EDITORIAL: NIC at edge of thin legal ice
For nearly two and a half decades, attorney Marc Lyons served North Idaho College well.
That's the entire college, not just a recent power-lusting, politically motivated majority of the college’s board of trustees.
But Lyons’ refusal to tell certain trustees what they wanted to hear rather than what they needed to consider made him the enemy, and he announced his resignation Nov. 25. The NIC Board of Trustees was expected to act on the resignation Wednesday night, but the snowstorm postponed that meeting.
The departure of an outstanding attorney for the college won’t generate the kind of headlines that resonated when the board, headed by Todd Banducci, fired former President Rick MacLennan last fall without cause and against attorney Lyons’ advice.
Predictably, MacLennan sued, and the groundless trustee decision cost a $250,000 payout to the former president in January, on top of a full year's pay.
Not coincidentally, NIC’s insurer declined to further cover the college because of unacceptable risk. NIC shopped around and reported that a policy costing $310,000 the previous year will now cost about $540,000 — plus an additional $115,000 for a three-month gap policy. Perhaps it all would have been avoided had Todd Banducci and his pals heeded Lyons' advice.
Yet Banducci and his enablers no doubt claim victory in sunsetting Lyons’ tenure with the college. Going back to last year, Banducci wanted Lyons gone. When he didn’t get his way, the board chair pushed for NIC to hire additional legal counsel — presumably, someone who would kiss the king's posterior and relegate Lyons and his wisdom to the peanut gallery.
That end-around ultimately fizzled, but with extremists gaining control of the board again in the November election, Lyons saw the writing on the wall.
"It has become clear that my services are no longer desired by those who will soon hold a majority position with the Board of Trustees," Lyons said in his Nov. 25 resignation letter.
He then disclosed the kind of lawyer — and human being — those who know him best understood already. "While disappointing, this is certainly the right of the board, and I have no desire to further any tension or disturbances at the college," Lyons wrote.
True to form seen consistently over the past 23 years, Lyons was putting the college’s welfare above all other interests, including and especially his own. But doing so now removes the fence surrounding the NIC legal minefield, especially if the board majority replaces Lyons with a political ally rather than a lawyer or law firm with extensive experience representing complex public institutions.
For NIC and all who appreciate the college, Marc Lyons is going to be missed. That’s the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help us Todd.