Donner the Common Denominator
Ambrose Bierce defined the word “economy” as “purchasing the barrel of whisky that you do not need for the price of the cow you cannot afford.” Bierce’s definition would pretty much sum up Tom Donner’s lamentable reign of error at Santa Monica College.
Donner is living proof that just because you’ve been doing something for 30 years is no guarantee that you know what you’re doing. In the interview conducted by Ms. Heineman for the Mirror Donner projects that he has graciously yielded to the request of the three retiring Trustees to run for the Board himself. These Trustees, having fallen somewhat short of completely destroying the College through their protracted and consistent ineptitude, want Donner to administer the coup de grace for them. They’re exhausted. They feel as though SMC needs Donner to jog the College’s “institutional memory.” Apparently the half-finished buildings, enrollment shortfall, financial deficits and bloated administration will not suffice. Most of the employees at the College would love to forget what Currey, Roney and Ehrhart-Morrison want us to remember. Would that forgetting was an option.
Donner claims that he wants “to protect student services when budget problems make cuts.” If so, then he is suffering from institutional amnesia. The last time there were budget “problems” Donner’s response was to cut classified staff, adjunct faculty and vocational education programs while not taking a dime from the horde of six digit sycophants (many of whom he hired) that passes for management at SMC. How this response, which lost the College 20 percent of its enrollment, “protected student services” is understood by Donner and no one else. His strategy didn’t do much to protect the College either. SMC wound up on the State’s fiscal watch list along with Compton Community College (currently in receivership).
Another of Donner’s “long-term goals” is to “strengthen classified service in order to have appropriate staffing for running the College.” In Donnerspeak by “strengthen” he means that he will subcontract out every possible function he can even at a loss while blaming the union representing the classified staff for all the ills of the world. It is telling that neither the classified union nor the faculty union honored Donner’s request for an endorsement. We who work at the College would prefer to see it succeed if only for naked self-interest. Donner’s self-interest was served by the exorbitant salary he secured before departing the College, having nearly driven the place into the ground.
Donner told Ms. Heineman that his “short-term goals” include “strengthening the relationship with the City […].” Before running for office, Donner’s endeared himself to the City by threatening to sue over earthquake abatement funds. The lawsuit was aborted due to the counter threats of the City Attorney and the City Council.
Donner also has a rather Pollyanna approach to the pesky problems generated by the College’s relentless expansion into residential communities with the attendant problems of traffic congestion, 100-decibel subwoofers, petty crime and carbon monoxide. The gloomy residents of these communities, according to Donner, need to stop looking at the worst case scenario and instead look at the most likely scenario and work from there. Of course if Donner is involved the worst-case scenario is most likely the most likely scenario. That’s why there have been problems to begin with.
Finally, Donner claims that he lost the SMRR endorsement because he is a “fiscal conservative.” In Donnerspeak “fiscal conservative” means the mass transfer of public money into the coffers of lawyers (thirteen firms currently retained by the College), consultants, subcontractors, architects, construction companies and public relations firms. He never saw a bond issue he didn’t like or an administrator that wasn’t worth $100K or more no matter how many times he or she had been recycled.
The College under his leadership has built more and more buildings for fewer and fewer students. The College has doubled its managerial overhead while increasing its reliance on consultants and subcontractors to perform the work of the superfluous managers. This has not prevented Donner from lavishing laptops, District-paid cell phones, travel expenses and junkets on his bureaucratic cronies. He has paid legal reptiles hefty fees to hound both faculty and classified staff. He has sunk vast sums of bond money into ill-considered construction projects and real estate acquisition. He’s about as fiscally conservative as your average oil sheik.
Problems with budgets. Problems with enrollment. Problems with the City. Problems with the community. Problems with endorsements. Problems with unions. Donner seems to be the common denominator. Donner says he wants to solve all the problems and he probably can – but only if he loses the election.