Michael Barnes, a majority member on the North Idaho College Board of Trustees, has resigned amid concerns with his residency status and threats of a lawsuit by North Idaho community members.
Barnes, who has served as the board’s vice chair since November, was voted onto the board in 2020.
Concerns with Barnes’ residency, however, have grown in recent months. The Board of Trustees moved in December to invite the state Attorney General’s Office to investigate whether Barnes and fellow trustee Ken Howard are actually residents of their respective districts.
The college received Barnes’ resignation Wednesday.
“It is with regret that I must announce my resignation effective immediately as I do not wish to allow my residency status to be yet another distraction for NIC,” Barnes’ resignation stated.
Barnes did not respond to a request for further comment.
His resignation comes just days ahead of scheduled meetings between members of the college community and investigators assigned by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. The commission is looking into whether North Idaho College is still eligible for accreditation based on a series of complaints filed by area human rights groups.
According to the college, Idaho law dictates that any community college trustee vacancy will be filled by appointment by the remaining trustees. Any person appointed must reside in Barnes’ trustee zone and will serve until the next trustee election.
Barnes resigned the morning after the Coeur d’Alene Press published a report on a letter penned by several Coeur d’Alene community members challenging his residency. The letter’s authors include Christa Hazel, a former Coeur d’Alene school board member, and John Goedde, a former Idaho state senator.
In the letter, which was obtained by The Spokesman-Review, the signers called for Barnes to resign on the basis that he appears to legally reside in South Dakota.
They cite how Barnes, who is retired, sold his home and resigned from the Kootenai County Republican Precinct Committee. Their claims also reference the number of vehicles he has registered in South Dakota and how he uses a mailbox service address located at the South Dakota Residency Center, which offers users “a friendly state to call home for tax and domicile purposes,” according to a video on the center’s website.
South Dakota residents do not pay state income, pension, personal property or inheritance taxes.
In a web post from last year, Kootenai County Republican Central Committee Chair Brent Regan responded to allegations about Barnes’ residency by posting a bank statement showing he had an Athol address.
“It comes down to intent when you choose a state of residence,” Hazel said. “The more I looked at this, the more I understood how significant the situation might be at North Idaho College and it just demanded that we look into it more.”
The Idaho State Tax Commission defines a domicile as a person’s permanent home that’s center to their personal and business life.
The commission provides while people can have multiple residences, they can have only one domicile.
The letter warned that Barnes would face personal litigation if he didn’t resign by Monday. Hazel said the resignation is “just another indication that there are serious concerns involving leadership at North Idaho College.”
“The decision to resign was the right one,” she added.
Barnes, along with Chair Todd Banducci and Trustee Greg McKenzie, have largely voted in lockstep on issues as the majority of the five-member board. With Barnes’ resignation, the NIC board is in an apparent 2-2 deadlock between the two factions.
Significant actions taken during their time together included the firing of former president Rick MacLennan without cause, as well as the removal of the college’s brief facemask mandate installed by MacLennan in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19.
Banducci, McKenzie, Howard and Trustee Christie Wood did not respond to requests for comment.
“We sold our houses and we moved,” Howard said when authorizing the Attorney General’s Office investigation in December. “What does that do? How does that affect our continued ability to sit as trustees?”
Howard has a residence in New Mexico, as well as one in Kootenai County, said Hazel, who is an alumna of North Idaho College.
For Hazel, the difference between Howard and Barnes is that with Howard, she’s able to clearly discern that he has property in Idaho, is a registered voter and practices law in the state.
“I don’t view this as a political question,” she said. “I view this as a community college question: Are we being represented by people who legally can represent us?”