Sunday, December 10, 2023

Sebaaly turns down NIC trustees

Hagadone News Network | December 13, 2022 1:00 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — A former North Idaho College wrestling coach won’t be returning to the NIC president’s office.

NIC trustees announced during a special meeting Saturday that Michael Sebaaly — who served as interim president of the college for roughly 10 months, until President Nick Swayne was hired last summer — had declined their offer to return to serve as acting president.

The board placed Swayne on administrative leave earlier this week, citing the need to investigate a detail of his contract.

The raucous meeting of the NIC trustees — the third such meeting last week — was punctuated by outbursts, cheers and jeers from a crowd of around 100 people, some holding signs, most voicing their displeasure with the board’s recent actions. There were also a few false fire alarms requiring the room be cleared.

The majority of the crowd gave a standing ovation when Chair Greg McKenzie announced that Sebaaly had declined the board’s offer to return.

McKenzie read Sebaaly’s message to the board. The former wrestling coach wrote that he believes his success will be limited and that he endured criticism while serving as interim president.

“I am seen by many as the enemy, and all I’ve ever wanted was to build consensus,” McKenzie said, fighting back tears as he read Sebaaly’s words.

The crowd became unruly, with people shouting from their seats. Trustee Todd Banducci asked McKenzie to call for security to deal with the outbursts. McKenzie did not.

McKenzie called multiple recesses throughout the meeting, most to restore order.

At one point, more than 30 community members stood at a podium in a line wrapping halfway around room and asked for the opportunity to share their comments with the board.

“Let us speak,” the crowd chanted.

McKenzie refused. To allow public comment would be to allow “the loudest bully in the room to get their way,” he said.

“I will not allow the bullying to continue,” McKenzie said.

In the audience was a group of NIC students, including ASNIC Student Government President Damian Maxwell.

“We’re not happy with how the board is going about these changes,” Maxwell said after Saturday’s meeting, where he was among those not permitted to give public comment. “It’s appalling. We have all worked with Nick Swayne and we love working with him. He’s a very student-centered person.”

ASNIC passed a vote of no confidence in the board last week, after trustees placed Swayne on leave. The resolution issued by the student government called for the board to restore Swayne to his role as president and to exercise complete transparency.

“The students aren’t standing for this,” Maxwell said. “This is not OK with us.”

With Sebaaly choosing not to return to NIC, Trustee Tarie Zimmerman proposed a solution to fill the leadership vacuum at the college.

“Dr. Swayne should be brought back to this college to serve in the role,” she said.

The crowd again rose from their chairs, erupting into cheers and applause.

McKenzie called for another short recess. When the meeting began again, Banducci had a message for the crowd.

“Wow, some of you are really special,” he said. “You know, actually, the women are scarier than the men, but I don’t know that your men are real men.”

He then handed documents to college attorney Art Macomber, citing attorney-client privilege, and described them as a resume for an individual he recommended the board consider hiring as acting president.

Banducci would not provide the individual’s name.

“With the knives that have been out, do we really want someone out there being attacked?” he said.

The information Banducci shared indicated the prospective candidate is likely Greg South, who was an interim dean of instruction at North Idaho College for several months in 2021.

The board voted for McKenzie to contact the individual and ask if he would like to be considered for the position. If so, McKenzie will begin negotiating a contract.

Zimmerman opposed the motion and called for multiple candidates to be considered.

“Why are we looking at a resume for this position when Art Macomber didn’t even offer a resume?” she said, referring to the Monday night meeting where the board voted 3-2 to hire Macomber on the spot.

Throughout recesses and during the meeting, Macomber and several trustees sometimes whispered to one another out of the range of microphones, making it impossible for people to hear their discussion during the public meeting. Some trustees and Macomber also swapped notes without reading the content into the record.

“Are you deliberating right now?” yelled someone in the audience, during one of the whispered conversations.

McKenzie moved to change the meeting’s agenda and to move the day of the board’s next regular meeting to Thursday.

“There is a lack of leadership at the college and we need to move forward,” he said.

Zimmerman protested, noting that Trustee Brad Corkill wasn’t present to give input and that she has a conflicting engagement scheduled for the proposed date. McKenzie said it’s impossible to have the meeting any day other than Thursday.

During the discussion, Teresa Borrenpohl, a former NIC employee, called out from the audience to Banducci reminding him that he knew Corkill could not be present for these meetings and he knew the reason why.

“You don’t really care about the military, do you?” Borrenpohl said.

Trustee Michael Waggoner told Banducci to ignore her.

“She’s an idiot,” Waggoner said.

In a phone interview from Colorado, Corkill said Saturday that he is out of state, attending events related to his son’s retirement from a 20-year career as a fighter pilot.

“And nothing is going to keep me from enjoying this moment,” Corkill said.

He also spoke about being contacted by Banducci prior to Monday’s board meeting.

“He has said he reached out to me twice, and I rebuffed him both times,” Corkill said. “But I want to point out that he reached out to me long before the election, and he reached out to me through a third party.”

Corkill said he will not speak with Banducci through a third party and that Banducci should have made the call himself.

“This is not a grade school playground,” Corkill said.

Trustees also discussed amending the board’s conduct policy in order to allow unpaid volunteers who will “collect and interpret data” for the board, as well as establishing a policy to formally delineate the chain of command at the college.

The board also plans to review NIC’s real estate portfolio, particularly the properties along Military Drive.

Trustees are expected to convene again Thursday, Dec. 15, at 6 p.m. at the Student Union Building on the NIC campus.

• • •

Maureen Dolan contributed to this report.


Dozens of people requested the opportunity to give public comment during Saturday’s meeting of the North Idaho College board of trustees. They were not permitted to address the board. KAYE THORNBRUGH/Press

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