Peralta Community College District's Only Student-Run Publication
Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

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The Citizen Investigates: Outside Speaker Fees

Payments range from $150 to $60,000 in the absence of a district-wide policy

Over the past three years, the four colleges of the Peralta Community College District (PCCD) have invited a number of outside speakers to conduct workshops for students, faculty, and staff without formal district-wide policies set in place to determine how much they should be paid. Records obtained by The Citizen show that fees paid to these speakers range widely, from as little as $150 to as much as $60,000

“There is not a formal policy or guidelines specifically about guest speakers,” Mark Johnson, PCCD’s Executive Director of Marketing, Communications & Public relations, told The Citizen in an email.  

“Speakers are usually brought in at the college or department level and are subject to standard budget approval and accounts payable procedures,” Johnson explained.

Here are some examples of specific outside speakers, the subjects they covered, and the fees they were paid.

Sandra Arias

Sandra Arias, an academic success counselor with the Educational Opportunity Program at UC Berkeley, received the least amount of money of the outside speakers that The Citizen reviewed in its research. Arias was paid $150 for a training session at College of Alameda (CoA) in September 2022. Her session covered building relationships between student mentors and mentees, according to Acting President Diana Bajrami. 

Gavina Avila

Gavina Avila, who describes herself as a “financial empowerment specialist” on her LinkedIn profile, received $900 from CoA to conduct multiple workshops from October 2022 to June 2023 on budgeting, savings, and credit, and also to “offer one-on-one financial coaching sessions” focused on Latinx students. 

Ronit Matabuena-Lev

Ronit Matabuena-Lev, a former public school teacher and the founder of Bird and Bee Education, received a total of $5,475 from PCCD for delivering keynote speeches and presenting workshops regarding LGBTQIA+ issues of identity and inclusivity in educational settings at district and college events during 2021 and 2022. Matabuena-Lev was paid an additional $3,000 in April 2023, according to PCCD’s April 2023 purchase order detail report. The mission of Bird and Bee Education is to “cultivate open and supportive communication between young people and their families,” according to the company’s website

Difficult Dialogues

The district paid Difficult Dialogues National Resource Center (DDNRC) a total of $10,500 for two workshopsin 2021 intended to improve PCCD’s work culture and focused on identity and dialogue. The organization was also paid $1,500 for presenting during PCCD’s Flex Day in October 2020. 

Based in Atlanta, DDNRC was founded in 2011, according to its website, “to ensure that college and university campuses remain places where we protect freedom of expression, sustain academic freedom, promote pluralism, and expand opportunities for constructive communication across different perspectives.” 

Robert Dabney

Robert Dabney, who conducted a series of online workshops “to foster black male student development,” received the highest speaker payment we found in reviewing the district records.  

Dabney received $60,000 to facilitate 30 virtual workshops and “1-2 field trips” from February 2020 through June 2022 as part of Merritt College’s Umoja/Sankofa initiative.   

Umoja (a Kiswahili word meaning “unity”) is “dedicated to enhancing the cultural and educational experiences of African American and other students,” according to the Umoja Community website. Topics for Dabney’s online workshops included “a critical race discussion” and “challenges facing black male/female relationships.”

According to a resume he provided to the district, Dabney is the founder/owner of Umoja Tribe, described as a “culturally based youth development” organization that conducted “after-school programs, summer programs, workshops, and intervention groups in Bay Area schools and youth organizations.”

The $60,000 payment was split into three separate contracts, each for 10 workshops and $20,000 dollars. 

A “scope of services” document from Dabney attached to each contract listed an hourly rate of $75 with the total “not to exceed $20,000.” Distributing the payments evenly across the workshops in the original contracts, at the hourly rate of $75 each event would have to last 26 hours.

Tauheeda Anderson, Umoja/Sankofa Project Manager at Merritt College, provided The Citizen with recordings for two of Dabney’s 2021 workshops on Zoom. The durations for these sessions were one hour and 43 minutes and one hour and 16 minutes, respectively.  

When asked if the district received a report from Dabney on the number of attendees at his sessions, Johnson responded that “his understanding is that attendance records were not kept.” 

Luke Wrin Piper, a former Editor for The Citizen, attended the Oct. 20 and Oct. 27, 2021 online sessions. He and Dabney were the only two participants at the Oct. 20 event. During the Oct. 27 webinar, Dabney noted that there were 4 attendees. 

In his role as a paid speaker and workshop facilitator, Dabney used the name Brother Ras Harambe. Siri Brown, who approved Dabney’s independent contractor services contracts while serving as Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs, wrote in a Feb. 10, 2020 email to Gina Dowen in the PCCD purchasing department that Dabney wanted payments made out to “his legal/birth name” rather than to Ras Harambe. A copy of the email was obtained by The Citizen through a Public Records Request. 

While Siri Brown was serving as Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs at the time, she approved Dabney’s invoices as “Campus/Coll Business Manager” and “Department Manager.” Final approvals were provided by Interim Budget Director Tami Taylor and, in one case, by Interim Executive Fiscal Director Marla Williams-Powell. Both signed as “Vice Chancellor or Asso VC.”

Dabney is also the owner of Zulu Community Protection (also known as Zulu Protection Services) in Oakland, which briefly held a $2.6 million contract in December 2020 to provide unarmed security services for Merritt College and College of Alameda. That contract was later canceled when the district confirmed that Zulu did not hold the necessary state license to provide security services.  

Dabney was fined $5,000 by the California Bureau of Security and Investigative Services (BSIS) in August 2021 for violations of two sections of the California Business and Professions Code that prohibit unlicensed individuals from representing themselves as licensees and from engaging “in the business of private patrol operator (PPO)” unless they hold a state-issued license. 

Dabney has not yet paid the fine as of May 19, according to Peter Fournier, the information officer for the California Department of Consumer Affairs (of which BSIS is a part). Visitors to the Zulu website now see a 404 error message. 

The Citizen reached out to Dabney for comment but he did not respond in time for inclusion in this article. 

In a November 2021 email to The Citizen, Johnson wrote that Dabney “has a history of providing valuable services for Peralta and the African American community in Oakland.” 

The Citizen reached out to PCCD’s Board President and Trustee Dyana Delfín Polk regarding the wide variance of speaker fees and the absence of a district-wide policy. In a June 1 email, she said that she had no comment. 

Written by David Rowe. Pamela Rudd contributed reporting.

About the Contributors
David Rowe
David Rowe, Associate Editor
After a 40 year career in advertising, David is considering journalism as his “second act” and preparing himself for that new profession by taking classes at Laney. During his days in advertising, Rowe headed up the media departments for a number of leading ad agencies in San Francisco and Salt Lake City. In this capacity, he was responsible for the planning and placement of tens of millions of dollars of paid media. A high point of his career was placing Intel’s first Super Bowl TV ad in 1997. Rowe has a lifelong interest in journalism dating back to high school in San Jose where he started an underground newspaper called, appropriately enough, The Del Mar Free Press. The school administration threatened to suspend him, so Rowe, with the help of his attorney father, sued the school district in Federal Court and won and injunction. Ultimately, the case was decided in his favor and California state law regarding the rights of high school students was re-written as a result. Rowe is a political junkie who enjoys watching all the Sunday morning news programs and is actively involved in the Joe Biden presidential campaign this year.
Pamela Rudd
Pamela Rudd, Opinion Editor
This is Pamela Rudd’s fourth semester at Laney College and her third as a staff writer for The Citizen. Pam was born in San Francisco and grew up in Contra Costa County when cattle roamed the hills and life had yet to cross from rural to suburban. She attended college directly after high school and received a doctorate from the University of Nevada, Reno in psychology. As a Bay Area native she witnessed the Vietnam War, the Free Speech and Black Panther movements, the AIDS crisis, and the birth of Silicon Valley. Pamela is always amazed by the resiliency of the human spirit and the repetitiveness of history. She is excited to be back in school and to be part of The Citizen’s newsroom. For Pam, journalism was the path not taken.
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