Trade Tech leader step down amid foundation controversy
The embattled former chair of a foundation at Los Angeles Trade Technical College that has come under scrutiny over its executive director’s lavish perks and spending resigned from the board Thursday, with parting shots blaming the college president for some of the foundation’s issues.
Darryl Holter had previously stepped down from his position as chair of the Trade Tech foundation board but on Thursday resigned from the board altogether.
Holter had been criticized for allowing the large perks paid to the foundation’s executive director, Rhea Chung. Chung is now on administrative leave while the college district probes alleged improprieties in the foundation’s spending, including allegations that Trade Tech President Roland “Chip” Chapdelaine’s signature was forged on some checks to Chung.
Chung maintained that all of her spending was approved by Chapdelaine and has hired Mark Geragos, a criminal defense attorney who often represents celebrities. District officials have said they will refer the results of an internal probe into the alleged forged checks to the district attorney, but completion of that audit has now been delayed several times.
A previous Los Angeles Community College District audit raised questions about Chung’s $1,500-a-month car allowance, a $22,000 bonus and $22,000 in extra pay for running a youth orchestra that was funded by the foundation. Staff and students at the college, who called on the board to remove Holter, were also angered by revelations of Chung’s spending on meals and entertainment -- about $150 a day.
Holter said in his resignation letter that he had not benefited from the payments and thought the allegations of conflict of interest were trumped up by “certain vocal opponents on the board.”
In his letter, Holter decried a “toxic brew of personal vendettas that have crippled the organization” and also directed pointed criticisms at the college president.
Chapdelaine last week removed Holter from his appointed seat on the citizen oversight committee for the district’s bond program.
Holter wrote that Chapdelaine “seemed to forget that he had anything to do with initiatives that were designed and supported by him, including the work of the Open Academy [youth orchestra] and other items that were questioned by the audit report and attributed solely -- and inaccurately -- to the Executive Director.”
He went on to say that Chung had reported to Chapdelaine, not to the board, and that the president, not the volunteer board members, should have overseen her spending: “As a volunteer chairman, I viewed my role as helping the Executive Director meet potential donors, organize events, and raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, not scrutinizing daily expense reports, questioning reimbursements for gasoline or agonizing over whether a golf outing with a potential donor was for business or pleasure.”
Chapdelaine said that he had supported the youth orchestra as a way of bringing arts into the college but was not aware of the amount of money being spent on it, which totaled more than $100,000 last year, or of the perks paid to Chung. He also maintained that it was the board’s responsibility, not his, to oversee her spending.
“I do not, and I did not have fiduciary responsibility over the executive director,” he said.
Some on campus took Holter’s resignation as a victory. Kenneth Reid, 50, a welding student and vice president of the Associated Student Body, said it was a sign that the “foundation and college are moving in a positive direction.”
Some foundation board members were less pleased, and one, Ram Sareen, sent an email saying he would also resign.
-- Abby Sewell