The next chancellor

Running City College isn't an easy job in the best of circumstances, and Day hasn't made it easy for his successor

EDITORIAL In a few weeks, City College of San Francisco chancellor Philip Day will be gone, headed to Washington DC to head a nonprofit that works on college financial aid issues. He will leave behind a unionized staff that's relatively happy (Day worked hard to get raises for the faculty), a board that's bitterly divided, a long list of financial problems — and a legacy of bad feelings in the community. As G.W. Schultz reports on page 14, he's also leaving behind a scandal involving the diversion of college money to a political campaign.

Three of the board incumbents will be up for reelection this fall, and the seven-member panel desperately needs more new blood. But the current board will be choosing the next chancellor, the person who will have to dig one of the city's most important institutions out of a deep fiscal and public relations crevice. Running City College isn't an easy job in the best of circumstances, and Day hasn't made it easy for his successor. The board will have to weigh a long list of qualifications — but one ought to be at the top.

The next chancellor needs to be someone who respects open government and is willing to work with — not fight against — the neighborhoods, the Board of Supervisors, and other interest groups in the city. Day's successor needs to understand that San Franciscans don't like to be pushed around by big institutions, don't like to be lied to, and don't like imperious officials who think secrecy is an appropriate response to criticism.

The Community College District has a long history of making it difficult for the public to monitor what the administration is doing. After at least five years of battles, the agency still won't adopt the San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance. Day has been recalcitrant when it comes to making documents public, and with the support of a narrow board majority he has been conducting all sorts of business behind closed doors. The administration several years ago quietly shifted millions in bond money that was earmarked for a performing arts center into building a new gym and pool, then signed an exclusive lease allowing a private school to use the pool in the afternoons. One of Day's senior aides apparently diverted school money into a political campaign — and Day, who makes more than $400,000 per year in compensation, said the district couldn't afford an internal auditor to keep track of that sort of money.

In Chinatown and North Beach, neighbors have been battling the college over a new campus building — and while the issues (over historic preservation, light and shadow, and appropriate height limits) are ones that could have been resolved amicably, Day's administration has bullied the neighbors, refused to talk in good faith, and infuriated people who ought to be the strongest allies of a new campus in an underserved part of town.

If the board members want to turn the troubled district around, they need to make sure the new chancellor is willing to embrace the city's open-government laws, do business in public, and accept that fact that in this city an agency with the powers of the state of California won't get away will telling communities their concerns don't matter.