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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

North Idaho College trustees reject removal of board chair in split vote

The Board of Trustees for North Idaho College narrowly voted against removing Board Chair Todd Banducci from his position amid calls for his resignation by his fellow trustees, faculty and community members.

The board held a special meeting Wednesday night as concerns had mounted publicly against Banducci.

Recent weeks have seen North Idaho College President Rick MacLennan raise concerns with board members about how Banducci’s behavior has affected him and other college employees, a vote of no confidence in Banducci’s leadership from college faculty, a letter to the editor signed by 67 women supporting his removal and an online petition seeking the same.

During Wednesday night’s meeting, attended by more than 260 people mostly through Zoom, Banducci broke what had been a tie vote, ultimately defeating the motion to remove him as chair.

“If you did not want some of these things to happen, it would’ve been nice if there had been a conversation a couple weeks ago to preempt this coordinated (public relations) campaign,” Banducci said, “because it wasn’t me that was standing on the hill waving my arms and shouting from the top of my lungs to draw all this attention. It was all done very intentionally and coordinated.”

The motion was also opposed by trustees Greg McKenzie and Michael Barnes. Trustees Christie Wood and Ken Howard, who together introduced the measure, voted in support.

It was Wood who initially called for Banducci’s immediate resignation Jan. 18 in a letter to trustees that circulated publicly through media reports and public records requests. The letter cited MacLennan’s concerns while outlining her own experiences with what she called “inappropriate, aggressive or threatening” behavior from Banducci in the eight years he has been a trustee.

During the meeting, Wood said to Banducci that she doesn’t think he understands “the level of authority” he has as chair in giving directions without board discussion. Among the issues Wood has taken up with Banducci in recent weeks are the following: emailed requests he made to MacLennan for items such as weekly activity reports, submitted expenses in the past year and a half and an accounting of the president’s leave days.

“With that pattern of behavior and through additional information we received through public information requests that we saw from email, I think that we put the college at great risk for litigation and we have accreditation concerns. If we don’t meet our accreditation standards, then we don’t hand out diplomas, and our students suffer,” Wood said. “This is incredibly serious, Mr. Chair, and I’m sure it feels personal. But it’s really something we have to address.”

Howard said he is concerned with the effect the situation is having on the community’s and the college’s trust in the board’s ability.

“This is not about Todd. I do not want to see Todd destroyed. I don’t want to see Todd in any way humiliated,” he said. “I want to see the college operate again on a level that I think it is able to operate on, and that’s why I think we need to move forward with the removal of Todd as trustee.”

Responding to Howard prior to the vote, Banducci said the board is “a little behind that point.”

“It sounded nice what you said, but as the guy that’s been on the other side of this, at one point haven’t I already been or tried to be embarrassed or humiliated or diminished or whatever,” he said. “I think that barn door’s been open for quite a while now. I think all the livestock’s got out, at this point.”

Members of the college’s Faculty Assembly, citing Wood’s concerns, voted no confidence earlier this month in Banducci’s leadership and called for him to step down.

The Assembly has only taken such action three times in 87 years, though never against the board or the board chair, Wood said. McKenzie said other college staff members were also expected to consider similar action Thursday.

In qualifying his vote, McKenzie – reading a prepared statement – lambasted Wood for a “public smear campaign,” saying her concerns may be politically motivated.

“Todd and I are members of the Republican party. That was used against us from the beginning, and Trustee Wood endorsed my opponent partly due to that,” McKenzie said. “I have no problem with her views on issues or party politics. This is a free country with diversity that thrives on debate. However, bringing in personal attacks diminishes this Board of Trustees and the regard that the community holds for us.

“You have every right to find umbrage with Trustee Banducci,” McKenzie continued. “You may not hold him in high esteem; he might actually think the same of you. But I will not speak for him. I do not see Trustee Banducci running to the media, airing your dirty laundry or calling for your resignation while you work to fulfill your trustee responsibilities the way you see fit.”

Regarding Wood’s concerns with Banducci’s requests of the president, McKenzie said she has the burden of proof to demonstrate Banducci was not intending to share information with the rest of the board.

“With regards to the chair reviewing that information, you have previously claimed that review occurs during an annual review, but I am honestly personally skeptical at the prior ‘thoroughness’ based on what I’ve uncovered of prior board workings,” he said, “because in the brief time I’ve been on the board and continue to learn about board governance and responsibilities of the board, my opinion is that previous boards at NIC have not actively engaged deeply in doing a thorough job.”

Both Wood and Howard are past board chairs.

Barnes said he didn’t see anything “particularly egregious” in reviewing information related to Banducci’s behaviors and requests as related to board activities.

“These issues should have been resolved in-house within executive session before they ever had a chance to be exposed to the court of public opinion,” he said. “I have no stomach for removing him under the pressure of external pressures.”