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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

State set to fill North Idaho College board vacancies after judge rejects trustee lawsuit

Courtesy of North Idaho College North Idaho College Trustees Christie Wood and Ken Howard have announced plans to step down on Tuesday.  (Courtesy photos)

The Idaho State Board of Education is set this week to select three applicants to fill current and pending vacancies on the five-member North Idaho College board of trustees.

This comes despite a lawsuit filed by two NIC trustees who soon will be the board’s only remaining members, Chair Todd Banducci and Gregory McKenzie. They are challenging the extent of the state board’s authority in filling those seats.

Trustees Christie Wood and Ken Howard are stepping down effective Tuesday, having filed their intent last month. A third seat has been empty since Michael Barnes resigned in January, as the four members failed to agree on a replacement.

Regarding community college board membership, Idaho law states that if there are “less than a majority of the required number of members (on a board), appointment to fill such vacancies shall be made by the state board of education.”

The lawsuit filed by Banducci and McKenzie interprets that statute to say the board only needs to fill one vacancy to reach the three needed for a majority.

“To have the state appoint three of the five positions, it’d be that a majority of the trustees have been appointed not by Kootenai (County) citizens nor by Kootenai (County) representatives, but by some bureaucrats 450 miles away,” said James Bendell, the plaintiffs’ attorney.

Kootenai County District Court Judge Cynthia Meyer disagreed, however, rejecting on Wednesday a temporary restraining order requested by Banducci and McKenzie. The order would have blocked the state board from making the appointments.

It’s unclear how the lawsuit will proceed in light of Meyer’s decision. Bendell said he has to consult with his clients.

Reached for comment, Idaho State Board of Education spokesman Mike Keckler deferred to Meyer’s decision.

The changing of the guard is taking place with the Coeur d’Alene community college’s accreditation status under scrutiny by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities as well as months of public conflict between trustees.

The state Board of Education received 37 applications by the April 25 deadline to fill the three seats. Finalist interviews will be open to the public Thursday on the NIC campus.

Of the 37 applications, there were 12 applicants to replace Wood for Zone 1, 12 to replace Howard for Zone 2 and 13 to replace Barnes in Zone 5, including nine of the 11 Zone 5 candidates who responded in February when the NIC board was conducting a search.