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Judge upholds order forcing NIC to reinstate president

North Idaho College President Nick Swayne attends a North Idaho College Board of Trustee meeting at the College on March 22.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

A judge on Wednesday denied a request by North Idaho College Board of Trustee to reconsider an order forcing the college to reinstate its president.

Kootenai County District Court Judge Cynthia Meyer upheld her March 3 preliminary injunction requiring NIC to keep Nick Swayne as president for the remainder of his lawsuit.

Swayne is suing NIC for placing him on administrative leave without cause in December.

The NIC board majority suspended Swayne while NIC attorney Art Macomber initiated an investigation into the terms of his contract and the circumstances of his hiring.

“This was an attempted de facto termination of Dr. Swayne, and it was not done in good faith,” Meyer wrote in Wednesday’s decision. The investigation “is pretext for getting Dr. Swayne out of the way. It is a sham.”

Macomber’s investigation lasted more than four months and resulted in a report alleging open meeting violations by former board members.

In response, the board last month voted to undo the June 2022 board decision to hire Swayne to fix the open meetings violations alleged by Macomber.

Swayne, however, remains in his role as “acting president.”

After the board nullified Swayne’s contract, Swayne’s attorney filed a motion for contempt. A hearing is scheduled for June 2.

Meyer wrote that even if an open meeting violation occurred during the formation of Swayne’s contract, any effort to nullify his employment agreement is time-barred under Idaho law.

The intended conclusion of Macomber’s investigation was evident from the beginning, Meyer said. Thus, the board had 14 days to act after recognizing the open meeting violation on Dec. 8.

“It is unfathomable,” Meyer wrote, “why it would take months for the college attorney to determine whether, in his view, there was an open meeting law violation in the June 2022 timeframe regarding the selection of college president. It took days for the same attorney to determine there was an Open Meeting Law violation at the December 2022 board meeting when Dr. Swayne was first put on administrative leave.”

The board fixed the December violation later that month by voting a second time in public to place Swayne on leave.

Meyer wrote that Swayne likely will prevail on the merits of this lawsuit.

After Meyer ordered in March for Swayne to be reinstated, the NIC board placed the previous interim president, Greg South, on paid administrative leave.

A new majority took control of the board in the November elections. The previous majority supported Swayne.

James Hanlon's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.