Payson's town council met in a closed session with attorneys last night to consider legal action against the Gila County Community College Board of Governors.
The council emerged from the meeting and voted 7-0 to adopt two resolutions regarding the board's April 5 vote to settle a lawsuit with Eastern Arizona College. The stipulation of that settlement forced Gila Community College to drop their current relationship with Pima Community College, and resume a 34-year educational partnership with Thatcher-based EAC.
"We're all very concerned about the future," said Vice Mayor Judy Buettner.
The first resolution questioned the actions and processes adopted by the board when it reseated EAC as GCC's education partner.
The council will seek recommendations from State Attorney General Terry Goddard on the legalities of this vote.
In an attempt to define EAC's intentions, the council will also formalize their expectations of the college.
"We in Payson are concerned about the actions taken by the governing board," said Councilor Robert Henley. "And this is a way to communicate to the citizens of Payson what our expectations of (Eastern Arizona College) are."
Town Attorney Sam Streichman declined to comment on the town's decision to seek legal advice or to speculate on future litigation.
"We'll have to see what happens," said Streichman.
Meanwhile, individual legal pursuits against the board of governors are also under way.
Don Crowley, of Citizens for Better Payson Government, has submitted, through the organization's Phoenix-based law firm of Perkins, Coie, Brown & Bain, a request for public records in five jurisdictions in Graham and Gila counties.
"In our judgment there have been violations of the open meeting law and violations of the law in giving away all (the board's) authority, fiscal responsibility and administrative control," said Crowley.
Crowley added the public records request has generated more than 1,500 documents since Wednesday's deadline to respond.
Crowley and other educators, civic leaders and community members are questioning the ethics of and the terms outlined in EAC's service provider contract with GCC.
The absence of a budget and inventory list, irregularities in enrollment reporting, installing a senior dean to usurp the governing board's powers, concern over EAC's demand to provide exclusive educational services and the possible collusion of board members and county officials are just a few of the issues being called into question.
To contribute to Citizens for Better Payson Government's legal fund, contact Crowley at (928) 472-7001, or send donations to: 1100 N. Beeline Highway, Suite H, Payson, AZ 85541.
Supervisor moves forward
District 1 County Supervisor Tommie Martin said the public ire over her aye vote two weeks ago to ratify the board of governor's decision to partner with EAC surprised her.
The following week, after a typo was discovered on the original meeting notice, the board of supervisors met again to cast their vote a second time. Martin rescinded.
"If I'm in tune with the people I represent, then I have to vote to reflect my constituents," said Martin. "But part of (the vote) was me acknowledging that the board of governors could have any damn fool agreement they wanted to."
The reality is, Martin said, the county's vote doesn't matter. Even if all three supervisors kicked EAC to the curb, the Graham County Community College Board of Governor's could have erased Gila County from the lawsuit and moved forward with the EAC partnership.
Martin underscored her feeling about the college -- this debate isn't necessarily a contest between EAC and Pima.
"I really didn't ever care who gave us the services," said Martin. "I just wanted the best service under our structural constraints."
But, Martin did ponder whether the EAC contract is a good and fair deal for the citizens of Gila County. If it isn't, Martin said that EAC's 10-year contract allows GCC to opt out at the end of the first, the third and the fifth year.
"Is it a good contract? Only time alone will tell," said Martin. "We need to exercise those drop-dead dates. Hold EAC's feet to the fire and let the board know or we'll change the board. They are answerable to us and not anyone else."
Business as usual
Board of governors Vice Chair Bob Ashford, is pro tem leader of the board until chairman Ron Christensen, who resigned last week, is replaced. But Ashford has yet one other responsibility.
According to GCC sources preferring to remain unnamed, Ashford, director of information systems at Apache Gold Casino Resort, oversees the college's cyberspace.
"Bob Ashford now has control of our website and e-mail activity," said one employee. "He's webmaster."
Requests to confirm these reports and to answer questions about the board of governor's special meeting Ashford called today have been ignored.
Stephen Cullen, dean of the GCC Globe campus, contacted the Roundup via e-mail in lieu of Ashford.
"This is in response to apparent questions concerning Special Session of Gila Community College Governing Board. The results of any and all issues will be communicated to all Gila County media following the session."
And in case you're wondering whether Ashford's purported job as webmaster is a conflict of interest, here's what the Arizona Revised Statutes section 38-503 says: "The governing board of a school district or a community college district may not employ a person who is a member of the governing board ..."