City Life: Hubbard could be re-hired

Bureaucracies are as predictable as sunrises.

So it should not surprise anyone that the Newport-Mesa Unified trustees chose one former superintendent, Robert Barbot, to replace another former superintendent, Jeffrey Hubbard, who was recently convicted of two felonies.

Barbot is now the interim superintendent — a placeholder, someone who will keep the chair warm until a third superintendent gets on this merry-go-round by July 1.

Barbot is the safe-but-expensive choice. As a pensioner who made $227,057 in retirement benefits last year, Barbot could earn about $100,000, plus expenses, from his interim superintendent job over the next five months.

Life for Barbot is good.

We may not have seen the last of Hubbard. He has said he will appeal the verdict, and because the sentiment of the school board is that he is guilty until proven otherwise, a reversal of his conviction could put pressure on the board to re-hire him.

After all, if he is eventually cleared, why should he lose his job? To avoid a lawsuit, the contract for the new superintendent should include a clause that the agreement may be voided at the discretion of the trustees, with an appropriate payout, should Hubbard win on appeal.

The contract is a matter that requires thoughtful judgment now, during the time when the board is searching for Hubbard's replacement. The trustees should not take the easy route and use the Hubbard contract as a template for the new superintendent.

The extra annual incentives that paid Hubbard while the compensation for others fell — or their contributions to medical or pension programs increased — should be eliminated. The new superintendent's compensation should be fixed and increases should be subject to a vote of the trustees.

Trustee votes regarding the new superintendent are important now, particularly that of Walt Davenport, who once said to the Daily Pilot: "I don't believe [Hubbard] will be found guilty," and "I think the whole thing is trumped up" ("Board leader stands by supt.," July 5).

In October, the Pilot reported that "Davenport said his steadfast support comes from his feelings about Hubbard's character and his belief that the charges won't stand up in court" ("School board stands by superintendent," Oct. 14).

After Hubbard's conviction last month, Davenport said: "I'm very surprised. I did not expect him to be found guilty" ("Search is on for Hubbard's replacement," Jan. 24).

Now, Davenport will get a vote to determine the new superintendent, which I hope will be cast for someone with experience in school turnarounds.

Then there is the matter of the calendar for choosing Hubbard's replacement. The school board apparently has not realized that the July 1 deadline it set for selecting a new superintendent is a Sunday. At least July 1 isn't a federal holiday, but it would be nice if someone on Bear Street would take ownership of the district's calendar.

Regardless, July 1 should not be the deadline, nor should any other date. The trustees should focus on hiring the best candidate, not beating the clock.

As taxpayers, we should be outraged that, as a convicted felon, Hubbard will still receive his taxpayer-funded pension ("Pension funds look to be safe," Jan. 7). This is an absurd situation that should be corrected with a law at the state level. Perhaps we'll see one of the candidates in the 2012 race for local state Assembly District 74 make this a plank in his or her campaign platform.

As traumatic as the Hubbard affair has been, it also presents the trustees with some opportunities. This is a chance to find someone who has experience in turning around failing schools, but it is also an opportunity for the district to firm up some loose policies.

First, all employees should be reminded that anyone who sends inappropriate emails using a district email address, including the superintendent, may be subject to termination.

This is also the time to put travel policies in writing so that everyone understands what is and what is not acceptable. My recommendation is to establish a per diem. I've had managerial experience with a per diem policy; it saves a tremendous amount of time and money.

Hubbard told us last month that, "when this is over, [I'm] looking forward to sharing every bloody detail."

I spent two days at the trial and heard JudyAnn Allen-Mendez testify that she entered Hubbard's office unannounced and saw subordinate Karen Anne Christiansen getting up from his lap.

Thanks, but I think I've heard all the "bloody details" I care to hear. It's time to move on.

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to smi161@aol.com.

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