UPDATED: Chancellor emeritus Galatolo fired, allegedly took gifts from contractors

Ron Galatolo

By the Daily Post staff

UPDATE, 10 p.m., Monday — The San Mateo County Community College District Board fired chancellor emeritus Ron Galatolo after learning that he was receiving concert tickets, “high-end travel” and meals from the college district’s contractors, according to documents the district released today.

The district says that Galatolo never disclosed the gifts on his Form 700, a financial disclosure document government officials in California are supposed to file annually.

Also no explanation was offered as to why Galatolo was receiving these gifts although during his years as chancellor he had been in charge of nearly $1 billion in construction contracts on the district’s three campuses, Canada, Skyline and the College of San Mateo.

The district didn’t say which contractors were giving Galatolo gifts.

The board was upset that Galatolo hadn’t disclosed the gifts to the board during his 20 years as chancellor and 17 months as chancellor emeritus.

The documents released today also indicate that he used public funds to fund a retirement account for himself.

ORIGINAL STORY, 7 a.m., Monday — The San Mateo County Community College District board has booted Ron Galatolo from his $467,700-per-year job as chancellor emeritus as an investigation by the district attorney nears its conclusion.

District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe’s office is investigating allegations of harassment and improper handling of construction contracts by Galatolo.

On Saturday, the college district’s five-member board met in a closed session and, at the end, announced that it had voted unanimously to rescind the district’s employment contract with Galatolo. In fact, the board wants back all the money the district has paid him over the past 17 months.

Galatolo served as chancellor of the three-campus district — Canada, College of San Mateo and Skyline — for 20 years until he abruptly resigned in August 2019.

When his resignation was announced, the board said it had approved in secret a contract with Galatolo for the newly-created job of “chancellor emeritus,” which would pay $467,700 a year, the same as he was making as chancellor.

The contract:

• Required the district to issue a “mutually acceptable joint press release,” and that anyone speaking about Galatolo’s removal would follow a set of “talking points.”

• Contained a non-disparagement clause forbidding Galatolo and the board from speaking ill of one another. This clause prevented the public from knowing why Galatolo was removed as chancellor.

• Said that any disputes between the board and Galatolo would be settled by retired Judge Richard Kramer. It’s not known if Kramer was consulted about the board’s decision Saturday.

• Ordered Galatolo to stay away from the district’s three campuses.

The board, which is elected, attempted to distance itself from Galatolo as soon as he was gone. But the board replaced Galatolo with his top lieutenant, Mike Claire, previously president of the College of San Mateo, one of the three colleges that makes up the countywide district.

Whistleblower

A key figure in the prosecution’s case is former college district HR chief Eugene Whitlock.

In 2019, Galatolo arranged for the district to pay Whitlock $2.28 million if he would resign. Galatolo’s reasons for wanting Whitlock out aren’t publicly known.

But days before Whitlock agreed to resign, he sat down with investigators in the district attorney’s office. DA Wagstaffe confirmed to the Post that the investigation began with information provided by Whitlock.

Whitlock ran for the college district’s board last fall, but withdrew from the race when the Post revealed he had been paid $2.28 million to resign.

College district’s building boom

While the details of the DA’s investigation aren’t known, the district under Galatolo’s leadership has been on a building boom since the early 2000s. The district passed bond measures that raised a total of nearly $1 billion. Many of the companies that got contracts for the new buildings were donors to those bond measure campaigns.

John Pimentel, a college district trustee who was elected in November, said that the board decided to rescind the contract after discovering Galatolo had not disclosed “numerous material facts” to the board when it approved his emeritus contract in August 2019.

The board not only plans to cancel the contract but take back the $662,575 it has already paid Galatolo under the chancellor emeritus contract since it began on Aug. 8, 2019. The actual figure will be higher because the board is intent to get back the cost of fringe benefits paid on Galatolo’s behalf as well.

“We are confident the courts will agree with our action to rescind the contract, terminate all payments, and seek recovery of all funds previously disbursed to the former chancellor emeritus,” Pimentel said.

Board composition changes

In the year and a half since Galatolo was removed as chancellor, the composition of the five-member board of trustees has changed.

Gone are longtime incumbents Karen Schwarz and Dave Mandelkern. They were replaced in November by Pimentel, a renewable energy entrepreneur from Menlo Park, and educational nonprofit executive Lisa Petrides of Half Moon Bay.

They joined attorney and former Jefferson Union High School District trustee Tom Nuris; consumer rights attorney Richard Holober and former South San Francisco school board trustee Maurice Goodman.

16 Comments

  1. This article is grossly inaccurate. Whitlock was not paid $2.28m to resign and he did not negotiate anything with Galatolo. Ask yourself this – why would Galatolo negotiate anything to give Whitlock money if Whitlock had supposedly just spilled the beans to the DA and put Galatolo in the crosshairs? The bigger question is why Mandelkern and Schwarz fought so hard to get Galatolo the sweetheart contract to begin with…why did they stand to gain? Thank goodness the new Board members see Galatolo for what he is…next up are Claire, Bailey, Bauer and …? Let’s hope the DA does his job and files charges.

  2. Hey Joe, you say “Whitlock was not paid $2.28m to resign …” OK, so are you saying he was never paid or the amount is wrong?

    And you say, “… he did not negotiate anything with Galatolo.” So who reached the deal with Whitlock if it wasn’t Galatolo, who was head of the district at that time? Did somebody underneath Galatolo negotiate the Whitlock deal and present it to the board?

    Really, what’s your source?

  3. I think “Citizen Joe” is just making things up. Obviously Galatolo wanted to pay Whitlock hush money. Whitlock took the money and rolled over on Galatolo anyway.

  4. Was the $2.8 million payoff to Whitlock hush money. Read clause 7.6 of the Whitlock separation agreement of 4/26/2019: “Whitlock and R. Whitlock [his wife] each further agree that, except as compelled by legal process, neither of them will aid, assist, abet, or any way encourage any third party [which would include the District Attorney’s office] to in any way pursue any Claims which are being released and discharged in this Agreement.”

    Yeah, that’s hush money.

  5. The SMCCCD leadership, former and present appear to be a questionable bunch.
    According to this article, current Chancellor Mike Claire was Galatolo’s top lieutenant, so what has changed other than two new members to the Board of Trustees who can be fooled this time around?

  6. As a former SMCCCD administrator, I spoke at Board meetings and in writing about how the contract for “Chancellor Emeritus” could be perceived as a quid pro quo. Even this paper called it “An arrangement to conceal.”

    One has to ask:

    1. What caused the Board, after nineteen years of promoting Galatolo, to force him out?
    2. Ex-chancellors are usually shown the door with a severance and a good-by. The Board chose to keep Galatolo around with a new employment contract that extended to March 2022. Why?
    3. Galatolo was put on “administrative leave” in August 2019. The Board claimed it was NOT related to the DA’s investigation. So, what was it about?
    4. Once a leader is placed on “administrative leave,” typically an investigation begins to determine whether there is cause for dismissal or to go back to work. Did it really take 18 months to uncover “material facts?” Unlike the DA’s investigation, which takes time due to civil/criminal procedures, institutional investigations are usually quicker. Did the Board only recently initiate an investigation?

    My view is that the old Board failed in their role as trustees. They failed to hold administrators accountable and failed in their fiduciary responsibility to the community. Don’t let the old Board whitewash their behavior over the past 19 years during which time they had many opportunities to question Galatolo’s behavior. Don’t let them cover up their complicity.

    mreiner32205@gmail.com LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-b-reiner-phd-14057551/

  7. K c SM botched sale of the spectrum sale was under Garafolos watch. The cash strapped college Station lost millions.
    Schwarz. &. Mendelkern the long term board members were voted out makes you long for term limits.

  8. thank you Daily Post and Steve Wagstaffe, District Attorney. Who else is there to get to the bottom of this and lay out all the malfeasance and corruption in the college district? Any of our other elected officials interested? Too bad we can’t cancel the bond issue we passed.

    • Of yet more concern to the community might be the new antiracism agenda at the colleges where employees are taught that white employees need to cater to people of color and that they are inherently racist. Looks like no one has learned much from the Evergreen college fiasco.

  9. Why is no one following the money? The CFO had to know about and facilitate these shady deals.

    [Portion deleted — Don’t accuse people of crimes unless they’ve been charged in court]

    The “new” Board is doing the same old thing. Pimentel is as corrupt as the people he replaced. Protecting the overpaid administrators..

  10. Could not have happened to a more deserving, corrupt, sociopath as far as I am concerned. I REALLY hope the District Attorney uses all the evidence he has been given and actually takes this matter further rather than sweeping it under the carpet and letting it go. Galatolo has caused irrepairable, long term harm to many employees who tried to stand up to him. Finally the truth starts to come out but its only the tip of the iceburg and I pray everything is revealed and he ends up where he belongs – in Prison!

    • “The culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate.”

      BradW above stated, “Galatolo has caused irreparable, long term harm to many employees who tried to stand up to him.” That was the culture, but not just for him.

      As chancellor, Galatolo hired and supervised college presidents at San Mateo, Skyline, and Cañada. Employees at the colleges have complained of retaliation and retribution when “standing up” to college presidents; a culture established by Galatolo for his presidential hires.

      I myself had difficulties with former president Regina Standback Stroud at Skyline. Galatolo’s right-hand man told me “she is a strong personality and gets what she wants.” This is regardless of truth, law, or humanity. Of course, one could say the same thing about Trump. Galatolo told me he didn’t question Stroud’s personnel decisions, though he was surprised by how I was treated.

      There is a “deep state” at SMCCCD with administrators still in place that were hired during the Galatolo tenure and socialized by his values. Most evident, the Board of Trustees hired Michael Claire as chancellor, formerly Galatolo’s subordinate as president at CSM.

      Cleansing the system will take someone with courage to weed out bad apples. Who has the guts?

  11. As taxpayers of this San Mateo County, many stand with Mr. Reiner, Brad W and some of what RWC voter say. The culture is instilled from the top. Was that not Galatolo for nearly 20 years? For shame, as this was not his private corporation, or was it? Not only would one think the CFO should know, others may have things to add as well, from Vice Chancellor of Facilities Jose Nunez who could be closely intertwined with with these construction companies to create high gloss fitness centers as CSM and Cañada and a rental convention venue for weddings at skyline, to others in finance departments who “review” these contracts for processing? The bonds were to fund educational classrooms, academic course offerings and enhance services for County college students, weren’t they? We wish we could recall these bonds measures and funds with all the information revealed over the past year or so. Message to this new Board: NEVER again will informed voters of this County support this corruptness. You Board members, must stand strong, make changes and act now. Isn’t your loyalty is to the voters of this San Mateo County and not the high paid leaders who were placed into their jobs by Galatolo? Don’t fool the voters again, it seems they are catching on to this act.

  12. Why did the board approve and pay such a deal for E Whitlock, the whistleblower when it apparently had knowledge of a pending investigation of Galatolo? We don’t know the whole story and need the details details!!
    School Boards are supposed to provide oversight. Were they afraid of a lawsuit from the Galatolo? Whose protecting the tax payer? There needs to be an agency to oversee the schoolboard and the college. All appear to be a direlection of duty to the taxpayer. OUTRAGEOUS !! Don’t vote for ANY MORE BONDS in SMCo !

    • Dear Ms Gomez, I understand your outrage and protest about these bonds… I no longer reside in San Mateo, so I have no standing in future bond measures. I have been a higher educator for over thirty years though, and I would advise not to throw out the baby with the bathwater, or to use a more apt metaphor, don’t kill the patients because the doctors ripped off Medicare.

      Students and employees need facilities funded by bond measures. What is needed to prevent fraud and abuse is for community members to take a more active role in supervising and demanding accountability from Board members that they elected. I have critiqued the District’s bond measures, nevertheless, it is important to place blame where it lies.

      Few of us have the time or energy to attend Board meetings; nevertheless, civic engagement requires that we keep a watchful eye to keep officials honest.

      mreiner32205@gmail.com LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-b-reiner-phd-14057551/

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