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North Idaho College trustees hire interim president

Staff Writer | December 22, 2022 1:09 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — North Idaho College now has two presidents — one on administrative leave and a newly hired interim president.

By a vote of 3-2, trustees approved an employment contract for Greg South to serve as the college’s acting president while Nick Swayne remains on administrative leave. Trustees Brad Corkill and Tarie Zimmerman cast the dissenting votes.

“I’ve read the contract,” Corkill said. “I believe it’s $235,000. I think there’s a $35,000 signing bonus. There’s a $27,000 moving allowance. I think there’s a $3,000-a-month housing allowance on this. We already have a president, why are we hiring another one?”

He said it was an irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars. South’s annual pay is $5,000 more than Swayne’s, which Trustee Todd Banducci has repeatedly criticized as exorbitant. South’s monthly housing stipend is also $500 more than Swayne’s.

“If you look at the accreditation requirements and recommendations, that is to have an active president at the helm, and that is the board's main point of contact, main interface, only interface, and so this is the essential for NIC that we have a candidate for president as such,” said Trustee Greg McKenzie.

Zimmerman said she thinks the community wants transparency and that the process of hiring South lacked that.

South was an interim dean of instruction at North Idaho College for several months in 2021. The board did not reveal he was the prospective hire until just before they voted to approve his employment contract, which McKenzie said had been negotiated by attorney Art Macomber.

“We were provided with one candidate rather than a few to choose from,” Zimmerman said. “I think that would have offered more transparency. The contract is fiscally irresponsible.”

Hundreds of people gathered in the Schuler Performing Arts Center on the NIC campus Wednesday night for the meeting.

Community members addressed the board during the public comment section. Most criticized recent actions by trustees, especially putting Swayne on administrative leave, though a few expressed blanket support for the board’s majority and suggested that turmoil at NIC is due to “the relentless assault by the left.”

Coeur d’Alene resident Gary Williams was one of several people who implored trustees to do whatever they could to protect NIC’s accreditation.

“Accreditation means everything here,” he said. “If it’s gone, the school’s gone. I really don’t get why that has to happen.”

ASNIC Student Government President Damian Maxwell described sleeping in his car and going hungry for two summers in a row in order to afford attending NIC. Those challenges were worth getting a college education, he said.

“NIC is full of students like me who have given everything just to be here,” Maxwell said. “We don’t want an interim president. We want transparency. We want representation. We want Nick Swayne.”

The board also took steps to cure the open meeting violations that occurred during meetings on Dec. 5 and Dec. 8.

Trustees acknowledged in several motions that the board committed various open meeting violations and that the related actions were null and void.

That included accepting the resignation of former college attorney Marc Lyons, hiring Art Macomber as a new attorney, suspending board policies, creating a hiring freeze for president’s cabinet members, taking action on an item not on the agenda without declaring an emergency and placing Swayne on administrative leave.

The board then voted to accept the resignation of Lyons and hire Macomber, with Corkill and Zimmerman voting against the measure.

“I can’t bring myself to vote for a law firm that is currently being reviewed by the State Bar,” Corkill said, referring to a grievance recently filed based on Macomber’s alleged ethical violations.

Trustees also voted to return Swayne to administrative leave.

McKenzie said the open meeting violations were not intentional, and later in the meeting the board agreed to seek training on the state’s open meeting laws.

He apologized for his behavior at some past meetings.

“I pledge to hold myself and the board to a high standard of respect and professionalism and expect the same from all,” McKenzie said.

In a split vote, the board voted to explore the possibility of switching from the Northwest Athletic Conference to the National Junior College Athletic Association.

Corkill abstained from the vote, citing a lack of familiarity with the matter, while Zimmerman cast the sole no vote.

Trustees also approved a motion from Banducci for the president to review, consider and make a recommendation regarding adding women’s wrestling for the 2023-24 season, with the board “willing to open the budget” to support such a program.

Banducci said women’s wrestling is a fast-growing collegiate sport and increasingly popular in the Northwest. He believes the program would draw 30 to 40 female wrestlers in the first year, including athletes from the Spokane area, thus boosting NIC’s enrollment.

There’s support for a women’s wrestling program at the booster-club level, Banducci said, as well as from at least one NIC coach.

“We won’t be offering any scholarships,” he said. “Every one of those young ladies who’s coming to wrestle will be paying their way and they’ll want to do it.”

Corkill questioned the timing of the action, given NIC’s ongoing accreditation woes.

“I want to make sure that, if we move forward with this, that we have a college for them to go to,” he said.

Banducci also moved for the president to review and make a recommendation related to the pay of the entire athletic department, with the board also willing to “open the budget for athletic improvement.” He said the move is important because athletics help drive enrollment, which is flagging at NIC.

“Not many colleges you know because of their outstanding English department or whatever,” Banducci said. “Athletics is the front door for PR for colleges.”

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Maureen Dolan contributed to this report.