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State Center: Payne Rented Cars Early, Was Tardy to Conferences in Tahoe, SF



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State Center Community College District trustees next week will consider whether to further investigate allegations of misconduct against trustee Eric Payne, who has been fined by the state Fair Political Practice Commission for candidate filing violations and who now is accused of misusing district travel expenses and failing to show up on time for out-of-town conferences.

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The district is alleging that on two occasions this year, Payne picked up rental cars the day before or the same day that education conferences began in Lake Tahoe and San Francisco, but he showed up over a day late to both and then kept the rental cars for an additional day after the conferences ended.
Payne did not respond to phone calls Friday seeking comment.

More Than a Day Late

A report to State Center trustees says that Payne was registered to attend the Community College of California’s 2019 annual Trustees Conference May 3-5 at the Resort at Squaw Creek northwest of Lake Tahoe. According to the conference website, trustees’ participation in the conference “will strengthen the skills and knowledge required to lead your colleges and be accountable to your communities. Conference speakers and sessions will explore student success, fiscal responsibility, educational trends, and effective trusteeship.”
The district reports that Payne picked up a rental car at 1:31 p.m. May 2. The conference started at 2 p.m. May 3, but Payne did not arrive until nearly 5 p.m. May 4. The district was billed $332.79 for his no-show hotel room on May 3. The conference ended at 11 a.m. May 5, but Payne stayed in the Sacramento area the remainder of that day and did not return the rental car until 9:43 a.m. May 6. The district paid the entire car rental fee.
District spokeswoman Lucy Ruiz said Payne, trustee Bobby Kahn, trustee John Leal, and Board President Deborah Ikeda attended the Squaw Valley conference. Ikeda left early to attend the funeral of her long-time administrative aide, and Leal used her room.

Another Early Car Rental, Late Arrival

State Center also documented Payne’s car rental and attendance at the Association of Community College Trustees Leadership Congress Oct. 16-19 at the Hilton Union Square in San Francisco. State Center’s representatives at the conference were Payne, Ikeda, Leal and Chancellor Paul Parnell, Ruiz said.
Payne picked up a rental car at 8:31 a.m. Oct. 16 but did not arrive at the conference until 5:30 p.m. Oct. 17, “missing a full day of sessions.” Parnell sent Payne an email on Oct. 18 concerning the car rental and his failure to attend the first day of the conference, and asked Payne to contact Ikeda. The district’s report noted that Ikeda and Leal discussed the timing of Payne’s arrival at the conference and use of the rental car on Oct. 19.
The conference ended at noon Oct. 19, but Payne did not return the rental car until 8:47 a.m. Oct. 20. He then asked to have two of the car rental days charged to his personal credit card.
The district paid $1,622 per person, or a total of $6,488, for registration, hotel and per diem food for the Squaw Valley conference, and $3,215 per person, or a total of $12,860, for registration, hotel and per diem food for the San Francisco conference, Ruiz said. There were additional transportation costs that varied depending on whether participants drove their own vehicle or rented a car, she said.

State Elections Watchdog Agency Levied Fines

In June, Payne was fined $54,000 by the Fair Political Practices Commission on 21 violations of the Political Reform Act, including failing to file campaign statements on time, receiving prohibited cash contributions and making prohibited cash expenditures, and failing to maintain campaign records.

Trustees will need to consider whether Payne’s candidate election violations also violate district policy, and whether his car rentals and conference attendance amount to “inappropriate behavior.” If the trustees vote Tuesday to further investigate the allegations against Payne, the board president will appoint three trustees to an ad hoc committee to investigate and review the alleged misconduct.
The board voted 4-3 in January not to form a similar committee to investigate misconduct allegations against Payne in connection with the campaign finance reporting violations, and against trustee Bobby Kahn and Payne after the two accused each other of improprieties at a heated meeting on Dec. 11, 2018.

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email