Disallowing Public Comment, Gcc Board Elects Ashford

Gila Community College board president Larry Stephenson and member Thomas Loeffler.

Gila Community College board president Larry Stephenson and member Thomas Loeffler. |

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In a terse 3-2 vote that sidestepped all public comment, the Gila Community College board reappointed Bob Ashford as president for a sixth term Monday.

A rare crowd of people jammed into a small Payson GCC classroom where the Globe meeting was being broadcast, but Ashford refused to let any member of the audience speak to the board before the vote.

It is unclear if moving the public comment period to the beginning of the meeting would have influenced the board’s vote.

Globe board members Armida Bittner and Bernadette Kniffin voted with Ashford on the motion while Payson board members Tom Loeffler and Larry Stephenson voted against.

The re-election comes after the board repealed all of its policies and procedures at a December meeting, including one that limited a board president to five terms, leaving it clear for Ashford to run again for another one-year term.

The move compelled many in the audience to criticize the board. Payson Councilor Ed Blair called the board irresponsible and GCC adjunct professor Dan Klimut said the board’s decision was morally reprehensible.

“Your demeanor is abhorrent,” Klimut said during the call to the public. “If I

could, I would not vote for you.”

The public’s objection started at the beginning of the meeting when Ashford quickly moved to accept nominations for the governing board’s president. As Ashford called on Bittner, who moved to nominate Ashford, Loeffler tried unsuccessfully to interject over the microphone. When he was finally called on, Loeffler said he wanted to move the public comment period to the beginning of the meeting due to the large crowd size.

However, Ashford said they were already in the middle of agenda item one so this could not be done.

Bittner continued with her nomination, saying Ashford has institutional knowledge of GCC that is invaluable.

“No one on this board has his experience,” she said.

Stephenson disagreed, pointing to a meeting where Ashford said he could not recall voting on the board’s bylaws or what any of the policies/procedures were.

“With that sort of faulty memory, I question his ability to serve as president,” Stephenson said.

As Ashford steamed ahead with the motion, Stephenson and Loeffler tried interjecting several times. Finally, Ashford called on Stephenson who questioned why no other nominations for board president were made.

Board attorney Bryan Chambers said the board does not have to follow “Robert’s Rules of Order” and could therefore continue with the vote to appoint Ashford president.

When called to vote, Ashford, Bittner and Kniffin voted for Ashford’s reappointment while nearly everyone in the Payson room shouted “Nay.”

After the vote, one audience member shouted, “What kind of railroad is this?”

Ashford told the Payson audience not to speak out of turn or they would be asked to leave. Later, when Ashford set a limit of one minute for each public comment, Chris Tilley refused to stop speaking even as Ashford thrashed his gavel.

Tilley chided Ashford for his arrogance and ostensible control over the board as a disservice to everyone in the community.

Lew Levenson said he was outraged by Ashford’s behavior during the meeting. Shirley Dye said she had heard tale after tale about Payson board members being outvoted by Globe board members and had “seen it first hand.”

“I am shocked and appalled,” she said.

Besides Ashford’s reelection, Dye said she was surprised by another one of the board’s decisions during the meeting.

In the consent agenda, the board discussed approving four Intergovernmental Agreements (IGAs) with outside schools. Stephenson said he had not reviewed the IGA with the San Carlos School District for joint technological instruction for high school and college students because he had not received the information and could therefore not vote on the item. He asked to table the item to an upcoming meeting.

GCC Senior Dean Stephen Cullen interjected, saying if the item was tabled, students would not receive credit for the class and a grant funding the course would be in jeopardy.

Loeffler pointed out, however, that the IGA was approved July 1, 2010 and the course had been operating even without the board’s approval.

Cullen said this was common practice with IGAs started on good faith that the board would approve them later. Just recently, San Carlos’s attorney presented the final IGA to Cullen, which he presented to the board.

“This contract has been ongoing for some time and now we have a conflict if we table it for a month?” Loeffler said.

Loeffler and Stephenson’s motion to table the item failed. In a 3-2 vote, the board approved all four IGAs.

The board also decided to set its next board meeting for the third Thursday of February at 2 p.m.

Stephenson asked Chambers if the board was violating state statute since it repealed all of its bylaws including those that set a regular meeting time and location.

“Yes, it does,” Chambers said.

The board could not vote on setting a regular meeting time, however, since it was not listed on the agenda.

GCC’s independence

On Friday, Sen. Sylvia Allen dropped a bill into the legislative hopper that could grant GCC independence from Eastern Arizona College (EAC).

Currently, GCC is one of two provisional community colleges in the state — meaning the board has limited control over its budget, tuition and programs. Under the proposed law, GCC could finally get its own accreditation and qualify for state support; however, GCC would have to meet certain conditions to gain independence.

On Monday, Ashford said the college would need at least $10 million for accreditation, something the college does not have. Current reserves hover around $100,000 to $200,000 according to Ashford’s calculations, with the college expected to break even at the end of this fiscal year. In addition, GCC would need to demonstrate financial stability, Ashford said.

Despite the hurdles, Ashford said he was 100 percent for GCC’s independence.

“I am realistic in knowing it doesn’t happen overnight,” he said. “Even if the legislation passes, we don’t have the financial stability or revenue stream to do anything more than what we are doing.”

GCC pays a 25 percent overhead fee to EAC under the terms of a contract. EAC administrators in turn make most of the key decisions regarding how the college is run.

Ashford said if GCC broke away from EAC, it would have to raise the tax levy threefold to support its independence. The college’s current tax levy stands at 52 cents, which Ashford says would raise to $1.30 to $1.50.

“If is a really great idea if you can support it, but right now we can’t and we don’t know if the taxpayers will support it,” he said.

Loeffler said despite all the unknowns, he supports the college’s independence because it would give the board control over the college’s future.

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