San Diego City College / Photo by Megan Wood

As City College operates in financially fraught conditions, it’s doing so without a permanent business chief and the woman sitting in the role temporarily has faced a long list of allegations of misconduct and interminable personal debt.

San Diego Community College officials moved to terminate Roxann Solis when she was a City College accounting supervisor in late 2017 after a college investigation concluded she falsified timecards and took more than $10,000 in improper pay. At the time, the head of human resources told the chancellor Solis could no longer be trusted with district funds.

Less than a year later, Solis was put in charge of City College’s $68 million budget as acting vice president of administrative services, a role she still holds a year and a half later.

Solis was ultimately dealt an unpaid 10-day suspension in 2018 for violating district policy on call-back time, college records obtained by Voice of San Diego show. Call-back time allows exempt employees, who are typically not eligible for overtime, to be paid one-and-a-half times their normal rate if they are called back to work or asked to start earlier than their normal shift under certain circumstances.

Court records reviewed by VOSD also reveal the college investigation wasn’t the first time Solis’ finances have been a source of trouble.

Debt collectors have garnished her wages at the college repeatedly over years. Another debt collections case was filed by the city of San Diego in 2019 over $1,850 in unpaid water bills, records show.

Solis declined an interview request through Jack Beresford, a college district spokesman. But in a 2018 rebuttal to the college investigation, Solis said she was set up by a disgruntled employee who didn’t get a promotion. She also alleged officials didn’t follow due process when investigating her.

“At the end I was not terminated, and I would like to live the rest of my career drama free without being falsely accused of wrong doing (sic) by liars. I am currently serving in the capacity of the Vice President of Administrative Services at San Diego City College which should speak for itself, my work ethic is unmatched and I am one of the hardest working employees for this District and have been for almost 19 years,” Solis wrote.

Solis now directs City College’s finances at a time when guaranteed state funding per pupil is diminished under a new formula, enrollment is declining and pension debt is rising.

In the face of a structural deficit, the college district as a whole implemented budget cuts and a hiring freeze. The San Diego Community College District’s 2020 adopted $425 million general fund budget is $22 million lower than the 2019 adopted budget. For Solis, she’s been tasked with spending about $778,000 less out of City College’s general fund this year than last year, budget records show.

The college’s about-face on Solis raises questions about whether the person who put her in charge of the budget was aware of the 2017 investigation and discipline, or her financial troubles. Beresford declined to answer those questions.

City College President Ricky Shabazz did not respond to requests for comment.

“District policy restricts us from commenting” on personnel matters, City College spokesman Cesar Gumapas wrote in an email.

The college’s former vice president of administrative services who supervised Solis when the alleged fraud took place declined to comment. Before she left, she too was disciplined with an unpaid 10-day suspension in 2018 for signing off on Solis’ allegedly falsified timecards, and for intimidating staff during the investigation, among other things, college records indicate.

Tensions in Solis’ personal life spilled over and caused tensions at work, and vice-versa. Solis told a payroll supervisor she’d be unable to pay her creditors if she wasn’t paid for call-back hours in dispute in 2016. Solis filed a grievance, and the college paid Solis for the time claimed.

Public records show that for years, Solis was in and out of court as she sought domestic violence restraining orders against her husband at the time, finalized her divorce and sorted out issues surrounding child custody and child and spousal support.

Solis’ absences during the workday were noticed by colleagues and are part of what spurred the investigation in 2017.

‘This Is Essentially Theft’

Solis began working for the San Diego Community College District in 2000. She became an accounting supervisor at City College in 2014. District officials found Solis falsified timecards, violated the district’s nepotism policy, participated in the purchase of goods or services from a company tied to a friend and allowed another employee to use her credentials to approve requisitions, according to a November 2017 investigation memo from Will Surbrook, the San Diego Community College District’s vice chancellor of human resources.

“Solis falsely reported up to 260 call-back hours in 2015 and 2016 which amounts to over $10,000 of District funds over a two year period. This is essentially theft of District funds. Solis’ position as Accounting Supervisor works with District funds on a daily basis including approving requisitions and travel request(s) for all departments at San Diego City College. The District can no longer trust Solis in this position. Therefore, I am recommending termination,” Surbrook wrote. Surbrook reiterated his termination recommendation in a January 2018 memo.

During the investigation, Solis disputed the claims and alleged she was being targeted by a disgruntled employee who was passed over for a promotion.

Solis wrote in an October 2017 email after her interview with the investigator, “This is clear retaliation against me for doing the right thing and not what the culture of this campus is used to. I have not hired any of my family members, I have not misused District funds, and I have been here at work when I’ve said I was and beyond.”

Solis was placed on administrative leave in January 2018.

Solis’ attorney David Bristol wrote the college district’s executive vice chancellor, Bonnie Ann Dowd, in February 2018 saying Solis had not committed misconduct warranting termination, and that after her promotion to accounting supervisor in 2014, Solis “consistently worked far beyond a normal forty (40) hour work week,” while also raising five children largely on her own, battling cancer and enduring abuse in her personal life.

Court records show Solis obtained a restraining order against her ex-husband for domestic violence in 2014, an extension of the order in 2015 and a permanent order in September 2018. Multiple child custody, visitation and spousal and child support court hearings were held over the years amid the dispute, records show.

Seher Awan, Solis’ boss at the time as City College’s vice president of administrative services, told the investigator she believed district rules allowed supervisors like Solis to receive call-back time even if they missed part of their regular work day, so long as they missed less than four hours, the investigation says.

But the investigator wrote, “working more than 8 hours in a day does not entitle an exempt employee to additional pay, unless it qualifies as call back which requires that the employee was called back to work after completing their normal scheduled work day.”

Solis’ attorney also told district officials the building’s security alarm code records the investigator relied on in deciding Solis’ after-hours office work claims were fraudulent were faulty. He also claimed the investigator ignored telephone and computer records showing Solis was working as she claimed.

Awan, the former vice president of administrative services, came to Solis’ defense in a letter to district officials in February 2018.

“I personally witnessed Roxann work her call back hours as I was also on campus. Roxann and I often worked late into the night in her office and my office. We often worked weekends and sacrificed our personal lives to support San Diego City College during two ERP PeopleSoft conversions over the past three years,” Awan wrote, indicating Solis was doing the job of two full-timers. Awan also claimed three employees told “blatant lies” and that she was distressed by the “incomplete and bias (sic) investigation completed by the District.”

An employee in the college business office who told the investigator she used Solis’ login to approve requisitions and travel later recanted, and said she was being harassed by another office employee and told to lie — which she initially did to preserve her romantic relationship with that employee’s son.

The investigator also probed claims Solis hired and supervised relatives, according to the investigation, including Solis’ sister who worked as an hourly employee to assist Awan’s assistant. Solis denied she ever supervised her sister in the business office in the beginning months of her sister’s employment, even though electronic human resources records “establish that Solis supervised her sister,” the investigator wrote.

Another employee’s hiring also raised concern. Solis denied any relation to a woman she supervised for a month. Yet a September 2014 police report for a domestic violence call made to Solis’ house following an altercation between Solis and her then-husband identified the same woman as Solis’ cousin. The police report was included in Solis’ divorce case file.

The college investigator ultimately did not substantiate claims the woman was paid by the college to watch Solis’ kids, but still flagged her hiring as troubling.

In the end, Solis settled with the district and agreed to serve a 10-day unpaid suspension spaced out over three months for violating the district’s call back policy.

Just two months later, in July 2018, Solis was made acting vice president of City College, a job that put her in charge of the college budget and came with a $1,933.21 per month gross pay increase, according to college officials.

Temporary Role Stretches Close to Two Years

Solis’ total college pay in 2018 topped $99,000 not including benefits, according to Transparent California. That was higher than the $92,000 in pay she received in 2017, but lower than the $111,409 in pay in 2016, which included $15,000 in overtime and was one of the years her pay was questioned.

The vice president job Solis holds is wide-reaching and requires her to serve as chief business and financial officer at City College. She directs the budget and handles all fiscal aspects of the college, including expenses, purchasing, cash management, student accounting and more, the job description says.

Under her first year of leadership, the City College closed the 2019 fiscal year spending $68 million out of its general fund, about $860,000 more than the previous year, financial records show. But Miramar and Mesa colleges also posted year-over-year increases in general fund spending, with Mesa reporting a roughly $2.7 million increase in 2019. Meanwhile, the entire college district’s general fund spending rose to $392 million in 2019, $19 million more than the prior year, records show.

Exactly why a permanent replacement for Awan hasn’t been selected all this time, leaving Solis in the acting role for around 20 months, is unclear.

But Gumapas, the City College spokesman, said in an email many California community colleges are struggling to fill executive positions, and pointed to a lack of necessary training as well as the high cost of living in San Diego as hindrances. He said the college’s budget challenges “are no different than those faced by the state’s 114 community colleges that are adjusting to a new funding formula and the lowest per student funding of our system of education in the state.”

The Case Against the Boss

Solis replaced Awan as vice president in July 2018 when Awan left to take a job as president of Los Angeles Southwest College.

Awan too had been investigated with Solis and dealt a 10-day unpaid suspension in early 2018 for dishonesty related to Solis’ alleged overpayments, as well as “malicious and intimidating behavior, willful disobedience and insubordination,” college records show.

“It was concluded that Awan was dishonest and falsely certified Solis’ call back hours,” a January 2018 suspension recommendation for Awan by Surbrook, the head of human resources, said. “As a Vice President of Administrative Services, Awan is tasked with ensuring that administrative processes are followed and not abused. Her complicity in supporting Solis’ fraudulent claim for call back hours worked demonstrates an abuse of her position and a disregard for the best interest of the District and taxpayers. This conduct alone is cause for significant discipline.”

In one 2016 email included as an exhibit in the investigation report, Awan wrote to Solis, “Make sure you’re entering your call back hours in, especially for October. Load them up!”

Dowd, the district’s executive vice chancellor, upheld the suspension in March 2018 after Awan appealed, and called her conduct egregious.

Awan declined to comment. But in a 2018 response provided by the San Diego college district, Awan said the charges were fabricated and that the investigation and disciplinary hearing process “has highlighted the incompetency of the Human Resources Department at the San Diego Community College District … This has been and continues to be a personal attack against me and my character.”

“All claims are false and supported by erroneous, malicious, and false testimony,” Awan wrote.

Awan supplied college officials various letters from other staff across campus indicating her and Solis met with them regularly for college business, sometimes after 5 p.m. Awan also supplied sign-in sheets showing Solis’ involvement in training labs for employees to learn the new PeopleSoft software program and attendance at district finance committee and other group meetings as evidence of work outside the office.

Paycheck to Paycheck

Aside from the college case against her, Solis has been sued a dozen times for unpaid debts since 2001, court records show. In two other lawsuits, Solis was the plaintiff.

Solis sued a man in 2006 following a 2004 car accident that injured her neck and back. A jury awarded Solis $110,038 in October 2006 for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and future lost wages.

Solis also sued a Quick Mart in 2012 for $25,000 over injuries reportedly caused by a slip and fall accident in 2010. The case ultimately settled out of court.

On as many as six occasions, Solis’ unpaid debts have resulted in her wages at the college being garnished for as little as $325 and as much as $3,500. The underlying reason was often failure to repay payday loans. On other occasions, she was sued for missed rent checks and car payments. Court records show the car was repossessed and Solis was evicted from her home.

The Employment Development Department also sued Solis twice, once in 2002 for about $830 and again in 2003 for almost $3,200, with the second case resulting in wage garnishment.

In the case over missed rent, filed by Lincoln Mariners in 2009, Solis told the court losing her wages would leave her impoverished. She also claimed medical visits for tumors have left her with “negative 117 hours of sick leave.”

“I can’t even say I live paycheck to paycheck because I have 2 pay day loans out that help me get to the next one,” Solis wrote in a court filing. “If my wages are garnished 25 (percent) they are claiming, I’m going to end up another statistic in the middle of this US tragedy and I will be incapable of supporting my two children and will be homeless and jobless.”

Solis also told the court her ex-husband was sent to prison in 2002, leaving her to care for their children alone. Court records show Solis’ first husband was sentenced to 40 years to life in 2003 for multiple felony armed robberies under the three strikes law.

Ultimately, Solis’ wages were docked more than $3,500 to pay Lincoln Mariners, court records show.

In 2013, Aladdin Bail Bonds came after Solis and her second husband for defaulting on a 2012 bail bond contract, but Solis was later removed as a defendant in the case.

In recent years, Solis’ promotion and improved college pay – including call back payments –haven’t been enough to avoid financial trouble, according to court records.

In 2019, Solis faced two debt collection cases. Midland Funding came after Solis for $2,300 in credit card debt. The court file suggests the case is still pending.

The city of San Diego also went to court against Solis in April 2019 over more than $1,850 in unpaid water and sewer bills, court records show. A judgement was filed against Solis in the case for more than $1,960 in October.

Jack Molmud and Bella Ross contributed to this story.

Ashly is a freelance investigative reporter. She formerly worked as a staff reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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