculty senate, said opening satellite campuses in Fallbrook and Rancho Bernardo simultaneously put too large a drain on resources. Thompson said a decision to increase hiring, which brought 40 additional teachers onto Palomar’s rolls last year, contributed to faculty dissatisfaction with Blake’s leadership.”

Not long after Oside News published my November 16, 2019 article, Palomar College President Not Ready for Prime Time, I discovered The Palomar Files: Candid News about Palomar College, a campus blog with postings from two faculty members: the English Department’s Dr. Rocco Versaci and the Math Department’s Professor Shannon Lienhart.

The credibility of these two can be measured by their combined 50 years of teaching at the college and the stellar ratings they get from their students, which can be found at ratemyprofessors.com.

In his post, Finding the Leak, Dr. Versaci graphed the college’s total revenues and expenditures over the last several years, pointing to 2017-18, the year the college opened its two educational centers in Fallbrook and Rancho Bernardo, when expenditures began to surpass revenues. He writes, "Using these short-term revenues, the district made long-term expenditure decisions based not on data, but on hope. Despite the fact that there was plenty of evidence that the District’s enrollment goals were not being realized, the expenditures continued to increase unabated as though the temporary fixes would continue indefinitely."

In her post, A Half-Truth is Not the Truth, Professor Lienhart writes, “Three months after Palomar College President Joi Blake opened the North and South Education Centers simultaneously, the school issued a news release, declaring, ‘Enrollments are up across Palomar Community College District, as fall semester numbers exceed expectations at Fallbrook’s North Education Center and the South Education Center in Rancho Bernardo.’ 

“The numbers, however, tell a different story. Enrollment was predicted to grow by 7% in the year after centers were opened. But instead of growing enrollment, the college suffered a 1% decrease that year.”

It’s hard to believe Palomar College has no comprehensive enrollment management plan. I don’t know much about school finance, but I learned a lot about enrollment management from my 14 years of experience at Indiana State University and Cal State San Marcos, where responsibility for enrollment planning and management was in my job description. My enrollment management teams included representatives from the faculty, as well as the offices of business and student affairs. My goal was to keep the campus community informed of enrollment projections and our success or failure in meeting our targets.

At its December 17, 2019 meeting, Palomar’s Governing Board received a call from California Community Colleges Chancellor Elois Ortiz Oakley, who informed them that the worst case scenario for dealing with the school’s financial crisis would be for the Community College Board of Governors to assign a special trustee to oversee the college’s operations, replacing Palomar’s board until the college regained solvency.

Would the three of the five board members who’ve supported President Blake’s administration see the irony in that?

Stay tuned.