The Gila Community College District governing board took its first steps Thursday morning toward parleying a two-year lawsuit with Eastern Arizona College by appointing GCC president Barbara Ganz to a committee that will work on settling the litigation.
The five-member district board, adamantly against their own members serving on the negotiating team, also selected county manager, John Nelson and deputy county manager, Steve Besich.
The GCC district governing board, in selecting the negotiating team, passed up county liaison Lionel Martinez in favor of Ganz.
"Our decision was that we needed Lionel to spend his time working with the legislature," said GCC board chairman Ron Christensen.
Martinez, a founding dean, former president of Rio Salado College and retired executive director of Corporate Services for Maricopa County Colleges, said he was comfortable with the decision.
"I didn't take it personal," he said. "I'm controversial and I tell it like it is. There are some legislators that don't like it because I tell the truth."
District governing board members made several other nominations including assistant county attorney, Brian Chambers, Payson schools superintendent, Herb Weissenfels, Globe schools superintendent, Timothy Trent and San Carlos schools superintendent, John Bush.
Upon further consideration, the board decided to trim the negotiating panel to three --elson, Besich and Ganz -- citing that a smaller group would be more efficient.
The negotiating team's challenge now is to navigate through messy bureaucracy while determining the best option for the county.
Settling the lawsuit and agreeing to a new contract with EAC; continuing to operate under Pima Community College District; or negotiating an agreement with another educational service provider are among the negotiating team's settlement options.
Christensen, said he has already sent a letter to Eastern Arizona College asking them to send a contract offer to the negotiating team.
"We need to get it (the lawsuit) resolved," said Christensen.
The lawsuit, which accused EAC of spending allocated tax dollars on programs and services outside Gila County, was filed two years ago after the voters of Gila County voted to establish a provisional college district.
The lawsuit charged that EAC continues to control more than $1 million in assets that belong to Gila County.
"They should be released to us," Christensen said. "They belong to the taxpayers of Gila County."
In answering Gila County's litigation in a counterclaim filed in 2004, EAC denied all allegations and claimed that all the assets taken in the changeover are the rightful property of Eastern Arizona College.
Following the establishment of the provisional district, and the split from Eastern Arizona College, GCC accepted an operating agreement with the Pima Community College District.
The negotiating process
Gila County's negotiating team will function under the rules of a "memorandum of discussions" signed Jan. 26 by Graham County Community College Governing Board chairman, John Lines and Christensen.
The key points both sides must agree on are:
- Dismissal of all lawsuits, with prejudice.
- Ten-year agreement of operation between the two college districts with a review at five years at which time either party has the option of terminating the contract.
- Graham County Community College District, which oversees Eastern Arizona College, will allocate $1 million over five years in support of Gila Community College educational programs.
- Ownership of all property within Gila County will be transferred to Gila Community College District.
- Graham County Community College District will provide all educational services for GCC, including courses, accounting, student services and maintenance that are mutually agreed upon.
For Christensen, the word "all" in the fifth discussion point is disturbing.
"We need to know what they mean by ‘all'," he said.
He predicts the terminology could become a negotiating issue, possibly diluting the powers of the new GCC governing board, rendering it an advisory board.
GCC board member Larry Stephenson said he recognized that "this campus was kind of a stepchild (to Eastern Arizona)" and promised that any new contract with EAC "will benefit all of Gila County."
While the out-of-court negotiations are going on, legal action has put on the back burner.