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3 Quit At Nic Following Bennett Ouster 2 Trustees, Longtime Board Secretary Resign

Fri., June 13, 1997

Two members of the North Idaho College board of trustees and a longtime college employee have resigned amid the continuing controversy over the ouster of President Bob Bennett.

Sue Thilo, the lone board member to publicly oppose Bennett’s forced resignation, quit Tuesday. Steve Widmyer’s letter of resignation was dated Wednesday.

In addition, Jo Teater, secretary to Bennett and the board for seven years, quit Wednesday. She apparently delivered her letter of resignation to board members with their advance materials for next week’s meeting.

Thilo’s and Teater’s departures clearly were in protest of Bennett’s firing. Widmyer’s letter was more vague, and he could not be reached for comment.

“I’m not a quitter,” Thilo said of her resignation. “I’m also not stupid.

“If I thought I could change things, I’d still be in there working. I hope somebody else can, and I will support them in any way I can.”

The board still has a quorum in Jeanne Givens, Bob Ely and Barbara Chamberlain. As long as they maintain that quorum, they can appoint replacements.

Thilo said she regrets she no longer will be able to give job references for Bennett from the board of trustees. That was a stipulation in the legal agreement between the college and the president that the board approved earlier this month.

“I supported Bob Bennett and I continue to support him,” Thilo said.

Widmyer did not return telephone calls. His letter to board Chairwoman Givens said he found it difficult to “make North Idaho College an even better institution at the most reasonable cost to the students and taxpayers,” as was his goal.

“To be a public official, it takes a certain type of individual and I’m not one of those types,” he said. “However, this is a critical point in the health of this college.

“Students and residents of Kootenai County must put all of their angry feelings aside and move forward.”

The board of trustees is asking for letters from people interested in filling Thilo’s position on the five-member board, Givens said.

“I’m disappointed,” Givens said of Thilo’s resignation. “She was a great addition to the board, and she will be missed.”

Givens could not be reached later to comment on Widmyer and Teater’s departures.

The remaining board members face a recall effort being organized by the Associated Students of North Idaho College and supported by the Kootenai County Property Owners Association.

Beyond Bennett’s ouster, they are upset over the $142,000 settlement given Bennett to buy out the remaining year on his two-year contract. Bennett was NIC president for a decade.

“I’m not surprised by the recall effort,” Thilo said. “I think there’s a great potential for success.”

The recall effort is complicated. Because trustees are elected in staggered terms, the number of signatures and the number of votes required to recall them varies by trustee.

It would take approximately 8,600 signatures on a petition to put Chamberlain on the recall ballot, said Kootenai County Clerk Dan English.

However, state law requires the number of votes cast in favor of recalling a particular board member equal or exceed the number of votes cast for that slot in the last general election.

That means a minimum of 29,654 people would have to vote to get rid of Chamberlain. Turnout was high in the 1996 presidential election increasing the number of ballots cast for the NIC board.

Voter turnout was much lower when the other two trustees were elected, so the recall numbers are much smaller.

It would take only about 860 signatures to put Bob Ely, who was elected in 1994, on the recall ballot. A total of 1,752 voters would have to cast a ballot in favor of his recall for him to be removed.

In Givens case, it would take 495 signatures to put her name on the recall ballot and 796 votes to oust her, English said.

If a recall election removes enough board members that there no longer is a quorum, the state Board of Education would appoint new members, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos


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