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District elections proposed for colleges

Fri., Feb. 4, 2011

NIC board questions the need for change

Idaho state Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, proposed legislation Thursday that requires community college trustees to be elected by district, rather than at-large, which would change all community college elections – at North Idaho College, the College of Western Idaho and the College of Southern Idaho.

“I can tell you frankly the trustees … at NIC do not favor this, but the issue is equitable representation,” Henderson said. He said he proposed similar legislation last year, but didn’t push it; this year, he was contacted by state Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, asking to resurrect the bill.

Henderson said this year’s CSI board elections, in which two longtime trustees were defeated, left that two-county college district with trustees all from one county, the more-populated Twin Falls County, and none from Jerome County.

“The strength of our representative form of government is our diversity,” Henderson said. He said his bill “will ensure that the full area is represented. … That’s what makes us stronger.”

However, NIC’s vice president for community relations, John Martin, questioned why Henderson’s bill is needed.

“We don’t know what he’s trying to fix because we don’t think there’s anything broken,” Martin said. NIC had scheduled a special board meeting for Thursday in anticipation of discussing Henderson’s bill, but the meeting was cancelled because the bill hadn’t been introduced yet. The board likely would release a position statement on the bill at some time, Martin said.

Trustees represent the entire county, regardless of where they live, Martin said, adding that the college hasn’t heard from students or taxpayers complaining about lack of representation. “We have programs and services that are available to everybody, no matter what,” Martin said.

Henderson said, however, that people have approached him at town meetings asking why outlying areas in Kootenai County, such as Post Falls and Rathdrum, didn’t have trustees on the board. “What happens is the overwhelming size of the votes in the population centers defeats the outside,” he said. “This was not a stand for or against any trustees, but it’s the representation.”

His bill, which the House State Affairs Committee agreed unanimously to introduce, is co-sponsored by Brackett and Reps. Bert Stevenson, R-Rupert; Maxine Bell, R-Jerome; and Mike Moyle, R-Star.

The bill would set up five districts of equal population within each community college district starting in 2012; trustee candidates would have to reside in their district, though they’d be elected countywide.

In the last NIC election, two candidates Henderson supported, Ron Nilson and Robert Ketchum, said they were running, at least in part, because people in outlying areas of the county did not feel represented.

“I think we need representation from somebody outside the greater Coeur d’Alene area, somebody from the Post Falls area,” Nilson said at the time. The election was unusually heated, with dueling billboards on Northwest Boulevard, a main thoroughfare into downtown Coeur d’Alene from Interstate 90.


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