Gcc Board Draws Together — Then Fractures

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The Gila Community College board closed ranks on Thursday to extend a contract with a lobbyist who vowed to work toward the district’s independence — but then immediately fractured on the contentious issue of changing key board rules.

Payson Board member Larry Stephenson found himself outvoted on a proposal to essentially cancel all board policies and rules adopted before 2005, which had the effect of clearing the way for board chairman Bob Ashford to seek another stint as chair in January.

The special meeting mostly centered on lobbyist Mike Gardner’s report on the challenging legislative prospects for the coming year.

Gardner detailed the critical budget situation, but also said he would work closely with Fifth District Sen. Sylvia Allen to introduce a bill to secure GCC’s independence.

Currently, GCC is a “provisional” college, which means it must contract with Eastern Arizona College for its credential and gets far less state assistance than other rural community colleges.

In addition, Gardner said that despite the state’s terrible budget woes, he hoped to push through a bill in the coming session that would also give Gila Community College a cut of job development money available to all the other regular community college districts in the state.

The board listened to Gardner’s detailed summary of the budget and legislative session, then voted unanimously to renew its contract with Gardner’s lobbying firm, Triadvocates.

In the past, the contract with the firm has spurred controversy, since the firm also represents Eastern Arizona College. Some members of the GCC board want to renegotiate or cancel GCC’s contract with EAC, which collects some $1 million annually in fees. Several board members members have questioned whether the lobbying firm can represent both EAC and GCC if their interests conflict.

However, Triadvocates has vowed to maintain better communications with individual board members and to work actively toward the priorities of the GCC board, which now officially includes finding a “path to independence.”

However, the consensus fractured when Ashford introduced a motion to essentially repeal any board policies adopted before 2005.

The key policy in question limits the board chairman to two terms. Stephenson and board member Tom Loeffler had pounced on that provision in the rules earlier this year in an attempt to prevent Ashford from serving another term.

At that time, Ashford said he had no memory of adopting such a policy, although he was the board secretary at the time. Ashford said he suspected that the rule had never been officially adopted.

“I don’t remember this board ever voting to approve it,” said Ashford on Thursday.

“And if the policies were voted on, they were voted on by temporarily appointed board members. I’d like to schedule a study session and come up with some new policies going forward.”

The board then voted two to one to repeal the pre-2005 policies and to schedule workshops to talk about coming up with new rules. However, the board will vote on appointment of a new chairman in January, prior to any workshops on whether to come up with a new rule limiting the term of the chairman.

Stephenson provided the lone vote against the repeal of the existing policies, since Loeffler wasn’t present, reportedly due to a family emergency.

Later, Stephenson commented, “with that policy out of the way (Ashford) can now be president for life, like in some African country.”

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