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Three candidates speak at NIC forum

by DEVIN WEEKS
Staff Writer | October 6, 2022 1:08 AM

Six chairs on the stage, but only three participants.

Tarie Zimmerman, Brad Corkill and Pete Broschet fielded questions during the North Idaho College board of trustees forum attended by more than 120 people Wednesday evening at Schuler Performing Arts Center.

Board governance, supporting the college president and prioritizing the goals of students, faculty and employees were common themes throughout the evening.

But most mentioned was the college’s threatened accreditation.

“Accreditation is at an extreme risk of being lost,” Zimmerman said. “We face a lot of problems that have come from bad board governance. Bad board governance caused an exodus of good, quality leadership and faculty. It’s caused a threat to our financial sustainability.”

Zimmerman said the most important part of NIC’s mission is its commitment to students and to the community. She said the next five years could be very bad if the structure of who is sitting on the board does not change.

“In 2020, the college received affirmation that everything was good — curriculum, faculty, board governance. All was in good order,” she said. “After that election in 2020, everything turned direction in a bad way. Not because of curriculum, not because of faculty, but because of bad board governance. It has to do with who’s on the board and their behaviors.”

She said elections have consequences.

“We’re not out of the water, and don’t be fooled by people who will tell you otherwise,” Zimmerman said. “We have to have good board governance, bottom line. With good governance, we can solve the other issues.”

The forum was presented by the Joint Chamber Public Policy Committee, which comprises four chambers of commerce in Kootenai County — Coeur d’Alene, Hayden, Post Falls and Rathdrum — that represent a broad spectrum of businesses and residents in North Idaho.

Zimmerman is running against Ronald Hartman for the Zone 1 seat. Corkill is running against Diana Sheridan for Zone 2. Broschet, who serves on the board as treasurer, is running against Mike Waggoner. Hartman, Sheridan and Waggoner were not present, having separately communicated with forum organizers that they had other engagements and declined to participate.

Zimmerman, Corkill and Broschet answered questions regarding NIC’s mission, how they would work with NIC President Nick Swayne, how they plan to rectify the situation surrounding NIC’s threatened accreditation and other queries about the college’s future.

As a current trustee, Broschet was involved as Swayne was hired and a new board conduct policy that outlines the processes, behaviors, methods of appropriate communication and efficient board operations was adopted — recommendations received earlier this year from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, which oversees NIC’s accreditation.

The college retained its accreditation but was placed in warning status in April by the organization.

The commissioners found the college to be out of compliance with an eligibility requirement for the governing board, as well as two standards related to governance and institutional integrity.

“I understand what the issues are going forward, and I will make sure the board stays a governance board and does not try to get into the operations of the college,” Broschet said.

Corkill said the staff and faculty have to know their jobs are secure and that the college is going to be there in five years. He said students need to know their credits will transfer.

“It’s the job of the trustees to make sure that atmosphere is in place in the college,” he said. “As a trustee, we represent the taxpayers of the community. It’s important for us to be responsible and for the taxpayers to know their money is being spent wisely.

“In five years, I would hope that the college is healthier than it is today,” he said.

Broschet said the college needs to meet the diverse educational needs of the students, the needs of employers and the North Idaho community.

“The board’s decisions over the next five to 10 years must really follow the values of the college,” he said, adding that those values are student success, educational excellence, community engagement, stewardship and diversity.

The three candidates were all in agreement that the process of hiring Swayne was fair and in the best interest of the college. They also expressed willingness to support and closely work with the president and follow proper channels of communication.

“The trustees' conduit to the college is through the president, and only through the president,” Corkill said. “If a trustee is meeting with a faculty member, the president is there with him. That’s the way it is.”

It was not lost on forum attendees that three candidates who are seeking positions on the board were not present.

“This is really important to the community,” said pre-med student Naomi Fisher, who lives in the dorms and came to Coeur d’Alene from Honduras just to attend NIC.

“Let people know you’re here for the community,” she said. “Them not showing up is telling me, ‘OK, I’m not here. I might not be here tomorrow too.’ That’s one thing I took out of seeing those empty chairs.”

Lora Whalen, former director of Panhandle Health District, said she was glad the three attending candidates cared enough to participate in the forum.

“It’s so important, as a community member and someone who so appreciates what NIC does, which is to guide these kids to these careers — it’s invaluable to our business community,” she said.

Whalen said it’s also important Broschet, Corkill and Zimmerman are elected so NIC can continue with civility in discourse, supporting the president and with the necessary fiscal responsibility.

“They’re conservative, wonderful people who will do a great job and bring back to NIC the ability to have civil discussion, not swear at each other, not stand up and bully each other,” Whalen said. “We cannot go back to where we were with a chair that is not civil.”

Coeur d’Alene Regional Chamber CEO/President Linda Coppess said North Idaho is in a crisis.

“There’s so much divisiveness in our community,” she said. “I feel like NIC has been at the heart of that the last couple of years.”

She said the community needs to band together, especially around NIC, which is a huge driver of the economy.

“We can’t afford to stay silent anymore,” Coppess said. “The business community is filled with incredible leaders and we have to stand up. We have to make sure people understand the connection between this school, the workforce and the economic prosperity in our region. NIC’s at the heart of it, and if it goes down, I don’t even know what the impact would be to our community.”

photo

DEVIN WEEKS/Press

Guests listen to North Idaho College trustee candidates speak during a forum in the Schuler Performing Arts Center on the NIC campus Wednesday evening.