Emails shed light on comments by Foothill DeAnza trustee that his fellow board members found objectionable

Gilbert Wong

This story originally appeared in the April 7 print edition of the Daily Post. To stay informed on local news, pick up the Post in the mornings at 1,000 Mid-Peninsula locations. It’s what our competitors do.

Daily Post Staff Writer

The Daily Post has obtained an email that explains why the Foothill-DeAnza Community College District board formally admonished board member Gilbert Wong after he made racial comments to a college president who is black.

Wong’s comments came during a conversation he had with DeAnza College President Lloyd Holmes on Dec. 9 about Holmes’ prospects for replacing Chancellor Judy Miner when she retires in September.

In response to Holmes’ complaint, the board stripped Wong of his committee assignments and banned him from publicly funded travel on March 28 after a third-party investigation, which the board saw but declined to release. Hours after the conversation on Dec. 9, Holmes wrote an email that seemed to memorialize what was said in writing.

“I really appreciate your acknowledgment that many of the issues I’m dealing with relate to my skin color,” Holmes wrote. “I was quite shocked, as you may have been able to tell, when you said that Asian Americans tend to have issues with folks whose skin is darker than theirs.” Wong told Holmes that the Asian Pacific American Staff Association didn’t support his candidacy because he is African American, according to Holmes’ email.

“I also appreciate you telling me that I would have been a better fit for Foothill (College) since there are more whites at Foothill,” Holmes said.

Email led to an investigation

Holmes forwarded his email to Miner, who considered it a complaint by Holmes and hired a lawyer to do an investigation.

The board cited attorney-client privilege to keep the investigation private, but the district provided the Post a copy of Holmes’ email and Wong’s reply yesterday in response to a California Public Records Act request.

“I do not remember a conversation with you the way that you have described it,” Wong said in a one-sentence reply on Dec. 10.

Wong admitted to commenting on Holmes’ skin color and apologized at last week’s meeting.

“Though my words were wrong, there was no malice in my intention,” said Wong, a former mayor of Cupertino.

Board members passed a resolution on a 6-1 vote expressing disapproval of Wong.

“Trustee Wong, you have much to change and work on from your offensive actions and words,” board member Pearl Cheng said.

Closed meeting violation possible

The resolution also asks Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen to investigate whether Wong violated the Brown Act, which is the state law that governs public meetings.

Board members alleged that Wong disclosed confidential board discussions about the chancellor search to Holmes. Revealing information disclosed in a closed board meeting would violate the Brown Act.

Holmes said in his email that Wong told him that board members are split on who they’d like for chancellor, and that they’re “waiting to see if she gets the San Mateo chancellor position.” Holmes doesn’t say who “she” is.

The San Mateo County Community College District has been looking for a new chancellor since Ron Galatolo stepped down in 2019 for allegedly taking bribes from construction contractors.

The chancellor is in charge of seeing the district and is the top official that is hired by the board.

Miner made $439,620 in 2021 in total pay, plus benefits.

Holmes made $236,846 the same year, plus benefits.    

1 Comment

  1. Thank you Daily Post reporter for effectively using the Public Records Act to get this important public record (email of officials & staff concerning the public-business).

    It seems Board member Wong finally ‘fessed up’ to his mistake, and the majority of his public board held him to account. We shall see, IF the DA’s Public Integrity Unit ever holds Wong accountable for his misdemeanor transgression of the Brown Act. (rarely does this occur, gov-to-gov accountability in Brown Act transgressions)

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