The Gila Community College Board has officially run amok — or at least Chairman Bob Ashford doesn’t seem to believe he’s running a public institution.
Even that strange governing board hit a bizarre low point Wednesday, thanks to Ashford’s highhanded behavior and appalling disrespect for his fellow board members and the voters who elected them.
Specifically, Ashford simply waved aside the college’s term limit on the chairmanship and once again refused to even allow other board members to discuss matters of vital concern to the public.
The meeting started off innocently enough, with the scheduled election of a chairman — a post Ashford has served for four-and-a-half terms.
Board members Tom Loeffler and Larry Stephenson then presented a copy of the board’s own bylaws limiting any chairman to five terms.
Didn’t faze Ashford a bit; apparently he hadn’t read the rules himself. He said he didn’t really think the rule existed — and even if it did, it didn’t matter. No reason the board has to follow its own policies, he decided.
Remarkably enough, a county attorney agreed.
Deputy County Attorney Bryan Chambers allowed as how it would be “odd” for the board to ignore its own policies — but not necessarily illegal.
Whereupon, board member Bernadette Kniffin moved to appoint Ashford to another, potentially sixth, term and the board approved the motion on a 3-2 vote — without even bothering to allow other nominations.
A reasonable debate about whether Ashford’s initial, half term counted toward the term limit was in order. Instead, Ashford set about debunking board policy.
Astonishing — but sadly typical of the strange workings of a runaway board.
Consider the arrogant and potentially illegal way Ashford has been running the board.
For starters, other elected board members can’t even put items of concern on the board agenda. Several board members have been trying for months to hold a study session to discuss how to give the college more independence, and to better grasp its financial situation. Ashford refused to even respond to the request.
Meanwhile, Eastern Arizona College administrators have yet to explain why they listed a $2 million surplus on the published budget, when actually the college had at one point a $2 million deficit. EAC runs GCC and slaps a 30 percent overhead charge on every paper clip.
Loeffler and Stephenson — who represent Rim Country districts — have asked how layoffs affected programs, if the board could have more easily understandable budget updates, and if GCC board members could receive data when they request it. But Ashford has simply ignored their requests, refusing to even allow discussion.
Ashford also refuses to answer questions from the Roundup and even provide the simple courtesy of returning a phone call.
GCC is an important asset to this county, but it needs better leadership in the chairmanship position. It needs someone who will allow other board members a say in board decisions. It needs someone who respects that it is a democracy and who allows issues to be discussed in the openness of a board meeting, not hidden behind some cloak of secrecy as is happening now.
Board members hoped to at least speak during the public comment period to request a study session — but Ashford on Wednesday simply canceled the public comment period on the agenda.
This cannot continue.
It’s time for an investigation by the state auditor general into financial irregularities and by the state attorney general’s office into open meeting law violations. Maybe it is time for a recall movement.
Perhaps Ashford can ignore the college’s own bylaws — but he’s not above state law.