Terrance Brown, who abruptly resigned last fall as chief executive officer of the Community Colleges of Spokane, was in trouble with the board of trustees for insensitivity toward women, outbursts of anger and usurping the power of the board, records show.
Although the board never asked him to resign, Brown submitted his resignation the same day the board adopted a “plan of action” to correct the 63-year-old administrator’s behavior.
Brown resigned in November, effective July 1.
“It was strictly my call,” Brown said in an interview Tuesday.
When he announced his resignation, Brown said he was leaving to pursue other opportunities, such as reviving the downtown Pacific Science Center project.
He and board chairwoman Betty McInturff said at the time there were no conflicts contributing to Brown’s sudden decision to step down. Rumors of a sexual harassment complaint also were dismissed as false.
But records of the board’s executive sessions show that Brown was investigated by CCS officials in August after a woman complained that he had made “suggestive comments, unwanted attention” and was “creating a generally uncomfortable environment for the employee.”
McInturff declined to comment on board concerns about Brown’s behavior and management, saying those were private, personnel issues.
“Looking at what Terry has done in 10 years is pretty spectacular,” McInturff said. “But boards change, people change, needs change.”
Brown, the highest-ranking officer in a district of two colleges and 23,000 full- and part-time students, is enrolled in a six-month sensitivity course in Spokane.
As chief executive, he leads 1,100 employees of Spokane Falls Community College, Spokane Community College and the Institute for Extended Learning. The former high school chemistry teacher earns $112,000 a year.
Jennifer Roseman, CCS director of communications, said the district handled the harassment incident the same way it would with any employee.
Brown admitted he used poor judgment with a district employee last summer when they both attended a conference outside of Spokane.
“If I’ve done something to even one person, I want to take care of that,” he said in the interview this week.
The woman, who was not identified, did not initiate the sexual harassment complaint. Records show that a third person familiar with the incident alerted the CCS that an employee had been “sexually pressured” by an administrator.
CCS investigators confirmed the report with the victim, though she never filed an official complaint against Brown. There are no other sexual harassment complaints against Brown.
The incident, however, may have been the last of a growing number of concerns that the board was amassing about Brown.
Several sources said Brown may have upset the board last year for the way his office handled a request by a former office technology instructor, Ann Knapp, to extend her employment and give her time to gain tenure.
The coveted tenure status guarantees faculty employment and protects them from censorship. Only the board can grant tenure or extend the time for an employee to get it.
In January 1997, SCC President Jim Williams signed a letter of understanding to extend Knapp’s employment. Williams said in an interview that he had kept Brown, his boss, appraised of the action during this time.
In a letter to the board, Brown denied that he knew Williams had signed an agreement with Knapp.
That put the board in an awkward position. Even though it meant risking a lawsuit, the board rejected Williams’ letter as non-binding and denied Knapp tenure.
The decision finished Knapp’s career at SCC in June 1997. Three months later, she sued the board in Spokane County Superior Court for alleged breach of contract. A trial has been set for this summer.
In a letter, the board indicated that Brown was responsible for “either directly or indirectly usurping the power of the board, particularly regarding Ms. Knapp’s proposed tenure.”
Both Brown and Williams declined to say who authorized the letter of agreement.
Eight days after Knapp sued the board, the trustees asked Brown to respond to several concerns, which included telling off-color jokes; swearing; showing a lack of sensitivity toward women, the board and the college presidents; usurping the board’s authority; intermittent outbursts of anger and restricting communications between the board and district employees.
Brown was stunned by the confrontation.
“I have never received a letter like this and I am having personal difficulties responding because of what I believe is important to me - my behavior,” he replied in writing.
“I have felt a drifting apart of the board and me,” he continued. “The board was losing communication with me and there was an erosion in their confidence in me.”
Brown is widely respected in the community for spearheading training programs that lure new companies and promoting higher education in a six-county region.
During his 11 years at the helm of CCS, Brown oversaw completion of $35 million in construction projects and expansion of course offerings in Colville, Newport, Republic and Inchelium. He managed an $85 million annual budget and served as campaign chairman of the United Way of Spokane County and president of the Spokane Rotary Club.
“I’ve never encountered a community college president as involved as he is,” said Rich Hadley, president of the 2,200-member Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce. “He doesn’t just stand up and say, ‘I think this ought to be done,’ he does it.”
The five members of the CCS board are appointed by the governor. They include Spokane City Councilwoman Roberta Greene, Tom McKern of Rice, Wash., Tom Kneeshaw of Colfax, Wash., and Jim Walton and McInturff, both of Spokane.
Walton, the longest serving member of the board, said Brown had planned to retire for years.
“He’s looking ahead for his future,” said Walton, who declined to discuss Brown’s management and behavior.
Before his resignation, Brown wrote the board that he had been under pressure last year, juggling the job as CCS chief executive and president of the Washington Association of Community and Technical Colleges Presidents. He admitted that he had exhibited rare outbursts of anger, told an occasional off-color joke and showed poor judgment.
Brown apologized to the board and said that he had also apologized to others whom he may have offended.
At the board’s request, Brown submitted a two-page plan to correct his insensitivity.
The plan included assigning three managers to monitor his behavior and speech; enrolling in four hours of sensitivity classes; creating a committee to improve communication among managers; holding monthly meetings with each trustee; hosting a social event four times a year and issuing a newsletter to trustees twice a month.
“I will emphasize a more positive attitude, smile more often and work on dignity issues with the board and staff,” Brown promised.
The proposal was not good enough for the board. It asked Brown to return with a stronger plan.
Brown arrived at the Nov. 17 board meeting armed with a revised plan and his resignation. The board accepted both.
Although only six months remain on the job, Brown said he will fulfill the requirements of the plan before leaving office.
“The relationship between me and the board was healthy,” Brown said. “The concerns were there and they accepted the plan. I’m going to work it through.”
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