A Vote on de la Garza’s Fate?

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Posted June 22, 2009 by betty.brink in Blotch

Tonight’s special called meeting of the Tarrant County College District board could prove to be the end of Chancellor Leonardo de la Garza’s beleaguered career as head of the district, a post he’s held for more than a decade. The meeting will be in the board room at the May Owen TCC administration building beginning at 6 p.m.

Speculation is running high that the chancellor will be fired tonight — but no one is sure why, even though a number of people believe his dismissal is long overdue. What is known is that last week’s regular meeting had a posted agenda item stating that the board would meet in closed door session that night on a matter relating to the chancellor’s “contact and compensation.”

After a two-hour session behind closed doors, the board reconvened to announce that it was taking no action on the chancellor’s fate that night, but would defer any action until it met again in executive session, tonight.

One source told Fort Worth Weekly that the board is now down to the severance pay details. Another source said that all that is holding up the firing is the chancellor’s insistence that he not be held liable for any actions taken under his administration that might later be found to be illegal.

“He wants a pre-pardon, pure and simple,” the source said. The chancellor’s critics are eager to learn what changed since last summer when the seven-member board voted to extend his contract for one year with a hefty raise to more than $350,000, and then, inexplicably, voted a week later to extend the one-year contract to three, without the support of three board members.

Another board member said he is “seriously considering asking for (board president Louise) Appleman’s resignation.”

That was music to the ears of critics who have been lobbying for de la Garza’s removal because of the escalating costs and delays that have plagued the chancellor’s dream of a downtown campus that first took root in 2004.

The idea was to bring community college to downtown Fort Worth, and the project had an original pricetag of $135 million. Four years later, in mid-construction, the board did a complete about-face, scrapped half of the original plan (even though land had been bought for it) and bought the nearby 900,000-square-foot RadioShack  property, on 35 acres, for the downtown campus. Then, at de la Garza‘s urging, the board changed direction again, with four of seven members voting recently to complete the original site — at a cost of more than $1,500 a square foot, raising the hackles of even more critics, in particular developers who expressed outrage at the cost to taxpayers when other new downtown development is coming in between $200 and $300 a square foot Now the expected costs of the downtown campus, including the RadioShack purchase, have risen to half a billion dollars and the bluffside project is still far from complete, even though it has been scaled back dramatically.

The board has been split four to three on key issues for more than a year, as members Bobby McGee, Joe Hudson, and Robyn Winnett, have consistently voted against pouring more money into the project. They also opposed extending the chancellor’s contract and his big raise last summer. Has that three-member minority now gained a fourth vote?

Stay tuned.


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