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Forensic audit called for to investigate COD campus projects, ‘vulnerable’ IT systems


At a meeting this week, College of the Desert Board members are planning to act on a resolution to "conduct comprehensive forensic audits" due to concerns over campus development projects throughout Coachella Valley as well as "vulnerable and inefficient" Technology (IT) systems.

The resolution intends to address concerns regarding "the cost of developing campuses and facilities in Cathedral City, Coachella, Mecca/Thermal, Palm Desert and Palm Springs."

Development of campuses and facilities

The resolution looks to answer concerns "with respect to who and what prompted the west valley campus in Palm Springs be paused, project management teams eliminated, immediate removal and termination of planning team members, and new facilities plans redirected when it was at approximately sixty-percent schematic design and the Roadrunner Motors project canceled and then reconsidered."

The Roadrunner Motors automotive training center promised to be a local pipeline for in-demand auto industry workers. The board voted in April of this year to move forward at the originally proposed location in Cathedral City, but that came after community blowback to reconsiderations of the entire project and possible relocation.

The resolution in front of board members also claims that a lawsuit brought by the City of Palm Springs in order to obtain requested public records "has cast a shadow of secrecy on the [Desert Community College] District."

From September: Palm Springs sues COD for West Valley Campus records

COD's Palm Springs campus has been in the works since at least 2004, when voters approved the $346.5 million bond Measure B. Additional funding for the campus came in 2016, when voters approved the $577 million bond Measure CC.

In the nearly 20 years the project has been in planning phases, there have many developments in the project, including a change in the campus site and scope of the project. The completed campus still remains several years away.

Check out photos of what the campus could look like:

News Channel 3's I-Team has been investigating the uncertainties around the project for years. In 2021, then-new COD President Martha Garcia asked for patience as she familiarized herself with the projects.

From December 2021: New COD President defends efforts to build West Valley campuses

At the annual College of the Desert State of the College address in October, Superintendent/President Martha Garcia, Ed.D., promised, "We will create the projects that were committed to be created and afford additional educational access to the students living in those communities."

At that time, COD announced these are the latest completion dates for a series of projects:

  • The Indio Child Development center will be done by the Summer of 2023 
  • The Indio Campus expansion will be completed by the Summer of 2024
  • Roadrunner Motors facility will be complete by Spring 2026
  • The Palm Springs Campus will be complete by late 2026

"Vulnerable and inefficient" IT

The resolution to be considered by the Board this Friday also notes that "despite the substantial funds expended to modernize" the IT system, it is "vulnerable and inefficient." College of the Desert took weeks to recover from an attack that severely crippled its digital platforms over the summer. It was nearly a month after the incident began that the school publicly confirmed it was a malware attack.

It was not the first disruption to the school's information technology systems. In August 2020, the COD website fell victim to a malware attack, wiping out access to online services and email.

Forensic auditor to report to Board of Trustees

The resolution, if passed, would authorize a forensic auditor to investigate:

  • "...each and every construction contract granted in the last thirty-six (36) months by the
    DISTRICT with a view to determining whether the price was fair and just to DISTRICT, were there any conflicts of interest were involved in the granting of the contracts and whether any public official benefits personally by virtue of the construction planned or implemented pursuant to such contracts; were any of the projects not listed on the college’s Facilities Master Plan on file with the State Chancellor’s Office..."
  • "...the propriety of the granting of, and cost of all, consulting agreements between
    DISTRICT and any person, granted during the prior thirty-six months..."
  • "...the nature and condition and expense of the DISTRICT IT system with a view to determining its efficiency, vulnerability to attack and whether funds expended on it were expanded correctly..."

The Board included in the resolution that all personnel and departments of the Desert Community College District, as well as "any current or prior consultants, contractors, elected officials and employees are instructed to comply completely with the requests for information made by the forensic auditor and any who does not cooperate with the forensic auditor will be subject to discipline or any legal remedies available."

The auditor's report

The proposal outlines a timeline to retain the auditor by January 20. No budget information was listed on the resolution.

The resolution calls for a subcommittee to be created to "receive the report and convey it to the Board." The auditor would not report through the office of the President or any other COD office. The resolution asks for Trustees from Areas 3 and 4 to be appointed to the subcommittee.

Area 3 Trustee is Board Clerk Fred Jandt. Area 4 Trustee is incoming Board Member Dr. Joel Kinnamon, who is set to be sworn in earlier in the same meeting. Kinnamon previously served as Superintendent/President at College of the Desert.

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