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‘Our community deserves better’: Wood, Howard to resign from North Idaho College Board of Trustees

UPDATED: Fri., April 8, 2022

North Idaho College Trustees Christie Wood and Ken Howard have announced plans to step down in May.  (Greg Mason / The Spokesman-Review)
North Idaho College Trustees Christie Wood and Ken Howard have announced plans to step down in May. (Greg Mason / The Spokesman-Review)

Ken Howard and Christie Wood, two members of the North Idaho College board of trustees, will resign from their positions next month.

Wood was first elected to the board in 2004, while Howard has served since 2010. The two frequently clashed with the board’s majority led by Todd Banducci, who became board chair in November 2020.

The board has been deadlocked at four members since January following the resignation of Michael Barnes, who stepped down amid concerns surrounding his residency eligibility. Most recently, the board failed to agree on a candidate to replace Barnes during a meeting Wednesday.

The resignations of Wood and Howard are effective May 3. Their departures will leave Banducci and Trustee Greg McKenzie as the only remaining members of the board.

“We wish to acknowledge our faculty, staff, and administrators who have worked diligently to continue to deliver a quality education to our students while dealing with poor leadership from Board members and the current Board Chair,” Wood and Howard wrote. “Our employees have acted valiantly in maintaining their focus on the college mission and for continuing to put our students first.

“Our community deserves better as we face many critical challenges ahead,” they continued.

Their resignations come at a tumultuous time for NIC.

The college’s accreditation status is under review by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, which has accredited NIC since 1950.

The commission issued NIC a warning to resolve certain eligibility issues by next year based on complaints centered on the conduct of the board and Banducci himself.

Banducci released a brief statement when reached Friday. He declined to comment further.

“The resignations of Trustees Howard and Wood are a continuation of their undermining of the mission of the college,” he said.

Meanwhile, the college is also navigating searches for key executive leadership positions, including a full-time replacement for former president Rick MacLennan, who was fired by the board in September without cause. He was fired a month after the board majority rescinded a COVID-19 mask mandate put in place by MacLennan – a mandate Wood and Howard both supported.

Wood and McKenzie did not return a request for comment.

The board will fall below a quorum after May 3, according to the college.

Based on state statute, the Idaho State Board of Education has to appoint vacant community college trustee positions when the board falls below a quorum.

“We trust they will be able to fill these positions with individuals dedicated to the mission of providing a quality, affordable education for all,” Wood and Howard wrote.

Matt Freeman, executive director of the Idaho State Board of Education, said in a release the state board will soon seek applications from each of the soon-to-be vacant NIC trustee zones.

Following the example of a search used to create the inaugural board of trustees at the College of Eastern Idaho in 2017, an ad-hoc committee of state Board of Education members will evaluate and make recommendations to the full board.

The appointed trustees will serve until the next trustee election in November, Freeman said. Regardless of the resignations by Wood and Howard, the three trustee positions are up for election in November.

While the state Board of Education will fill all three spots, it’s unclear whether state officials will call for applications to fill Barnes’ vacancy in NIC’s Zone 5 board district. The college received 11 applications for the job during a February search.

Interim President Michael Sebaaly said in a statement to the NIC community he plans to work with trustees and the state Board of Education on next steps.

“This was clearly unexpected,” Sebaaly said. “We will find a way to thank and honor our longstanding trustees at a future date.”

In a joint letter of resignation provided to The Spokesman-Review, Wood and Howard cited the board majority’s decision to fire MacLennan, which ultimately resulted in an approximately $500,000 settlement, among the issues that led to their resignations.

Some of the senior college leaders who left cited how the board’s actions influenced their departures, while votes of no confidence in Banducci and calls for his resignation from faculty and staff have, as Wood and Howard put it, “been ignored.”

Banducci said during a board meeting on March 23 that he has no intentions of resigning.

Howard, 78, said in an interview that his resignation, along with Wood’s, was “really the only alternative left to us other than to wait until next November,” given the board’s 2-2 deadlock. He said he considered the option for some time even before Wednesday’s meeting.

While Howard believes in the state Board’s ability to find what he called new, “dedicated” trustees, waiting, he said, would likely mean deadlocking on matters such as the presidential search, tuition, budget issues and the selection of another trustee.

“That’s not healthy for NIC. NIC deserves better than that,” he said. “All delays are not healthy. They’re not healthy because they affect the morale of the faculty, staff and students not knowing what’s going on and that sort of thing.”

After more than a decade of serving as a trustee, Howard said he can’t just walk away from the NIC community.

While it’s unclear what that involvement might look like, Howard said he doesn’t anticipate running again for trustee, though he didn’t rule it out entirely.

“The trustees are one level of leadership that is dysfunctional right now. The rest of the college is doing very, very well, and they should be applauded for the effort that they’ve put in when the leadership is in such disarray,” Howard said. “It’s impacting the community’s view of what NIC is all about, and they’re suffering from that, but they shouldn’t.”

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