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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

North Idaho College board to consider removal, replacement of board chair amid calls for his resignation

Banducci  (Courtesy of North Idaho College)

The North Idaho College Board of Trustees is hosting a special meeting Wednesday as calls mount for Board Chair Todd Banducci to resign amid complaints of aggressive, threatening and unprofessional behavior toward the college president, employees and his fellow trustees.

The agenda for Wednesday’s 5 p.m. public meeting includes action items regarding the potential removal of Banducci as board chair and the election of a new chairperson.

Banducci, an eight-year board member, was nominated board chair shortly after his re-election to a third four-year term this past November. In recent weeks, however, Banducci’s character has been called into question by North Idaho College President Rick MacLennan, trustees, college faculty and other community members.

This includes 67 women who signed a letter published this weekend by the Coeur d’Alene Press that described his reported behavior in representing the Coeur d’Alene community college “disturbing and unacceptable.” Meanwhile, a MoveOn petition calling for Banducci’s resignation collected more than 400 signatures by Tuesday morning.

And last week, the North Idaho College Faculty Assembly voted no confidence in Banducci, with members calling for him to step down as chair.

Banducci did not return a request for comment.

‘Aggressive and intimidating behavior’

The conflict rose to prominence when Trustee Christie Wood released a Jan. 18 letter to board members that called for Banducci’s immediate resignation for, she said, repeatedly “inappropriate, aggressive or threatening” behavior.

Wood sent the letter just hours after MacLennan emailed board members of his own concerns, starting with a series of five requests Banducci emailed to the president Jan. 15.

In the emails, Banducci requested the following items at the following times:

• 8:44 a.m.: An accounting of days MacLennan has taken leave.

• 8:49 a.m.: Timely meeting notifications.

• 8:51 a.m.: A written emailed summary of the president’s “relevant activities” on either a weekly or biweekly basis.

• 8:53 a.m.: An accounting of submitted expenses for the last 1.5 years.

• 8:57 a.m.: Formatting suggestions for board agendas. This email also included a request for an American flag’s presence for the Pledge of Allegiance once board members return to meeting in person. Banducci then referenced how a student omitted “under God” while reciting the Pledge during last year’s graduation. “I expect that this institution will work hard to see that should never happen again,” he said in the email.

When questioned by Wood later that day, Banducci cited his understanding of clauses in MacLennan’s contract. As per the contract, the president provides vacation and sick time reports to the chair annually for the board’s review, while the board delegated accounting certain expense reports from the president to the college business office.

The Spokesman-Review obtained copies of the emails following a public records request.

In his email to the board, MacLennan also said he was concerned about “aggressive and intimidating behavior” he has seen and experienced from Banducci.

This includes claims involving one particular conversation during which Banducci “disparaged” MacLennan’s wife as a Hillary Clinton supporter, suggested he would meet with MacLennan more frequently to give him his “marching orders” and indicated his intention to change the college’s COVID-19 protocols.

MacLennan said he told Banducci that the president is responsible for the coronavirus measures.

“He responded by saying, ‘that’s right, the board only has one employee – I guess we can go down that road,’ ” MacLennan wrote. “I understood this to mean that he would seek to terminate my employment if I did not cooperate with him.”

MacLennan then stated he received a report on how Banducci confronted a college employee about a campaign contribution made to former trustee and chair Joe Dunlap. He has said he witnessed Banducci’s physically assault of a female college employee.

“On December 10, 2019, I witnessed Mr. Banducci’s physical assault of a female college employee at a college sponsored event, not initially recognizing it as such, but subsequently learning of the intensity of that assault, the verbal assault that accompanied it, and the ongoing traumatizing impact it has had on this employee.”

No other details about the incident were included in the records obtained by the newspaper.

MacLennan said Banducci’s aggressive and intimidating behavior against North Idaho College employees “has been well-documented over the time he has been a college trustee.”

“While I don’t believe the series of emails I received from Mr. Banducci on January 15 rise to the level of the pattern of aggressive and intimidating behavior referenced above, their tone and content demonstrate his intent to inappropriately direct me without full board involvement and knowledge,” MacLennan said.

MacLennan deferred to his Jan. 18 email upon a request for comment.

‘He embarrasses us’

In the Jan. 18 letter to board members, Wood outlined her own experiences with Banducci from the past eight years.

Wood, a board member since 2004, referenced how she and former Trustee Judy Meyer experienced “physically threatening and verbally abusive behavior” from Banducci. Wood specifically cited an incident from a 2012 board meeting during which Banducci “pointed his finger directly at me and said ‘I ought to take you outside right now and kick your ass.’ ”

In April 2020, board members sent Banducci a letter privately censuring him after college and board investigations into reports of assault committed by Banducci against a college employee. The Spokesman-Review obtained a copy of the letter through a public records request.

Stating how past boards have not elected Banducci to an officer position, Wood said turnover with the November election aided his nomination this year to chair.

“The Board has strongly objected to his personal behavior not his beliefs,” Wood wrote. “He embarrasses us with his behavior, threatens our accreditation standards with violations of good governance requirements, violates college policy on governance and sets the college up for possible litigation. He has repeatedly violated his oath of office and the trust of our citizens.

“Trustee Banducci has created a hostile work environment for the employees of NIC that negatively impacts the entire environment on campus,” she continued. “I refuse to be complicit and allow his behavior to continue unchecked.”

Wood declined to comment prior to another public meeting on the matter.

‘This is a concerted effort’

Banducci released a media statement Jan. 20 on his board trustee Facebook page in response to Wood’s letter.

“It’s unfortunate that Trustee Wood feels the need to continue her attack on me. She has been antagonistic towards me since I joined the board in 2012,” he said in the statement. “It was attempted to get rid of me by overlapping the Trustee Zones of Trustee Ron Nilson & myself. To the disappointment of those opposed to me, Trustee Nilson resigned his position while encouraging me to run for re-election.

“It appears this is a concerted effort to finally be rid of me because she doesn’t appreciate the questions I ask as I attempt to fulfill my role as Board Chair. I and others hope to effect positive change at NIC while increasing transparency and community oversight. The key word being oversight. Too often, people forget that NIC works for the community, which I represent as a member of this board.”

A statement was also released Jan. 29 by the board as a whole addressing the conflict, stating “trustees have all committed to find an appropriate path forward to put the college first to maintain the institutional integrity of NIC.”

On Feb. 2, the college Faculty Assembly held a meeting to discuss Board of Trustees ethics, according to public records.

In addition to the vote of no confidence in Banducci’s “ability to serve in the College’s best interest,” the Faculty Assembly also called on trustees to reinstate a board conduct policy and also “slow new proposals and evaluate initiatives to avoid threatening the long-term viability and accreditation of the institution.”

“NIC staff, faculty and Board of Trustees have a shared goal to provide opportunity to the citizens in our community,” the Faculty Assembly resolution stated. “Higher education is built around the idea of civil discourse. It is vital to us that our leaders emulate this behavior at the highest level.”

Board considers next steps

The Board of Trustees last met Jan. 27 privately in executive session to discuss “the evaluation, dismissal, or disciplining of, or to hear complaints or charges brought against, a public officer, employee, staff member or individual agent, or public school student,” according to the meeting agenda. No action was taken during the meeting, college officials said.

Trustees Greg McKenzie and Michael Barnes, who were elected to the board this past November, did not immediately return a request for comment Tuesday.

Other action items on Wednesday’s board agenda include matters pertaining to board member training, mentoring/conflict management consultation and legal services.

Describing the situation as “unhealthy” for North Idaho College, Trustee Ken Howard said he is interested in seeing this matter resolved for the sake of the college community.

Howard said the means to that end could include those outlined on the board agenda – specifically mentioning conflict resolution and trustee training – though emphasized that the path forward will need to be decided collectively by the board.

Asked whether he thinks Banducci’s behavior is out of line for a board chair, Howard – a trustee since 2010 and a former chair himself – said he feels Banducci’s representation of the college in a position of care is “out of step with what I think he should be doing.”

“I’m an advocate of having a public discussion about that with the trustees and seeing the alternatives they may suggest with his resigning or him being removed, but that is something I would consider,” Howard said when asked if he thinks Banducci should resign. “I want to have an open mind until we have an open discussion on that.”