College Board Braces For Legal Showdown

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Don Crowley and Gordon Metcalf, chairmen of the Citizens for Better Payson Government, have produced thousands of e-mails and other documents that they say punctuates a quiet mutiny led by a handful of county and Eastern Arizona College officials.

Citizens for Better Payson Government (CBPG) is working with the Arizona State Attorney General's Office and the Gila County Attorney's Office to expose open meeting law violations and procedural illegalities.

Crowley and Metcalf charge that the college board accepted Eastern Arizona College's lawsuit settlement and accompanying agreement to receive education services from the Thatcher-based community college under felonious circumstances.

In particular, CBPG points to acting college board chairman, Bob Ashford, as the driving force.

"We believe that Mr. Ashford's clandestine activities to bring about this result and his wanton disregard for open meeting laws seriously prejudiced this decision-making process," wrote Crowley in his summation to Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard. "We urge Mr. Ashford be removed from the Gila County Provisional Community College Board of Governors."

In reaction to the allegations, posted in the meeting's public notice, the board of governors has called a special gathering Thursday to ratify the motions they've made since the five-member group was seated in January.

Deputy Attorney General Laurie Woodall has questioned some of the board's actions. Open meeting laws are violated when college business is discussed without a majority of the board members present.

If found liable, the board's motions, including the agreement with Eastern Arizona College, could be nullified, and board members slapped with fines and unseated.

The paper trail starts in a Nov. 11, 2004 e-mail to state representatives Jack Brown, Jake Flake and Bill Konopnicki.

In Ashford's lengthy missive, he implored the legislators for "for real (gentle, but firm encouragement) to the decision makers at Eastern Arizona College and Gila Community College to all ‘kiss and make up.'"

Ashford also said Pima Community College was "dreadful," and referred to rural Gila County as a "pimple on (Pima Community College's) butt."

Ashford closed the note with assurances that, he'd "started work at this end" with Cullen, not yet a GCC employee, and then deputy county manager Steve Besich.

Then, a month and a half later, Ashford, according to Crowley's documents, worked with fellow board member Mike Pastor, District 3 Supervisor Shirley Dawson, Besich and then county manager John Nelson to broker a deal between EAC and Gila County.

"I talked to Shirley Dawson for a couple of hours on Saturday," Ashford typed in a Feb. 15, 2005 message to EAC Vice President Brent McEuen. "Both Mike Pastor and I are working closely with Shirley in getting EAC back to Gila County."

Ashford lobbied for Cullen when the dean position opened in late fall of 2004.

Crowley and other confidential sources have said Ashford and Cullen are longtime friends.

Ashford promised Cullen's ongoing loyalty in a Feb. 9, 2005 e-mail -- one of many in a string of "private unofficial communications" between Ashford and McEuen -- in exchange for (Cullen's) cooperation in "assisting me greatly (from behind the scenes)."

"I am very concerned about ensuring a suitable position for (Cullen) when EAC comes back to Gila County," wrote Ashford. "I would appreciate your help in this area."

Cullen, who filed for bankruptcy in December 2004, has been a fixture in southern Gila County's education community for years. His three-page resume', details a five-year stint -- from 1998 to 2003 -- as Eastern Arizona College's San Carlos program manager.

Except that Cullen was working for Pima Community College in 2002.

The Roundup has obtained a Dec. 12, 2002 memorandum issued by Sarah Dempsey, dean of instruction, to Cullen.

In the memo she detailed concerns about Cullen's performance and attitude during his probationary period as PCC's Gila Pueblo Center program manager.

"I remain concerned about a number of other decisions and actions you have made," wrote Dempsey. "Failure to show adequate progress toward resolving these concerns will result in a recommendation to terminate your probationary period."

The Roundup also secured a reference check sent to PCC Dean Jim Johnson dated Nov. 11, 2004.

Johnson noted Cullen's inability to "embrace the change from EAC to PCC."

He also said, Cullen "became negative and transmitted it to employees." Johnson added he wouldn't recommend Cullen's employment as GCC's Gila Pueblo dean because he "probably could not be objective in dealing with personnel in authority at PCC."

After leaving Pima, Cullen worked as a grant writer for Central Arizona Association of Governments (CAAG).

Cullen's supervisor, Maxine Leathers, confirmed his employment at CAAG from Jan. 22, 2003 to March 17, 2003.

Leathers refused to disclose the reason for Cullen's departure after three months; PCC's personnel department has not returned calls.

Numerous attempts to contact McEuen and Ashford have been unsucceeful.

The public is invited to give testimony at a special board of governors meeting 1 p.m. Thursday, June 30 before it ratifies its actions in room 209, Payson campus.

Public records pertaining to the open law violations are available for .25 cents a page at Gila Community College, 201 N. Mud Springs Road, or free of charge at town hall.

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