Gila Community College board member Tom Loeffler cracked the Iron Curtain at a recent board meeting when he approached the podium during the public comment period.
Loeffler has unsuccessfully attempted for about six months to place multiple topics on the agenda, including receiving budget information in an understandable format, scheduling a long-promised work-study session, and increasing the ability of all board members to receive information from Eastern Arizona College, which runs GCC.
At a board meeting last week, Loeffler requested that the board introduce a standard time for members to identify future discussion topics. He also suggested that the board switch the public comment time to the meeting’s beginning, instead of the end, so members could hear community input prior to making decisions.
The move garnered no immediate benefit, however, since board members are prohibited from discussing issues raised during the public comment period.
Board chairman Bob Ashford has control over agenda-setting and board members have grown frustrated with his ignoring their requests.
Some EAC officials, including the business manager, have ignored phone calls from GCC board members.
Payson resident Chris Tilley has also asked several times that the board publicly discuss an opinion from the county attorney on the legal implications of budget discrepancies. The published budget said the college had a surplus of $2 million, while college officials soon after said the school really had a $2-million deficit.
The county attorney has issued an opinion, but it will remain confidential until the board publically discusses it. That would require Ashford listing the topic on the agenda.
Also, the long-waged battle to get easily understandable budget documents from EAC has gained intensity during recent months because of GCC’s tenuous financial situation. The college has furloughed staff four days each month, raised tuition and scaled back wavers for senior citizens, but has received minimal information on how the changes impacted the bottom line.
In November, EAC released information that said GCC’s deficit shrank to $743,000. At that meeting, Ashford promised that the figures would be updated monthly. The board has not received an overview since.
EAC does provide board members with intricate accounting summaries that critics complain make comprehension impossible.
For instance, the sheets list how much money the college spends for industrial insurance for the small business development center at the Globe campus while failing to provide an easily understandable overhead view of how much the college spends on what.
“That should be easily aggregated,” said board member Larry Stephenson, who for years has asked for a simpler format. Stephenson said even a former board member with a financial background could not decipher the complexities.