Err Jordan 

As Alameda County's schools endured record financial woes, Sheila Jordan seemed more interested in punishing employees who questioned her judgment or her alleged illegal behavior.

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"I felt like a fool," he added. "I felt like I was being used — exploited is a better word."

Ruby insisted she was unaware of any coerced campaigning by principals and questioned Fashokun's truthfulness. Jordan admitted that some of her principals, including Fashokun, did do phone banking for Ruby, but said they had volunteered. When asked why Fashokun would lie, Jordan said he was disgruntled because he had been fired for poor performance. Once it was pointed out that Fashokun left voluntarily when she eliminated the full-time principal's job at Rock LaFleche, Jordan retracted this assertion.

If Fashokun's allegations are true, then Jordan violated California labor law. It is illegal for an employer "to coerce or influence or attempt to coerce or influence" her employees into engaging in political activity, under state labor code section 1102. Stewart Weinberg, an Alameda-based labor attorney, who has no ax to grind with Jordan, explained that under case law the standard for "coercion" and "influence" is low. Jordan would not have had to overtly threaten Fashokun with his job for her to have violated the statute and be guilty of a misdemeanor. "If you tell somebody that depends on the livelihood you control that you want them to do something, that's coercive," Weinberg said.

The first big financial crisis on Jordan's watch occurred in 2000, about a year after she took office. She and her staff were fooled by a con artist.

In retrospect, there were plenty of signs that the Emeryville schools warranted scrutiny. The tiny three-school district eventually required a $2.3 million state bailout, and Superintendent J.L. Handy went to jail for spending district funds on personal trips and elaborate gifts for himself and others. Jordan's office should have known to watch Handy closely. He had already driven the schools in Compton into bankruptcy in 1993, but Jordan and her staff repeatedly believed his assurances that the Emeryville district was solvent.

Even after the district's problems first came to light, and a county auditor was appointed and a spending freeze imposed, Jordan's employees knew that Handy was still charging personal expenses on his district credit card, and yet they shared "little information" with Emeryville's elected school board, according to a grand jury report. His thievery was finally exposed not by Jordan's office but by San Francisco Chronicle reporter Meredith May. The 2000-2001 grand jury noted bluntly in its report that Jordan "had no experience with financial oversight at the level of a county office of education" and was slow to ensure that her office possessed such skills.

But it was in Oakland where Jordan and her staff failed to anticipate the largest public-school meltdown in California history. In October 2002, Oakland schools Superintendent Dennis Chaconas disclosed that his district was losing $30 million a year and was well on its way to a $60 million deficit.

Jordan almost immediately sought to oust Chaconas, blocking his attempts to stave off a state takeover, and ordering a series of audits of Oakland schools. She also repeatedly implied that Oakland's accounting had been fraudulent, even though state auditors continually responded that they had found no evidence of it.

Chaconas has since accepted responsibility for the debacle and was fired, but Jordan has steadfastly refused to shoulder any blame — despite the fact that her staff had approved the district's budgets and declared it to be solvent on at least eight occasions during the prior thirty months.

Jordan said there was no way her office could have predicted the crisis because district officials repeatedly gave the "wrong numbers." But the 2002-2003 grand jury found that argument unconvincing, stating, "The task of fiscal oversight by [the Alameda County Office of Education] is meaningless if its only function is to ask questions and to hope the local districts are complying with basic reporting requirements."

The meltdown in Oakland also led to the end of Jordan's long friendship with Siegel, who had become a member of the Oakland School Board in 1998. At a large public meeting at Allen Temple Baptist Church in early 2003, just a few months after he had won the Wiggins libel case for Jordan's husband, Siegel strongly criticized Jordan, Perata, and Mayor Jerry Brown, saying they weren't doing enough to save Oakland schools. At the end of the meeting, Jordan buttonholed Siegel, who had recently announced his plans to run for mayor in 2006. "If you think you are going to build your political career by attacking me," she allegedly told him, "I will destroy you."

Jordan adamantly denies making the comment, but county board member Gay Plair Cobb said she witnessed the scene and validated Siegel's version of it. When confronted with this, Jordan alleged that Cobb, Siegel, and Chaconas were "all working together" and that they had "come up with a set of untruths."


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