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Two years of pandemic and political challenges

by STEVE MASTERSON/Guest opinion
| June 30, 2022 1:00 AM

It has been my honor and privilege to serve as president of the North Idaho College Foundation board of directors for the last two years. It was humbling from day one because the Foundation has a history of incredibly high-quality leadership over the decades — I had large shoes to fill! My term ends this June 30, so I’d like to make some final observations as I look back at the last two very eventful years.

As president of the Foundation, my goal has been to increase resources to support student success through scholarships, grants and program enhancements. As an example, through the generosity of donors and prudent management of the Foundation’s assets, the Foundation was able to provide over $1.2 million in student scholarships this past year. This is in addition to numerous grants to enhance programs at NIC.

The Foundation board of directors is made up of a cross-section of members from our community. There is broad representation across the ideological and political spectrum. There are business and industry leaders. There are local government leaders. There is a wide demographic range. Most and best of all is that, despite the differences, the Foundation board members work extremely well together to accomplish the mission of the Foundation in a non-political, nonpartisan way.

There were big challenges the last two years. The first was COVID-19 and the challenges it brought. COVID-19 forced us to change how we raised funds and connected with our generous donors. If anything, COVID-19 increased the urgency of our work to support students and fulfill our mission. I’m glad to say that the Foundation’s donors stepped up in a big way in a time of need. In addition to the donors, the exceptional staff of the Foundation did an amazing job under the leadership of Rayelle Anderson.

Another challenge was the turmoil since the 2020 election. As all readers of The Press know, the trustees of NIC have not always seen eye to eye. As president of the Foundation board, my goals in this regard consisted of (1) protecting the Foundation’s 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status by, as a board, staying above the political fray; (2) maintaining the Foundation’s focused efforts on raising funds and prudently managing the Foundation’s resources; (3) protecting the independence and integrity of the Foundation as a separate entity from the college; and (4) retaining the Foundation’s outstanding staff.

Unfortunately, the turmoil among the trustees impacted the Foundation. The morale of the college faculty and staff dropped. Students questioned the transferability of credits. The accreditation of the college was called into question. The college lost talented administrators with decades of experience. All of these consequences impacted fundraising for students. I am sad to report that the Foundation lost legacy gifts of well over $4 million from donors with whom the Foundation enjoyed long ties. Our annual fundraising took a hit too.

To protect and strengthen the Foundation, the board took steps to increase the independence and integrity of the Foundation. The Foundation rejected a trustee proposal to allow trustees to join the Foundation’s Executive Committee. The Foundation has also emphasized that it has been and remains a separate entity from the college. Our decisions made it clear that there are bright lines between the Foundation and the college.

Last, but certainly not least, we made a very intentional effort to celebrate and encourage Foundation staff. In over 38 years of working with a variety of nonprofit organizations, from private foundations to public charities, I will say that the Foundation is by far the best governed at every level.

Finally, I believe it vital that our community be made aware of the recent comments made by elected Trustee Greg McKenzie during one of the public interviews of a candidate for NIC president. In an adolescent whine, Trustee McKenzie accused the college of being “captive to the (NIC) Foundation.” He also made unspecified allegations of “several scholarship scandals” and asked the candidate how he would go about “managing the NIC Foundation.”

Trustee McKenzie’s statements were “fake news” about the relationship between NIC and the Foundation and he knows it. Trustee McKenzie was the trustee liaison to the Foundation and attended many Foundation board meetings since taking office.

The Foundation is not part of any secret cabal conspiring to control the college. There have absolutely been no scholarship scandals and, when asked, McKenzie could not give one example. Further, the college president has no authority to “manage” the Foundation as the Foundation is a separate and independent entity. NIC’s president is an ex-officio non-voting member of the Foundation board. The allegations and insinuations made by Trustee McKenzie are unbecoming of an NIC trustee and an intentional effort to disparage the Foundation and the college. Frankly, I was embarrassed for the college and our community by his (and Trustee Banducci’s) behavior at the candidate interviews.

I privately confronted Trustee McKenzie in person and requested a retraction and public apology for his baseless accusations and insinuations. As expected, there has been no response. I will here again call on Trustee McKenzie to publicly apologize to the Foundation board and staff and to retract his disparaging remarks. The Foundation board and staff deserve no less.

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Steve Masterson is the outgoing president of the North Idaho College Foundation and is a Coeur d’Alene resident.