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Nic Trustees Replace Two Who Resigned Board Also Names Ronald Bell Interim President

A former North Idaho College English teacher and a Coeur d’Alene attorney will replace two NIC trustees who resigned in the wake of President Bob Bennett’s ouster.

Sheila Clay Wood and attorney W.W. “Bill” Nixon were chosen by the three remaining board members to fill out their ranks.

They had a dozen names before them Monday evening.

“We have some outstanding candidates,” said trustee Bob Ely as he shuffled through resumes at the board’s 5 p.m. meeting. “This is not an easy decision.”

The board made another decision earlier: hiring Ronald E. Bell as NIC’s interim president. He will serve until a full-time leader is hired.

Bell, 58, was a mathematics professor and president of Seattle’s Shoreline Community College from 1981 to 1995. He earned a doctorate in education at the University of Washington.

Bell visited the campus Monday. The NIC trustees found him an easy choice.

“He’s a remarkable person,” said chairwoman Jeanne Givens.

The search for a permanent president will begin in earnest next month. A committee of 20 or more people will include representatives of faculty, students, businesses, school districts and other interested parties.

Ely served on a similar committee that led to Bennett’s hiring 10 years ago. But this spring, he was among those who decided it was time for Bennett to go.

Bennett said he was not given a reason for the board’s unhappiness with him. Citing legal restraints, board members have only mentioned “communication problems.”

Apparently, only trustee Sue Thilo agreed with that decision, although she did vote to accept Bennett’s resignation.

Thilo subsequently quit the board. So did Steve Widmyer, who was elected just last fall.

Wood saw the board vacancies as an opportunity to reconnect with NIC. An English instructor there for 16 years, she took early retirement a year ago to spend more time with her family.

“The more I read (about Bennett’s departure) the more I realized I had a golden opportunity to repay the college for all it’s done for me,” Wood said.

The biggest decision facing the board in the next year will be hiring a new president. Wood said she’ll be looking for someone with a strong academic focus.

Nixon did not attend Monday’s meeting. Reached at home, he said he was pleasantly surprised by his appointment.

“I’m getting to retirement age and it’s one last bit of public service I can do,” he said.

In nominating Nixon, Ely cited the attorney’s recent service on a school athletic committee. That committee decided against de-emphasizing sports at the college, while still working to achieve a fair balance between the opportunities offered to male and female athletes.

The seats held by Wood and Nixon will be up for election in fall 1998. But some students hope faces on the board change before then.

Associated Students of North Idaho College has begun a drive to recall Givens, Ely and Barbara Chamberlain. The students are unhappy with Bennett’s unexplained exit and a fee increase approved by trustees.

“Ideally, the students will learn a great deal about the democratic process,” Wood said of the recall effort. “I’m not saying it won’t be painful for all of us. We’ll just have to cope with the outcome.”

Nixon doesn’t expect the students to succeed, given the huge number of petition signatures they must gather.

“I think their efforts could be better spent for other things,” he said.

Ironically, some members of the community chose Monday evening to praise former president Bennett, who got a $142,000 settlement from the college upon his departure.

Bennett’s going-away party was held at Hayden Lake Country Club. The party was hosted by three prominent couples: Tom and Sheila Richards, Bob and Patty Potter, and Karen and Dexter Yates.

Many members of the North Idaho College Foundation, the school’s fund-raising arm, were among the 80 expected guests.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

MEMO: Cut in the Spokane edition.

Cut in the Spokane edition.