A divided North Idaho College board of trustees has placed President Nick Swayne on administrative leave, and trustees are talking about bringing back former wrestling coach and interim president Michael Sebaaly on a temporary basis.
The moves came Thursday night, after a lengthy closed executive session.
The moves also came just three days after another contentious trustees’ meeting – when Swayne balked at a hastily presented proposal to hire a new attorney, and a divided board of trustees passed a resolution derailing Swayne’s plans to fill an administrative position.
And the turmoil comes as the Coeur d’Alene-based community college faces ongoing questions about its accreditation, and battles a chronic decline in enrollment.
The move to put Swayne on leave centers on a change in his contract with the college, made in September, Kaye Thornbrugh of the Coeur d’Alene Press reported.
NIC’s former attorney, Marc Lyons, made a change in Swayne’s contract pertaining to possible termination. As it now reads, the contract “may be terminated by mutual agreement of the parties, by the president without cause, or by the Board for cause.” Originally, the contract said “either party” could terminate the contract without cause, not just the president.
Newly hired NIC attorney Art Macomber called the editing a “material change” in the contract, and said the college needs to place Swayne on leave while the matter is investigated.
“The entire purpose of my recommendation is to calm things down, give everybody a little space, and cool off,” Macomber said.
Calling Sebaaly the best candidate at the moment, Trustee Todd Banducci suggested approaching the former president about coming back.
“We now have a vacuum at the top of our chain of command,” Banducci said. “We need to have somebody that knows this college and has had experience with accreditation, someone that I think was actually a very good leader, who, had he been given even the slightest chance, would have been more successful.”
Newly elected trustee Tarie Zimmerman opposed both actions. Saying Swayne is “obviously qualified” to lead the college, Zimmerman implored trustees to stop treating the president as an enemy. She also described Sebaaly as a crony.
“This process of hiring your best friend is just ridiculous,” Zimmerman told Banducci. “If Sebaaly’s not available, who are you going to go to – your next bestie, and your next bestie and your next bestie? He was put into that role in the first place because he was your best friend, or something like that.”
Board chairman Greg McKenzie said Sebaaly has been unfairly painted “as merely the wrestling coach,” ignoring his doctorate in educational leadership, with a specialty in board governance.
NIC president’s position has been in flux for 14 months. Here’s the timeline:
September 2021: A divided board of trustees, headed by Banducci, fires longtime president Rick MacLennan without explanation.
October 2021: On an another identical 3-2 vote, trustees promote Sebaaly.
June: NIC hires Swayne. This too came on a 3-2 vote. But this time, the prevailing votes came from three trustees, appointed by the State Board of Education in May.
September: Sebaaly is placed on an unexplained administrative leave. He resigns from the college later that month.
The contract issue is likely to come up again Saturday. Trustees have scheduled a board meeting for 3 p.m. PST.
The meeting agenda, published Friday afternoon, includes a terse reference to the “president’s contract.” College officials had no additional information about the trustees’ agenda item, spokeswoman Laura Rumpler said Friday.
Meanwhile, state officials said little Friday about the latest developments at NIC.
“We are monitoring developments at NIC but the board hasn’t yet had a chance to meet and discuss it,” State Board spokesman Mike Keckler said Friday.
State superintendent-elect Debbie Critchfield was unavailable for comment Friday.
Gov. Brad Little did not respond to requests for comment.