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Shawn Vestal: NIC board scores big with Holocaust denier, not so much the bond raters

The entrance of North Idaho College is photographed last fall. The Idaho State Board of Education has appointed three people to serve as trustees of the college.  (kathy plonka)

On Dec. 21, amid a storm of public feedback, the beleaguered and incompetent North Idaho College Board of Trustees majority received one particularly noteworthy thumbs-up and one particularly noteworthy thumbs-down.

First, the kudos. At a fractious and divided public meeting, one notorious figure took to the lectern.

He began by saying he wasn’t very familiar with the college or the board. This is not surprising given that he’s not lived in the Gem State very long. Nevertheless, he had some opinions to share.

He proceeded to read approvingly from a flyer that detailed some of the campaign ideas of new NIC board member Mike Waggoner – his spouting of a form of “anti-woke” nonsense and complaining about “anti-white” programs at the college.

This racial grievance – the lamentation that white people are victims of racism in classrooms – really resonated with our commenter.

“I agree,” he said. “I agree 100%.”

He proceeded to talk about the social media posts of Art McComber, the crony the board hired as its lawyer without a public process and at a steep pay raise from its previous lawyer. One of McComber’s old social media posts had been brought forth by his critics; it was a grouchy old man’s complaint about the “disgusting” tattoos and piercing of a waitress who had served him.

“That’s hilarious!” the commenter said. “I like Art. I like Greg (McKenzie, the weepy new board chairman). I like Mike Waggoner. It sounds like this board is awesome, actually.”

Then, after the meeting, according to the commenter’s own podcast, he called an NIC student a disparaging term for a gay person.

This was the loathsome Vincent James Foxx, a notorious Holocaust denier, podcaster and sneering bigot who has joined the wave of radicals despoiling Kootenai County politics. It should not be surprising, perhaps, but it is saddening that the atrocious leadership of this board majority – McKenzie, Waggoner and ringleader Todd Banducci – is dragging the college to the brink of disaster while being cheered on by white supremacists.

What a shameful day for the town that broke the back of the Aryan Nations.

So that was the thumbs-up. The thumbs-down came with the announcement by Moody’s Investment Service that it was reviewing its bond rating for almost $8 million in NIC debt for a possible downgrade.

This has the potential of inflicting tangible financial damage on the institution, given that its bond rating reflects its credit-worthiness and may affect how much interest it pays.

The reasons for Moody’s concerns are the same ones expressed by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities – the same reasons that so many people in North Idaho now have for the institution: the lunatics have gained control of the asylum.

“Dysfunction of the board has resulted in NIC’s loss of its insurer, a letter of warning from its accrediting body, NWCCU, in April, and again in December, and most recently, the resignation of NIC’s legal counsel,” Moody’s wrote in its news release Dec. 21.

“The college also confronts litigation due to the placement of Dr. (Nick) Swayne on leave. The board members’ very public disputes with one another, college leadership and external parties are negatively impacting NIC’s brand, which in turn, could negatively impact student demand and operations.”

Moody’s is considering whether to lower NIC’s rating of A1 as an issuer and A2 for revenue bonds. These are at the boundary between what Moody’s considers “prime” – a “superior” ability to repay – and prime-2, which indicates merely a “strong” ability to repay.

In its analysis, it was clear that all of the concerns rested with the current board actions. In fact, it cited one brief period of positive activity among the board – the few months when the Banducci gang had been sidelined and lost its influence thanks to the strategic retirement of two other members.

“The college did benefit from a period of management stability during mid-2022 with three state-appointed members on the board and the hiring of a new president,” Moody’s wrote. “However, healthy financial performance is less certain for fiscal 2023 despite increases in state aid and property taxes: ongoing board dysfunction, including the placement of the president on administrative leave, and the upcoming visit from NIC’s accrediting body, has reportedly negatively impacted student interest, enrollment and retention.”

Hard to sum it up any better than that.

At this point, one wonders how much anything like this could possibly matter to the board majority. Following years of chaos, bullying, overreach and incompetence, along with blatant attempts to politicize the classroom, it’s hard not to view the actions of the board – and the extremist political machine of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee behind them – as a purposeful effort to wreck the school.

Some people have been whispering that all along, saying that there must be some ulterior motive for the chaos built around bringing down the school altogether. In fact, the idea that certain forces in the Lake City want to close or move the college in order to exploit that fantastic lakeside real estate has a long-standing life preceding this controversy.

It has always seemed too conspiratorial or paranoid by half to me, but the more time passes – and the more these yahoos thumb their noses at the laws and rules of governance – the more difficult it becomes to find a way to explain what they’re doing if it’s not destroy the school.

The town needs the college to survive. It’s clear that Coeur d’Alene can’t rely on this board to protect it.

When you’re getting kudos from your pal Vincent the Holocaust Denier, you’re on the wrong path.

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