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Swayne sues North Idaho College

by KAYE THORNBRUGH
Staff Writer | December 17, 2022 1:09 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — After trustees placed him on administrative leave last week, NIC President Nick Swayne is suing the college and asking to be reinstated.

The lawsuit, filed in Kootenai County late Friday, contends that the board of trustees did not have the power to place Swayne on leave and, in doing so, violated the terms of Swayne’s employment agreement.

The agreement provides that the president may terminate his contract without cause, after providing a 60-day notice. The board may place the president on administrative leave during part or all of that period.

The agreement does not include a term to otherwise place Swayne on administrative leave.

“Because Dr. Swayne has not given notice of his resignation, NIC cannot place him on administrative leave and Dr. Swayne should be allowed to return to his job,” the lawsuit said.

On the advice of newly hired college attorney Art Macomber, trustees voted 3-1 last week to place Swayne on leave immediately.

Trustees Greg McKenzie, Todd Banducci and Mike Waggoner voted in favor of the move, while Trustee Tarie Zimmerman opposed it.

Included in the court filing was an email, on NIC letterhead, from Macomber to Swayne.

He noted that Swayne is not on leave due to any disciplinary process, but rather because trustees want to “isolate him from the investigative process” while Macomber examines a change to Swayne’s contract.

The change occurred in August, with the board’s approval. Swayne’s contract originally said “either party” could terminate it without cause.

Now it provides that the contract “may be terminated by mutual agreement of the parties, by the president without cause, or by the Board for cause.”

NIC’s former legal counsel, Marc Lyons, said the original language was an error that required correction. Few presidential candidates would agree to a contract that allows the board to fire them for no reason, he said, including Swayne.

“If Marc Lyons had given me his complete file on NIC workings, I would not have recommended this step to the Trustees, but he has left me in the dark, so I had to recommend a wall of separation to protect my investigation,” Macomber wrote in his email to Swayne.

Lyons, who served as college attorney for 23 years and resigned in late November, maintains that his law firm has returned all original records to college personnel.

It remains unclear what Macomber’s investigation entails, because the discussion about the change to Swayne’s contract and the decision to approve it occurred in open session.

The court filing seeks an award of attorney’s fees and costs and “such other and further relief as the court determines is just and proper under the circumstances.”

Read the court documents and exhibits at cdapress.com.

The next meeting of the NIC board of trustees is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 21 at 6 p.m. at Schuler Performing Arts Center.