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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: Sadly for NIC, it’s back to square one for the board that couldn’t shoot straight

The North Idaho College Board of Trustees is shown at a February meeting to discuss Board Chair Todd Banducci, who was facing calls across the community to resign.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
The North Idaho College Board of Trustees is shown at a February meeting to discuss Board Chair Todd Banducci, who was facing calls across the community to resign. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Todd Banducci says it’s a “new dawn here at NIC.”

Looks more like a moonless midnight.

A blustering demagogue who led the North Idaho College Board of Trustees to the brink of losing accreditation, Banducci is back as board ringleader after a short hiatus. If you thought that he and his fellow far-right ideologues were done trampling on the laws and norms of college governance, think again.

On Monday, a newly elected board majority – a re-lipsticked version of the old majority, dangling compliantly from the strings of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee – put on a master class in malfeasance, ignoring open meeting laws, basic governance procedures and principles of ethical leadership by installing a crony as board attorney without public notice or competitive process.

The move put new NIC President Nick Swayne in the difficult position of being asked – or, in Banducci’s words, ordered – to sign a potentially illegal contract for the new attorney.

Swayne, to his credit, refused to do so, saying he would consult with an outside attorney before taking any actions and pointed out that state law requires competitive bidding for such contracts.

“I have no objection if it’s a legal contract, but I have a responsibility to the college to make sure we’re not doing something that’s not allowed,” Swayne said.

It’s great news for NIC that Swayne demonstrated a sense of ethics and legal responsibility.

But it won’t be good for his relationship with the board.

Banducci also unveiled a surprise freeze on hiring for Swayne’s cabinet – an item not listed on the public agenda and one targeted at trying to limit what he called “misinformation” in the accreditation debacle.

Banducci and his fellows have spent tons of time and effort pretending that the school’s accreditation crisis is not real. They’re either wrong or lying. The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities put NIC on probation and suggested the state take on oversight of the board over a range of board management problems – in its evaluation, it found that every aspect of the college was in good shape but its board, which was flouting several requirements for proper oversight and management.

Almost all of that boiled down to the Banducci majority and its reckless trampling of laws and procedures. They came in like kings, determined to attack the liberal “Deep State,” as Banducci once put it, and treated everyone who called upon them to follow the rules with high-handed disdain.

With this week’s meetings, you get the sense the NWCCU’s message hasn’t exactly sunk in.

Banducci and new board chairman Greg McKenzie have been on the board long enough to know they are legally required to let the public know what they will be debating and deciding beforehand. They know, or should know, they’re not supposed to hand out jobs to political pals like mafia dons distributing favors.

They’re just thumbing their noses at all of it – laws, rules, norms, accreditation, ethics.

Neener-neener.

For most of last year, Banducci was effectively sidelined, after two board members who had worked to try and offset his destructive influence, Christie Wood and Ken Howard, resigned in May; that, combined with the departure of another board member, left a board of two, McKenzie and Banducci, which was too few for a quorum.

But in November, the voters elected two candidates from what you might call the pro-NIC side (Tarie Zimmerman and Brad Corkill) and one from the stable of the increasingly radical KCRCC (Mike Waggoner) to join the incumbents.

The college has been Banduccied again.

Tinpot authoritarianism aside, Monday’s meeting was noteworthy for an extended, rambling, self-pitying lament from Banducci that opened the proceedings.

He was initially voted in as board chairman, then launched into a 10-minute spiel about the cruel heartlessness he had suffered at the hands of those who object to him trying to destroy the college.

For someone who has treated others so shabbily – saying his wife would slap Wood, to use just one example – Banducci’s skin seems quite thin indeed.

He complained that his family and friends had been mistreated during the campaign. He whined that people had not patronized his business as a result of politics. “Evil and vile” people had “fomented hate” toward him. He told a long, boring story of an NIC employee who refused to shake his hand.

“Some of you should just be ashamed,” he said. “So I’m calling you out tonight.”

Banducci then praised himself effusively for his civility and friendly interactions with others.

“I challenge you,” he said. “Find something where I called you a name or shook away your hand or I wrote something bad about you in the newspaper. You won’t find it.”

(The very first speaker in the public forum reminded him that he had called her evil at the last meeting.)

He rambled on.

“You call me the bully. I’m not the bully,” he said. “Some of you are the biggest bullies there ever was, and the biggest cowards, too. It’s amazing how you put pressure on people. … You do all these things and then you want me to be just kum-bay-ah with you and do what you want me to do, and you say I’m going to do all these things like you know what I’m going to do, what I think, what my rationale is, why I do what I do.

“You don’t know me! You don’t know me!”

On and on rolled the unknowable Banducci.

“Maybe check that book, you know, Win Friends and Influence People. How’s that … vinegar versus honey? I’m waiting to see any of the honey.”

Eventually, he stopped. And then he quit as board chairman, nominating McKenzie as board chair, and then they all proceeded to hire fellow traveler Art Macomber – the failed attorney general candidate who represented Janice McGeachin in her bid to hide public records from her task force on “indoctrination” in public schools – without the tiniest whisper of a legal, proper public process.

It’s not a new dawn. It’s the same old endless night.

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