NIC trustee: ‘I will push back against some laws’
Former North Idaho College instructor Michelle Lippert and her husband Pat wear masks with the word "silence" to show their protest against the removal of public comment from the meeting agenda by Board of Trustees chair Todd Banducci at the board meeting on Wednesday. HANNAH NEFF/Press
Former college President Rick MacLennan addresses the board regarding COVID-19 at the board meeting at North Idaho College on Wednesday night, the same meeting in which his contract was terminated at the end of day Thursday. HANNAH NEFF/Press
| September 24, 2021 1:00 AM
North Idaho College trustee Christie Wood says the board failed to uphold the law during its meeting Wednesday night.
According to Wood, trustees are required to instruct the cabinet and president - in this case, soon-to-be-fired President Rick MacLennan - to develop policy on the prevention of spread of infectious diseases. Wood cited Idaho Code 33-2145.
The motion was blocked by the three trustees who fired MacLennan, board chair Todd Banducci, Michael Barnes and Greg McKenzie.
“We, as an obligation, as the elected officials, have to follow statute, have to adopt policy,” Wood said. “We're on the hook regardless if we like it or not.”
Barnes said asking the board to develop a policy to prevent the spread of disease is ludicrous.
“Not all laws are good,” Barnes said. “If it is a law that we have to comply with, then I will push back against it. Some laws or statutes are wrong.”
Barnes said he thinks the board could adopt policies aimed at those who need to take personal responsibility for their own health and isolate themselves.
“My position is that we are not dictators,” Barnes said. “We do not mandate that people apply something to their body against their will. We could find other solutions.”
Idaho Code 33-2145 states, “the board of trustees of each community college must adopt a policy for measures and procedures to prevent the spread of contagious or infectious disease.”
The code says the policy must be adopted in consultation with the the public health district in which the college offers in-person classes.
According to the code, “Notwithstanding any law or rule to the contrary, once the policy is adopted, only the board of trustees, acting in accordance with the policy, has the authority to close a community college or any of its buildings or campuses, to limit its programs or activities, or to require other measures at the college for the purpose of preventing the spread of contagious or infectious diseases.”
Trustee Ken Howard said the trustees have not done their job to adopt a policy to prevent the spread of infectious disease, and therefore have violated the statute.
Howard said if someone gets sick on campus, they could claim the lack of a mask mandate and sue the college and the trustees.
“I think we all stand in personal liability,” Howard said. “We don't need this kind of aggravation and grief. All we need to do is adopt some kind of policy to prevent the spread of contagious or infectious diseases. That's what the statute requires.”
Howard said Barnes’ expression to ignore the law is a frightening prospect.
“Go to the Legislature and get it changed, but until that happens, you abide by it,” said Howard, an attorney. “Otherwise, we don't have a democracy. We don't have an organized culture. We've got anarchy.”
MacLennan said the the board's failure to adopt a policy to prevent the spread of contagious diseases could create a liability for the college, on top of removing the existing preventative measure, the mask mandate, at the Aug. 26 board meeting.
MacLennan said a student residing in the NIC residence hall was transported to the hospital Wednesday afternoon after a 911 call for severe COVID-19 symptoms.
A second attempt by MacLennan to comment on the issue was initially cut off by Banducci.
“You’ve had your chance,” Banducci said.
A brief interruption occurred when someone exiting the meeting in an aggressive manner made physical contact with another person, according to Alex Harris, director of Title IX, student conduct and security.
Harris said Thursday the person has been given the option to file battery charges.
MacLennan then continued, saying the college has received numerous calls of concern regarding faculty and staff safety, yet at the Aug. 26 meeting Banducci cited and relied on anecdotal stories of one or two students who said they would not attend North Idaho College if face coverage was required.
“Here we're willing to accept anecdotal stories, but you will not accept overwhelming direct empirical evidence of what's happening in this college community right now,” MacLennan said. “I find that disingenuous and I’ll add for the record, I find it exceedingly irresponsible.”
NIC is currently at 417 managed COVID-19 cases this year, starting at a week before school to Thursday. That's339 more cases than during the same period last year.
In 2020 there were 1,001 managed cases. This year’s cases already are more than 40% of that number in just the first five weeks of the fall semester.
Cases are self-reported, and managed cases include students who have been isolated or quarantined due to a positive COVID test, known exposure or symptom management.
MacLennan said he was aware of only one transmitted case of COVID-19 occurring within the college last year while face coverings were required, evidence that something they did then was working.
Conflict between MacLennan and Banducci came to light earlier in the year when the president complained of harassment from Banducci directed at students, faculty, staff and administration, including himself.
Renewal of the president’s contract was tabled at board meetings on Aug. 4, 26 and 31.
According to police records, a complaint was filed on the morning of Aug. 31, stating that the business sign of Falcon Investments & Insurance in Coeur d’Alene had feces smeared on it.
The record says the complainant, Samantha Banducci, said the sign was not damaged. However, she wanted the incident documented because the owner of the business is Todd Banducci.
According to the police report, “Todd is also on the chair for NIC and there is currently decisions that are being or have been made that some people are not happy with and given this, there could be more events that could become criminal in nature.”