Gila Community College board member Bob Ashford retained his spot as chairman for the fifth time Wednesday afternoon, despite protests that this violated board term limit policy.
The 3-2 decision followed a county attorney’s opinion that a board isn’t necessarily obligated to follow its own policies. Ashford wondered if the policy was legitimate.
“I’ve never seen this,” Ashford said, adding, “I see no signature.”
In hopes of transferring the position of chair to another board member, member Larry Stephenson read aloud a 2003 policy that limited a chair to five terms.
Ashford’s eligibility for another term was debatable, since he had served half a term as chair when another board member resigned in 2005. In 2006, members elected him to the position, and so while 2010 marks his fifth term as elected chair, Stephenson argued that a 2010 term would mark Ashford’s sixth term overall.
Following Stephenson’s reading, a GCC staffer faxed over the first two pages of a voluminous packet of GCC policies Stephenson said he had received upon becoming a board member. Ashford, who said he has been on the board since its start, insisted he didn’t recall such a policy existing.
“We can fax it down and look at,” Ashford said. “I don’t know what bearing it’s going to have on anything.”
Attorney Bryan Chambers said the legal questions revolved around whether a board was required to follow its own policy, and whether the four-and-a-half years Ashford had had served exceeded the policy’s limit.
“It certainly would be odd to have a board disregard its own policy,” Chambers said, adding that the board could change the policy — but not that day, because it wasn’t on the agenda.
Chambers added, “Four-and-a-half terms probably isn’t five terms.”
The calm meeting camouflaged an underlying tension, as board members in Payson grow increasingly frustrated with their inability to place discussion topics on the agenda, and Ashford’s frequent overrides of other board members’ interests.
The board’s annual vote to appoint a chair and another decision involving renewal of a lobbyist contract unfolded along geographical boundaries, as happens often on GCC’s board.
Critics complain Ashford rules like a dictator, keeping topics off the agenda and singlehandedly overturning board decisions. Recently, without a board vote, he postponed a secondary tax levy election that the board had agreed to hold in March.
Ashford refuses to answer calls from the Roundup, and so it was unclear if he decided to postpone the election or if officials at Eastern Arizona College, which runs GCC, decided.
On Wednesday, Ashford suspended the usual public comment section due to time constraints. Payson resident Chris Tilley had planned to address the board regarding the lobbyist’s contract and also a long-awaited attorney’s decision about the legality of budget discrepancies.
Board member Tom Loeffler had planned to ask Ashford about placing several items on the agenda, including the scheduling of a work study session promised for months and also the possibility of receiving budget updates in an understandable format — another frequent, but fruitlessly requested item.
Loeffler said he’s unsuccessfully tried for five months to place various topics on the agenda.
In December, Loeffler wrote Ashford a letter asking him to schedule the work study, and Ashford has yet to respond or schedule the session.
Another long-awaited event — the county attorney’s decision regarding the legality of budget discrepancies — is indefinitely postponed because discussing it would require Ashford listing it on the agenda.
The budget discrepancies involved $2 million in reserves listed on the printed budget that college officials later said did not exist, and various other omissions and inaccuracies.
Last January, Ashford insisted the board vote on a chairman, despite Stephenson’s proposal to wait for a full board. Member Don Crowley had just resigned for health reasons, and Payson was short one representative.
On Wednesday, Stephenson also protested the method of nomination. After Ashford opened the floor, member Bernadette Kniffin immediately moved to approve Ashford as chair. Stephenson said the proper method would have involved opening the floor for nominations instead of an immediate motion for approval.
Kniffin retained her position as vice president and member Armida Bittner retained hers as secretary.