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'Time to rally the troops'

by KAYE THORNBRUGH
Staff Writer | February 19, 2023 1:06 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — Multiple North Idaho College trustees have issued pleas for the public to make comments in support of NIC’s current direction at next week’s board meeting.

Board Chair Greg McKenzie reportedly sent a text message to at least one NIC student asking for comments praising the board and Interim President Greg South, while Trustee Mike Waggoner requested via email that “a large number of conservatives” attend the meeting.

Scheduled for Wednesday, it will be the first meeting since NIC received a show cause sanction from its accreditor, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. Show cause is the last step before loss of accreditation.

“Time to rally the troops and positive love for public comments,” McKenzie’s text message said. “Don’t say anything negative of liberals, just support the board and the direction and actions of President South.”

McKenzie’s message went out Thursday night, before NIC published the agenda for the next regular trustee meeting. It included when and where the meeting will occur — 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 22, at the Student Union Building — and noted that an executive session is planned for 5 p.m. but “not likely to succeed.”

“Please rally supporters for public comment,” the text message went on. “Would love an overwhelming supply of support for board and ensuring student success and a place for everyone to learn.”

It’s unclear how many people received the message. McKenzie did not respond Friday to requests for comment from The Press.

Damian Maxwell, NIC student body president, condemned the text on Friday.

“It just seems wildly inappropriate to send a message like that as chair,” he said.

Maxwell noted the reference to “liberals.” He pointed to comments Trustee Todd Banducci made to Trustee Tarie Zimmerman during a Dec. 10 special meeting, when a line of people who wished to give public comment stretched halfway around the room.

“Well, gee, Tarie, if we’d recruited our people, we’d have had 50 people here too, but we kind of gave them Saturday off,” Banducci said.

“I think that’s kind of indicative of who he’s inviting to these meetings,” Maxwell said. “If he’s rallying troops, he’s rallying a very specific type of troops.”

An email sent Saturday with the subject line “CANDLELIGHT LOCAL, STATE & NATIONAL ISSUES” included a call to action from Mike Waggoner, urging conservatives to give public comment.

“They need to sign up early, be polite and be positive about the school and Interim President Greg South,” Waggoner wrote.

He said it’s “very obvious” that NIC has been “mismanaged” for at least a decade.

“(South) and his team are now making the changes necessary to reverse those declines in enrollment and reductions in the classes offered and of course some staff and faculty are upset with those changes,” Waggoner wrote. “Word on the street is that many of them will be coming to the board meeting to complain and try to intimidate Dr. South.”

The email also circulated on social media, appearing in the public North Idaho Freedom Fighters Facebook group and elsewhere.

The board has limited the public comment period for Wednesday’s meeting to 30 minutes, with two minutes for each speaker.

Board policy states board meetings may include an opportunity for members of the public to address the trustees on any item on the agenda, not just action items. Each person wishing to speak must provide their name and the agenda subject they will address.

The policy grants the board chair the authority to allow public participation in a meeting and the authority to limit public comments.

While the trustees are encouraging people to attend and comment in their support, they will hold the Wednesday meeting in the Lake Coeur d’Alene Room at the Edminister Student Union Building, which can accommodate around 100 people.

Some audience members had to watch the January meeting from an overflow room because there wasn’t enough space for them all. In December, trustees held the board meeting in the Schuler Events Center on campus, which has a significantly greater capacity for public attendance. That meeting drew around 400 people.

On the agenda for next week’s meeting are the following action items:

• Revised Policy 3.02.23.01 Conflict Resolution/Mediation

• Revised Policy 3.02.29 Alternate Work Schedules

• Head Start Self-Assessment

• Head Start Criteria for Selection

• Head Start Non-Federal Share Waiver Request

“Accreditation and show cause update” is listed as an information item.

Kathleen Miller Green, an instructor of child development at NIC for 17 years, questioned why no action items related to NIC’s accreditation are on the agenda. Though she is the Faculty Assembly vice chair, she emphasized that she spoke as an individual faculty member and not as a representative of the group.

“Why would we talk about revising policies in a college that, within the next two months, is facing being told that we’re going to be closed down?” she said Friday.

Absent from the agenda was any reference to a letter issued to trustees this week by the Faculty Assembly executive committee, which calls on trustees to undo all actions taken in December 2022.

The letter outlines four steps the committee believes necessary to remedy the 26 areas where NIC is out of compliance with accreditation standards and requirements: remove Interim President Greg South and his team of interims; remove college attorney Art Macomber; reinstate NIC President Nick Swayne; and give Swayne full operational authority over NIC.

“We encourage you to consider how else you can meet the standards included in the sanction of show cause letter and what you can each personally do to allow NIC to recover from the damage your actions have caused,” the committee said.

The executive committee indicated that it expected each of the four items to appear on the meeting agenda as an action item.

“Anything short of this shows insufficient response to the gravity of this situation and will be deemed as willfully and intentionally seeking to destroy NIC,” the committee said.

In the past two years, amid ongoing threats to accreditation due to board dysfunction, NIC’s Faculty Assembly has issued five votes of no confidence in trustees, mostly recently this week. The Staff Assembly and Associated Students of NIC have also issued multiple no confidence votes.

Miller Green said the votes aren’t made lightly. Trustees have yet to address them.

“It’s unprecedented,” she said. “We have received literally not one sentence of response. Neither have the students. Neither have the staff.”

She implored the public to stand up for North Idaho College next week.

“You need to show up,” Miller Green said. “You need to be at that meeting. There needs to be so many people standing to make public comment that this meeting goes till midnight. This is it. We don’t get another chance.”

The NWCCU rescheduled two major deadlines this week, giving North Idaho College until March 31, rather than March 13, to submit a report explaining why its accreditation should not be terminated and pushing a site visit back to April 26-27.

NIC announced Friday that Interim President Greg South sent two letters to NWCCU this month, before receiving a show cause sanction. Dated Feb. 2 and Feb. 8, the letters describe recent training trustees received to better fulfill their governance responsibilities. This training included “discussion concerning the trustees’ roles and responsibilities in general and specifically in the accreditation process.”

To read all correspondence between North Idaho College and the NWCCU, as well as other documents related to accreditation, visit nic.edu/accreditation.

The next agenda and meeting materials are posted at nic.edu/board.