Recent national news highlighted our Vice President, Joe Biden, holding a meeting on transparency. The obvious problem was that it was CLOSED to the media! Is that the type of government we deserve? One that only pretends to be open and responsive? Certainly not.
But we are getting the same type of mixed message from our local community college board at NIC. Board chairperson, Christie Wood put her name to a recent letter in the Press, defending the board against complaints that the college is not responsive to public comments, suggestions and concerns; that input from officials and citizens falls on deaf ears. NIC’s response letter claims these charges are not true; that the college listens and cares.
So, let’s check NIC’s words against it’s actions. We know they did not seriously consider the sizable public outcry against paying $588,000 per acre, $10 million in all, for the mill site property near the sewage plant. The board offered no rationale for paying this inflated, top market price in the midst of a severe real estate recession. And there was no acknowledgement of the public’s concerns. It was as if the NIC Board was closing their eyes, covering their ears and singing “la-la-la-la...”
Now there’s the latest mess at NIC: The abrupt firing of Dr. Robert Ketchum, the well-liked, long-term director of the Workforce Training Center. A CdA Press poll shows an overwhelming majority of respondents thought the dismissal was wrong. I think NIC was surprised by the enormous public outrage against their action.
One of the five elected NIC Board Trustees, Ron Vieslemeyer, told my sources that he had no advance knowledge of the firing. And, when interviewed by the Press the day of the decision, NIC Board Chairperson, Christie Wood, told the reporter she would not comment, stating it would be “inappropriate’. Yet a few days later, a letter in the Press under Ms. Wood’s name claims, “The Board was fully aware of the recent elimination of the Executive Director...” and the letter goes on to comment at length.
So let’s review: Christie says it would be inappropriate for the Board to comment, but then she comments at length. And Trustee Vieslemeyer firmly states he knew nothing in advance of the decision, but Christie Wood claims that the whole Board was behind this action. Someone’s not telling the truth!
Here’s another question to consider: If the Board was “fully” in favor of firing Dr. Ketchum, as Christie says, how and when did they come to this agreement? It was not on any Agenda. They did not address it at a public meeting where, even if it was discussed in closed Executive Session, they are still required to vote in public, according the the Idaho Open Meeting Law. This law also specifies it is illegal to contact each other by phone, email, etc., in order to come to a board decision; the decision must be made in public.
NIC’s letter in the Press states firing Dr. Ketchum was a “cost savings” move. Yet his contract runs to the end of next year. They fired him last Tuesday, telling him to leave right away, but they will continue to pay him through the whole year. NIC has now assigned another person to do his job. How can it be a cost savings to pay two people for one job? It’s not, of course. This was political. And it's about money. More of our taxpayer money. Here’s the story:
Right now, the non-credit classes out at the Workforce Training Center require the students to pay a fee for a class. It’s a quick way to get the class and move into a job, and has been very popular with both the students and the business community. Dr. Ketchum developed the program 15 years ago and has been its director all the way up its ladder of success.
With the changes that NIC now wants, the students will have to register as regular college students and pay tuition rates for that same class. It may cost the students about the same amount but it will be a much more complicated process of enrollment. Most of the Workforce Training Center students are not looking for academic credit for their job prep / skills classes, they just want a job!
But this IS about money, so who will pay more? Taxpayers, of course! By making all the Workforce Training classes “credit”, NIC will get more money from the State (us) and from Kootenai County (us).
The cost of a “credit” class at NIC is covered by about 1/3 from the student, 1/3 from the State and 1/3 from Kootenai County.
So, there you go. It’s all about the money. We will all pay more.
Did our supposedly “open and responsive” community college board ask us if this is what we, the public, want? Did they let us know the pros and cons of this big change in the Workforce Training Center, a program that has done so well to help our citizens get jobs?
We don’t seem to have government by the people and for the people anymore. We seem to have one that ignores the people.
PS: I’m told that NIC Trustee Vieslemeyer now claims he was aware of the plan to fire Dr. Ketchum. But my sources are standing firm on what he told them the day of the action. Maybe it just slipped his mind?