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For whom the Bell tolls

| June 30, 2010 9:00 PM

That must have been some ruckus last week in the administrative offices at North Idaho College.

Within moments of The Press letting its online readers know that NIC President Priscilla Bell was in line for a $3,500 bump in her retirement benefits during the trustees meeting that evening, the chase was on. Bell's VP of community relations, John Martin, was cranking up the PR machine, hoping to deflect outrage at Bell's boost with an online comment of his own. The next day, the usually jocular, always loyal former staffer of Sen. Larry Craig's sent an angry e-mail to The Press, accusing the paper of distorting facts and resorting to what he called "tabloid tactics."

Perhaps because Priscilla was upset, John was upset that we listed the entirety of the president's compensation package, clearly indicating that it represents the total cost of her employment to taxpayers. Somehow he inferred that by doing so, we were suggesting Bell takes home all of that $240,000 and gets lots of goodies that other NIC employees do not.

John - and Priscilla - it is what it is. Not only is every number on that list accurate and a matter of public record, but we reprinted it online exactly as the numbers were submitted to us, in writing, from NIC's finance office. We added nothing to it. We took nothing away from it.

What incited online readers Wednesday and then print readers Thursday are very simple facts that NIC leadership is struggling to own up to. At the top of the list is the fact that at precisely the same time so many in the education field are having their financial tulips trimmed, Priscilla Bell's garden is getting extra fertilizer. It's not our fault or the public's that fertilizer smells like, well, you know. It is what it is.

Nor is it our fault that NIC's trustees, at Bell's behest, last month authorized a countywide property tax increase, ostensibly to offset state funding shortfalls, help pay for the currently unaffordable education corridor and perhaps even to ensure that there's enough left over for the equivalent of a pay raise here and there.

We're still stunned that at Bell's urging, the trustees put their seal of approval on the tax increase at the very first reading of the college's budget. Ron Vieselmeyer and Mic Armon, to their credit, opposed the tax hike. However, trustees did not offer so much as a respectful pause for public comment between reading the budget for the first time and adopting it with the full tax increase included.

But that is what we have come to expect of the current regime. We live in an era when college presidents are rented, stay long enough to collect retirement benefits and then move on to the next campus that is eager to give them too much authority and too little accountability. We can't comprehend why NIC's trustees would reward their president with more money and a contract extension at a time like this. Unfortunately for Kootenai County taxpayers, it is what it is.

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