Thursday, July 25, 2024

MY TURN: The tragedy at NIC

by CHRISTIE WOOD/Guest Opinion
| September 13, 2023 1:00 AM

Thank you Tarie, Brad, Nick and SaveNIC.

On April 28, 2022, Ken Howard and I resigned from the NIC board of trustees after many years of service. It was a difficult decision since we both enjoyed our roles in advancing higher education opportunities in our community.

Sadly, under the chairmanship of Todd Banducci, the business of the college became untenable with many split votes on important direction for the college. His behavior toward the president, faculty, staff and students has been appalling. Banducci and fellow board member Greg McKenzie were determined to keep our former wrestling coach as the long-term president rather than fulfill the college mission of hiring a fully qualified and experienced individual to lead the college. We were forced to search for a new president after they fired our stellar president, Dr. Rick MacLennan, without cause. The litigation from that action cost the taxpayers over $500,000 and caused much grief on campus and in the community.

With Ken's and my resignation, following state law, a new board majority was selected by the Idaho State Board of Education and the new board elected a new chairman. The three appointed board members, John Goedde, Pete Broschet, and David Wold were able to right the ship for a while by hiring Dr. Nick Swayne after an extensive national presidential search, and with the recommendation many community members who participated in the process. I am very grateful to those three gentlemen for their efforts to protect and preserve the college. The fall election of 2022 brought in three new members. The board now comprises Banducci, McKenzie, Mike Waggoner, Tarie Zimmerman and Brad Corkill. Waggoner, along with Banducci and McKenzie, were supported by the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee (KCRCC). Waggoner has voted to support almost every bad decision made by Banducci and McKenzie.

At the time of our resignation, the college had been put on a “Warning” status by the accrediting body of the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities for numerous violations of the commission’s educational requirements, specifically by the majority of the NIC Board in violation of the governance practices. Banducci was named specifically as a violator in the response and directive from the NWCCU. The NIC board was provided specific instructions on how to come into compliance with educational standards.

Nearly a year and a half later, I have continued to sadly observe constant, blatant violations of the NWCCU requirements by the majority of the board. The “Warning” status from NWCCU has changed to “Show Cause," the last stage before the loss of accreditation. These three trustees have had every chance to correct these violations but have failed to do so. There is a clear understanding that NIC could be ordered to prepare for a “teach out” status and close their doors forever if the board majority continues to violate the laws, policy and educational standards. Instead, the endorsed KCRCC trustees have made matters worse. The fear of NIC employees possibly losing their jobs and NIC students possibly losing access to an education is unprecedented.

The three KCRCC-endorsed trustees have hired an additional president Dr. Greg South at the outrageous cost of nearly $300,000 per year. He remains on the payroll to date with no job duties or authority over college operations. This means taxpayers are paying over $500,000 a year for two college presidents. The three-board majority attempted to fire Dr. Nick Swayne for no cause and were ordered by the district court to reinstate him. If this was not enough of fiduciary malfeasance, the board recently hired an additional attorney against the advice of the NIC administration at the cost of $275 per hour.

Last week they decided to continue with the costly litigation against Dr. Swayne and are appealing the District Court decision to the Idaho Supreme Court. No doubt they have been advised by their insurance company attorneys that they have a losing case but it’s not their money, so they have no consideration for being good stewards of the taxpayer dollars. They have also retained Art Macomber as their legal counsel at his new rate of $400 per hour.

This mess created by these three trustees runs into the millions of dollars for the taxpayers, in clear violation of the NWCCU requirements and standards. A full list of costs incurred by these three trustees is available on the Facebook page of an organization called “SaveNIC." This group of community volunteers has worked tirelessly to save the college for the past three years.

The City of Coeur d’Alene has reached out to the NIC Board several times in an effort to work together and rezone the college property as a “University District." This would protect the college from private development should the college lose accreditation. The board continues to ignore our efforts. Why do you suppose they will not work to protect the college from outside development? No idea, but its sure stinks like the skunk it is. The city is not required to seek their approval, but we prefer to work with elected leaders to solve an issue.

In the past three years numerous employees that served in administration, faculty and staff positions have left the college due to the poor leadership of the KCRCC-endorsed board majority. Now we hear another employee resigned and the KCRCC three trustees are privately entering into settlement talks with this employee to the tune of $1.3 million for severance pay.

To date this employee has not filed a lawsuit, and no allegations have been verified. Trustees Zimmerman and Corkill were loudly opposed in the public board meeting on Aug. 30 to such fiducial malfeasance. It is in direct violation of the NWCCU requirements. It is crystal clear the goal of these three KCRCC endorsed board members is to destroy this higher education institution from the inside. The KCRCC leadership unapologetically financially support and embrace white supremacists who express extreme ideology into their organization. KCRCC Chairman Brent Regan and a majority of the central committee must take responsibility for this debacle. There are many good people in the Republican Party who do not support these actions.

Banducci and McKenzie put a lot of effort into attacking the four human rights organizations and their supporters that complained to the NWCCU. They specifically claim I filed the complaint. This is blatantly untrue. Their defense for the possible illegal behavior is “Who Narc-ed”? I used to hear this defense a lot while working as a Coeur d’Alene city detective investigating juvenile crime.

After the Aug. 30 NIC board meeting, Banducci accosted Brad Corkill in the lobby shouting terrible things at him in a threatening manner. Banducci’s continuous uncivilized behavior has led to the crisis and near closure of a wonderful institution in our community. It will continue to take dedicated communitywide responses to protect NIC from these three extreme ideologues and the leadership of the KCRCC. Their intention is to take over all nonpartisan elected positions in North Idaho and continue making havoc with extreme ideology.

I want to thank trustees Tarie Zimmerman, Brad Corkhill, Dr. Nick Swayne and “SaveNIC” for their countless efforts to keep the college viable. Please take the time to thank Brad, Tarie and Nick with letters, cards and emails for their efforts to save NIC. Hopefully all their ongoing efforts help the college persevere.

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Christie Wood is an NIC Trustee Emeritus and Coeur d’Alene City Council member.