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United they stand

by MADISON HARDY
Staff Writer | May 28, 2021 1:10 AM

COEUR d'ALENE - North Idaho College trustees voiced unanimous commitment to protecting the institution's accreditation Wednesday night after a complaint by four regional human rights task force boards sparked a national investigation. 

The complaint, filed by the Kootenai, Bonner, Boundary and Spokane County Human Rights task forces on March 12, demanded a full investigation of the institution's leadership by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. 

Within the complaint, the organizations cited the actions of board chair Todd Banducci, vice chair Greg McKenzie and Michael Barnes as "counter to the civil and human rights and civil liberties protected by the United States Constitution, Federal laws, Idaho laws, and NIC policies for all NIC employees and students." 

Specifically, the organizations mentioned the repeal of the trustee board of conduct policy, Trustee Christie Wood's call for Banducci's resignation, NIC faculty and staff's vote of no confidence for Banducci, and a series of harassment and assault allegations. 

As part of the institution's response, the board and senior leadership must provide evidence that they follow appropriate policies and procedures.

"Our response is strengthened by evidence. Where we have indicated actions and future actions to be taken, we will need to provide evidence that we can actually fulfill those things," NIC President Rick MacLennan said.

Following the investigation announcement, the board developed a response letter read by Barnes Wednesday night. 

"The board recognizes that the complaint references allegations of significant misconduct by the board chair. Specific details of the alleged misconduct are largely contained in two communications received by the president," Barnes read. "As such, the board is committed to working through the issues raised by the president in order to satisfactorily address the scope of the NWCCU investigation." 

In remedy to one of the concerns presented by the complaint, the trustees also unanimously voted to reinstate an amended form of the board conduct policy. 

Initially implemented by the former NIC board of trustees in early 2020, the board conduct policy — policy 2.01.10 — was rescinded by the current members in December last year. In the written form, policy 2.01.10 established expectations of "ethical" and "businesslike" actions by trustees when making public statements and external communications. 

However, some trustees said the policy limited their abilities to communicate with constituents. In a 3-2 vote, trustees Wood and Ken Howard opposed, the board repealed the policy. Since then, trustees Howard and Barnes have collaborated on new language to make the guidance more acceptable to the board as a whole. 

Howard explained that the primary amendment to the policy dealt with interactions with college personnel guidelines. 

"Board members should be avoiding confidential communication with the NIC community, and nothing in here should be construed to prohibit or discourage communications between board members and members of the faculty, staff, administration, or community," Howard read from the amendment. 

Barnes noted that while the policy requires further review, he said restoring it signifies the board's commitment to addressing differences. 

"It is imperative that stakeholders have confidence that the board and individual board members will fulfill their roles in an appropriate manner," Barnes read from the response letter.

NIC trustees also plan to attend a training with the Association of Community College Trustees this summer to assist with board development. 

Other notable actions Wednesday night:

  • NIC trustees unanimously approved the $49.5 million 2022 budget that features no property tax revenue, $415,000 in new growth returns, and a $12.97 million increase in state general fund appropriations. 
  • In a 3-2 decision, trustees Wood and Howard dissenting, the board voted to not reserve $485,000 in unbudgeted property tax revenue to the forgone account.

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North Idaho College Trustee Michael Barnes read the board's collaborative response to a recent complain that their actions were adversely impacting the institution's credibility. (MADISON HARDY/Press)