Thursday, June 13, 2024

MY TURN: Saving NIC from its "friends"

by ART MACOMBER/Guest opinion
| November 1, 2022 1:00 AM

As a practicing attorney and former NIC adjunct professor, I am dismayed at developments at NIC. After reviewing nearly 40 documents on the NIC website related to accreditation and the college’s responses, including some NIC policies, the former president’s contract, and the current NIC attorney’s fee agreement, I conclude that the NIC board of trustees is acting outside Idaho law regarding fiduciary college trustees.

The scare tactic complaints about NIC’s accreditation seem to be a smokescreen. If the so-called “Friends of NIC,” Christie Wood, and others had a prosecutable case against Mr. Banducci, they would have made it. Instead, these “Friends” have put NIC at risk by conjuring threats to accreditation. Witness the FAQ on the NIC website: “Is North Idaho College going to lose its accreditation?” The answer is “That's not likely.” The scare campaign by the slate of Friends of NIC is a dodge to draw attention from more egregious flaws in NIC governance that are not triggered by Messrs. Banducci or McKenzie.

In reality, Messrs. Banducci and MacKenzie have endured interference with the exercise of their fiduciary duty as allowed by the passive NIC Attorney Lyons and by Trustees Wold, Goedde and Broschet. That interference put NIC at an economic disadvantage in at least two real property transactions thus far: The Fort Ground Grill and the purchase of another home on Military Drive.

At the July 14, 2022, board of trustees meeting, Trustees Broschet, Goedde and Wold voted in favor of the purchase of the Fort Ground Grill and Trustees Banducci and McKenzie voted against it. Trustees Banducci and McKenzie voted against the decision, because only at that meeting had they each received a synopsis of a 97-page appraisal that was never given to them prior to July 14. Even though NIC Attorney Marc Lyons was present at the meeting and “commented on the required processes for the college to purchase real property from a private party,” he did nothing showing in the minutes to stop the transaction until Trustees Banducci and McKenzie had time to review the 97-page appraisal. If Mr. Lyons had protected NIC and its economic interests in the expenditure of public monies, this sale would not have been rushed.

Keep in mind that the purchase of the Fort Ground Grill was from a former NIC trustee, Steve Widmyer, and the transaction included a very suspect lower-than-market leaseback to Widmyer at $1,500 per month for a restaurant that enjoys a full liquor license.

Not only did Trustees Broschet, Goedde and Wold vote in favor of the purchase, apparently with no negotiation with the seller at the height of a red-hot real estate market, but they also apparently did little to no due diligence regarding the leaseback at $1,500 per month. Further, by their vote, they knew they were excluding Trustees Banducci and McKenzie from even taking part in the discussion. Those three trustees knew Trustees Banducci and McKenzie received only a synopsis of the 97-page appraisal on the night the decision was made. Even so, they voted upon it even after objection by Banducci and McKenzie, which is not only an abandonment of fiduciary duty by those three trustees, but is purposeful interference by Trustees Broschet, Goedde and Wold with the fiduciary duties of Trustees Banducci and McKenzie. NIC needs trustees not associated with the “Friends of NIC.”

The second example is the board decision on Oct. 24, 2022, to proceed with the purchase of yet another expensive home on Military Drive. An appraisal was given to Trustees Banducci and McKenzie at that meeting. They had no chance to review the appraisal, and on behalf of NIC had no opportunity to negotiate with the seller. Trustee Banducci prudently objected at the meeting that the appraisal was dated Aug. 25, and yet he was only receiving it on Oct. 24. He also objected that August was the height of the real estate market, and the price may have softened as Idaho heads into winter. These objections were not only swept aside by Trustees Broschet, Goedde and Wold, there was no intervention by NIC’s Attorney Lyons, who is supposed to be a fiduciary on behalf of his client, NIC.

There is no faster way to lose accreditation than by mismanaging public funds. The Friends of NIC, and the ramrod Trustees Broschet, Goedde and Wold put the future of NIC at risk of jeopardizing accreditation. It is altogether possible that Marc Lyons is at risk himself for having overseen these situations and not voicing concern. Accreditation at NIC is not risked by someone getting their feelings hurt, but accreditation is truly at risk by violations of Idaho law such as interference with fiduciary duties and interference with prospective economic advantage in the expenditure of public funds.

Vote for the candidates that represent the values of Kootenai County and have the skills and an understanding of their fiduciary duties to do the job. Vote for Hartman, Sheridan and Waggoner. Watch the mess and accreditation issues created by the “Friends of NIC” fade away in the rearview mirror like a bad dream.