Independence For Gcc Hits A Road Bump

Globe board members hold up resolution supporting college task force legislation

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Gila Community College members in Globe stymied an official resolution Thursday supporting the school’s bid for independence, reportedly just two weeks after Chairman Bob Ashford promised Sen. Sylvia Allen that he would vote for one.

The resolution would have made official the board’s desire to change the state’s thresholds that restrict the county from operating an independent community college.

According to Allen, Ashford had also promised to introduce a similar resolution to the county supervisors.

Although she called the defeat “a temporary bump in the road,” Allen also said the plan’s ultimate success depended on those two resolutions.

“We need that resolution,” said Allen. “If Gila County and the leaders of Gila County are not behind us, how can we be successful?”

A task force has worked for the past several months to answer key questions about the feasibility of operating a fully accredited college and draft related legislation.

Although a task force member, Ashford on Thursday said he lacked enough information to decide if he favored the resolution.

Board members Armida Bittner and Bernadette Kniffen also spoke against the resolution, saying they wanted more information about the task force and the related legislation before approving it.

“I understand the feeling of Armida and Bernadette,” said Ashford. “They haven’t been involved.”

On Monday, Allen said Ashford’s backtracking annoyed her. “I’m just surprised,” she said.

“I don’t understand why we’re having this little conflict. He never called me to tell me he changed his mind. He didn’t tell me he was upset,” said Allen.

Ashford didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Senior Dean Stephen Cullen said the legislation has not been publicly released because they wanted Allen to have the first look at it.

Allen wondered, “What do they think is going to be in the legislation?” The entire task force, which Ashford belongs to, would have to approve the draft before moving forward anyway, she said.

“I’m just not sure what would be in it that would make them nervous,” Allen added.

During Thursday’s meeting, Ashford said he “wasn’t invited to” the meeting in Payson “because of open meeting laws.”

Since the task force has so many members, two smaller groups broke off to focus on singular questions. At a recent meeting that brought the smaller groups together via conference call, Ashford and several others had to hang up because too many task force members were present without an official public meeting notice. Open meeting laws require that a meeting be posted if a certain number of members in an official committee convene.

During the process, each of the smaller groups has remained largely unaware of the other group’s activities because they are working separately.

Board member Larry Stephenson, in Payson, said he also has not been intimately involved in deliberations, but he supported the resolution nonetheless.

Allen said she knew friction existed between northern and southern Gila County, but hoped that task force members could move past it.

“Doing what’s right for the students, the taxpayers of Gila County — that to me is our goal,” said Allen.

Allen vowed to discover why Ashford grew upset, and said she may scrap the smaller groups to avoid hurt feelings.

GCC formed after the state passed thresholds for counties wanting to operate a community college. Gila County falls beneath those thresholds, and so it must contract with another institution to award degrees.

Because of GCC’s so-called provisional status, it remains ineligible for a huge chunk of money awarded to other rural colleges.

In 2010, EAC received 12-times the amount of per-student funding as GCC. From 2009 to 2010, GCC lost $66 per student while EAC gained more than $1,400 per student, according to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.

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