After some debate, the governing board of El Camino College has decided to select an outside firm to assist in the statewide search for a president to replace the retiring Thomas Fallo, rather than using in-house experts.
The board on Monday went back and forth for a while about whether the Torrance-area college's human resources department could handle the vetting process. But it ultimately decided in a 5-0 vote to proceed with the consulting firm option, winnowing from 11 to three the number of such companies that submitted proposals for the work.
Now, El Camino is inviting representatives from those three California firms - Professional Personnel Leasing, Community College Search Services and Ralph Andersen and Associates - to each make a sales pitch not to exceed 10 minutes at the next regular meeting on Jan. 16. The cost of the firms' services range from around $22,000 to $25,000, plus expenses.
This week's discussion essentially marked the first time in 18 years that El Camino's elected board has had to grapple with what is arguably its weightiest responsibility: hiring a new president - the only position for which it hires and fires directly.
Meanwhile, because the job opening hasn't been formally announced, it's too early to know whether the pool of applicants will include any of the college's five vice presidents: Francisco Arce (academic affairs), JoAnn Higdon (administrative services), Jeanie Nishime (student services), Linda Beam (human resources) and Barbara Perez (vice president of El Camino's Compton center).
Fallo, a Los Angeles-area native and El Camino alumnus, himself was a vice president at the college (of administrative services) when he took the top job in 1995. He was ultimately selected from a statewide pool of some 40 applicants, all of whom were vetted by a consulting firm.
Before he became an administrator at El Camino, Fallo was the acting chancellor of the Los Angeles Community College system. Fallo, 66, makes about $277,000 annually.
At the beginning of Monday's meeting, two board members - Ray Gen and Mary Combs - were leaning toward going the route of farming the vetting task out internally.
"The people we have in human resources are qualified," Combs said.
Gen questioned the wisdom of spending money on a search firm "in hopes of finding one chunk of information" not already known.
El Camino officials pointed out that search firms not only conduct professional and criminal background checks of applicants, they also help recruit qualified applicants.
Trustee Maureen O'Donnell - who has also served on the Torrance City Council and Torrance school board - argued that hiring a firm for a task like this is standard practice.
"They're worth the money," she said. "This kind of thing is too complicated for human resources departments. The city of Torrance and the school district both have HR departments and they both work with research groups."
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