As Chabot-Las Positas searches for a new chancellor, a familiar name lies in wait

Former State Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, right, during her 2016 campaign for the East Bay Regional Park District Board of Directors.

At first glance it wasn’t entirely clear why former State Senate Majority Ellen Corbett suddenly showed up at an Alameda County Democratic Party endorsement meeting one late afternoon in September.

The lengthy endorsement process started early that morning with most of the high-profile candidates already long gone. But Corbett, who is now an elected member of the East Bay Regional Park District Board of Directors, arrived at the union hall in Oakland just as the central committee began interviewing candidates for two seats on the Chabot-Las Positas Community College Board of Directors.

Corbett was known to be a supporter of one candidate, Linda Granger, a former San Leandro High principal running for an open seat on the board. But Corbett was also working behind the scenes to help the appointed board member, Genevieve Randolph, win the seat for a four-year term.

Shockingly, however, only in hindsight, the candidates for both Chabot-Las Positas Board races were asked a poignant question by the central committee. “Would you be open to selecting a chancellor who is a well-known elected official?”

Corbett’s appearances at Chabot-Las Positas public meetings last spring as the board was deliberating whether to become a sanctuary college had many speculating at the time, without much of a clue, why she had so much interest.

The attention to the board races by Corbett wasn’t entirely based on the merits of the candidates, though, but Corbett’s interest in becoming the next Chabot-Las Positas chancellor. The position has been open since the community college board decided not to renew the contract of former Chancellor Jannett Jackson last June. She later resigned in August. The chancellor’s office has been helmed on an interim basis by Thomas Fallo.

According those with knowledge of the situation, Corbett was an applicant for the chancellor position last fall. Many of those same sources say Corbett’s involvement in the two board races last November was strategic. Securing the two seats could give Corbett enough votes to be named chancellor. Both Granger and Randolph cruised to easy victories last month. There’s no direct evidence that Corbett attempted to lobby members of the Chabot-Las Positas Board for the job, which is likely improper.

The strategy, however, has not gone as planned. Last fall, A search committee vetted the list of applicants for chancellor. Last month, the committee passed along three favored candidates to the Chabot-Las Positas Board. Corbett was not one of them. A source says a bloc of faculty members were not sold on Corbett, incidentally, also a former Chabot College faculty member.

In a surprising development, the Chabot-Las Positas Board on Dec. 18 chose to go back to the drawing board after rejecting each of three recommendations for chancellor. This came after an extensive vetting period performed by the search committee and a pair of public forums featuring all three candidates on Dec. 11 and Dec. 12. The turning away of all three candidates by a board is somewhat unusual, and astonished some members of the search committee.

A new interim chancellor appears on the community college board’s near future. Because of restrictions regarding his pension, Fallo’s time will soon be up as interim, leaving the board no choice but to find another short-term solution. The fallout from the decision likely keeps Corbett still in contention for the permanent job.

Corbett’s power play for the chancellor position has raised some eyebrows among East Bay politicos, but her resume as one of the most accomplished East Bay politicians of her generation speaks for itself. Her upset victory in the 1994 San Leandro mayor election shook up the “old boy” establishment that was pervasive for generations. Four years later, her election to the state assembly and then state senate burnished her image as a trusted public servant who focused much of her time on education.

Corbett’s campaign in the 2014 primary against Rep. Eric Swalwell in the 15th Congressional District, however, shortened the trajectory of her political career when she failed to advance to the General Election. Instead, an unknown and underfunded Republican candidate was easily defeated by the incumbent Swalwell in November of that year. Her successful run for the East Bay Regional Park District Board in 2016, however, seemed to many as incongruent with her experience in government.

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