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Banducci, Gookin have heated exchange

by KAYE THORNBRUGH
Staff Writer | March 22, 2022 1:09 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — A Coeur d’Alene city councilman said he contacted police after an altercation with the chair of the North Idaho College board of trustees.

Councilman Dan Gookin filed a police report Monday, alleging that NIC board of trustees Chair Todd Banducci may have assaulted him last week.

Banducci firmly denied the accusation.

“I did nothing wrong,” Banducci said Monday. “It’s another time someone is trying to erroneously malign me.”

Though Coeur d’Alene police took Gookin’s statement Monday and obtained a copy of security footage that showed the interaction, Banducci said police have not contacted him.

“Mr. Gookin behaved badly,” he said.

Banducci declined to answer questions or discuss the details of the event.

Gookin said the incident occurred Thursday, at a meeting of the Kootenai County Central Committee at the Altar Church in Coeur d’Alene.

When Gookin left the meeting, Banducci allegedly followed him to the church’s lobby and confronted him about a “mixup” at the KCRCC’s annual Lincoln Day dinner, where Gookin said he mistakenly left his belongings at a table reserved for Banducci.

Gookin said he took offense to Banducci’s demand for an apology.

“I let fly a torrent of profanity and insults,” Gookin said. “(Banducci) was really taken aback.”

Gookin said Banducci followed him out of the church and into the parking lot, as Gookin walked to his car.

“He called me a p——y for walking away,” Gookin said. “I thought he was being confrontational. Was he trying to pick a fight with me?”

The pair reportedly continued to exchange insults, until Gookin got into his car and left.

“I did make up my mind to publicly call for his resignation,” Gookin said. “To me, that behavior is not becoming of someone who is qualified for office. I didn’t pursue him. I was leaving. He initiated the whole thing.”

Gookin penned a letter to the editor, which ran in Sunday’s edition of The Press, where he described Banducci as a “man-child” who has damaged NIC and called on him to resign from the board of trustees.

Monday morning, Banducci reportedly sent Gookin a text message that appeared to be prompted by the letter.

“U made a threat & acted on it because u r petty & small, too often spewing the most foul language in public in mixed company,” the message read in part.

Gookin said he believes Banducci was referring to a “threat” to sign an open letter calling for Banducci’s resignation.

He said he contacted the Coeur d’Alene Police Department Monday and filed a report about Thursday’s altercation, alleging possible assault.

Idaho law defines assault, in part, as an intentional, unlawful threat by word or act to do violence to another person, coupled with an apparent ability to do so, and doing some act that created a well-founded fear in the other person that violence is imminent.

Coeur d’Alene police reportedly obtained a copy of the security footage, which has no audio.

The video will be forwarded to the Kootenai County Prosecutor’s Office for further review.

Gookin said Banducci wasn’t physically aggressive during their argument.

Still, he said he believes the matter is worth investigation.

“I’ve heard at the college that (Banducci) has pursued people in this manner,” he said. “This is what he does.”

NIC reportedly faced a Title IX complaint in early 2020, after Banducci allegedly physically assaulted a female NIC employee at a college-sponsored event.

Former NIC President Rick MacLennan, who was fired without cause last year, said he witnessed the alleged assault.

The board of trustees privately censured Banducci as a result, according to an email from the board to Banducci.

The employee agreed to a non-financial settlement stipulating that Banducci have no further contact with her.

After he became board chair, Banducci reportedly attempted to assign himself as liaison to the NIC Foundation — a role that would violate the civil agreement he signed.

Banducci is not permitted to be involved in NIC Foundation operations or fundraising, based on an agreement he made with the Foundation, according to a recent report from the college’s accrediting organization, Northwest Commission of Colleges and Universities.

In an email published to NIC’s website, Trustee Christie Wood said an investigation prompted by the Title IX complaint showed that Banducci sexually harassed other female employees.

The employees reportedly declined to come forward previously because they feared retaliation from Banducci.

Other employees witnessed the incidents, Wood said.

“After being questioned by the board about these incidents, Trustee Banducci was defiant and expressed no remorse or accountability for his actions,” Wood wrote.

Gookin said Banducci’s conduct is unacceptable.

“I can only imagine what it would be like to be a woman or a college employee or someone who is not as large as (Banducci), who can be easily intimidated or frightened by that behavior,” he said.

The recent panel report from NWCCU listed numerous concerns, some serious enough to suggest the NWCCU put NIC on probation.

The panel found NIC to be out of compliance with several accreditation standards and eligibility requirements. Several complaints specifically cited Banducci’s leadership.

While NIC’s accreditation hangs in the balance, two sides have emerged in the battle over Banducci: those who support him and those who demand his resignation.

Save NIC, a nonprofit formed earlier this year, is gathering signatures for an open letter calling on Banducci to resign, citing the issues outlined in NWCCU’s report.

Christa Hazel, director of Save NIC, told The Press last week that the letter received a flood of signatures in just the first 48 hours.

Meanwhile, Erin Barnard, who publishes the Kootenai County Spectator, has circulated a letter in support of Banducci and asked community members to sign it.

In a Facebook post, Barnard said she’ll print out each letter and deliver it to the board of trustees at the next meeting, to illustrate how many people support Banducci and “his drive to bring North Idaho College back to a conservative local community college.”

The board of trustees will meet Wednesday.

photo

Gookin

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