Chairman Robert Ashford both thanked five citizens for their comments and remained mute when they echoed board member Larry Stephenson's request for his resignation at Thursday's meeting of the governing board of Gila Community College.
"I was very calmly going to come here and ask respectfully that, Robert Ashford, you turn in your resignation. ...," Payson resident Judy Baker said.
"I am incensed about the flagrant disregard for your office and the things that you have done. ... Listening to Mr. Cullen liken you to Abraham Lincoln, I about fell out of my chair," she said before requesting Ashford take responsibility for his "irresponsible actions" and step down.
Payson resident Mike Vogel spoke next. "When you ran for election you convinced people that you could be trusted, that you had integrity and a lot of honesty. By the (Attorney General's) report, I see that was all false. I, too, ask for your resignation." He also called it "asinine" that any board member, or anyone involved in politics, could profess ignorance of Open Meeting Laws.
In an e-mail to the Roundup, Ashford wrote that he is glad the board decided to accept the terms of the Attorney General's consent agreement so the board can "move forward in putting the Gila County students first by continuing to provide quality post-secondary educational opportunities to all the residents of Gila County. ...
"As to the call for my ‘resignation' by a few of the citizens in attendance at the Payson Campus ... I can only say, ‘No, I will not resign from my elected office.' My constituents in my district, without exception, support my stance of student-centered post-secondary education and my continuing as an elected member and chairman of the governing board. ... For that matter, this is true of all of southern Gila County and most of the Payson area."
Earlier in the three-hour meeting, during his report, Steven Cullen, dean of the Globe campus, said, "Mr. Ashford, my colleague Harry Swanson and I have talked at length, and I would like to share with you my personal thoughts on a topic that may or may not be apropos at this particular time. The progress that this college has made, sir, is a direct result of your vision, your commitment -- be it legal or not, I don't know ...."
His next statement was lost when several people attending the meeting in Payson laughed. Cullen continued with a story: "When a newspaper reporter came to Abraham Lincoln and asked ‘how do you deal with the adversity?' Lincoln responded that when he was a child growing up in Illinois clearing fields ... for crops (and he) came across a stump that was too large to remove, "‘we would just plow around them.'"
"You, sir," Cullen said to Ashford, "have your hand on the plow. Thank you."
Stephenson nominated Mike Pastor for chairman. Pastor declined due to a busy personal schedule, and then he nominated Ashford as chairman with the word "acting" to be dropped from his title. Pastor nominated Stephenson for vice chairman. Stephenson declined. After some discussion, Ashford was elected chairman; Bernadette Kniffin, vice chairman; and Pastor, secretary. Stephenson opposed the election of Ashford and Kniffin.
Yvonne Lees, a nurse by profession and student on the San Carlos Campus, expressed her dismay at the lack of qualified teachers instructing students. She wondered if the physician's assistant teaching anatomy and physiology was qualified to do so. She also brought up the fact that textbooks were unavailable until the middle of the course last semester, leading to teachers being unprepared and lacking a syllabus.
Ashford said all the instructors were certified, and questions about a specific instructor should be addressed to the senior dean.
"There is a difference between quantity and quality," Stephenson said. "This member of the public is concerned about not the quantity of courses that we are offering, but the quality. I think this is something we need to take very seriously and address our provider, who is under contract to this district to remedy in very short order in what is in my opinion inexcusable," he said, calling Ashford's comments excuses.
Richard Wolfe's resignation from the board was tabled until the February meeting, when Deputy Gila County Attorney Brian Chambers would determine whether he could be excluded from signing the consent agreement, as Wolfe was not a board member when the open meeting law violations took place.
During public comment time, Vogel said, "I would hope that (the board) would find a way for Dick Wolfe not to sign this or be a part of this (the consent agreement) ... that man does have integrity. He would never knowingly violate this open meeting law."
The four board members followed Chambers' recommendation to sign the consent agreement.
The agreement will require them to complete open meeting law training within the next 90 days and within 90 days of training to establish an e-mail policy. In the meantime, they are to refrain from e-mailing board members or asking their staff to do so.