COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — There are two schools of thought on North Idaho College’s board of trustees chair.
Each is stirring up as much support as they can, as reported by our news partner the Coeur d'Alene Press.
The college has been through many changes in the past year, from the firing of the former president without cause to receiving a recommendation for probation from a panel representing the institution’s accrediting organization.
Those changes, and others, both have something in common. The college’s board of trustees board chair, Todd Banducci, has played a key role in them.
Now community members are calling for action, gathering petition signatures either in support of Banducci or demanding his resignation.
“We need a different direction,” said Christa Hazel, director of Save NIC, a 501(c)4 nonprofit. “I hope (Banducci) would take to heart what the community is saying, and that’s that many of us have lost confidence, and you might be surprised at how many of us there are.”
Save NIC was formed earlier this year by a group of concerned citizens who objected to what they saw taking place, Hazel said. She said they felt it was time to show their support for the college.
Distributed on campus on March 3, the panel report from the institution's accrediting organization, Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, listed scores of concerns, some serious enough to suggest the NWCCU put NIC on probation.
The panel found the institution to be out of compliance with several accreditation standards and eligibility requirements. Several of the complaints specifically cited the leadership of Banducci.
“The NWCCU peer panel review report was damning and we are in serious jeopardy of losing North Idaho College,” Hazel said. “What you see is very serious allegations that have been verified.”
Hazel said they believe Banducci is harming the college with the actions cited in the report. She said the support they received for their petition within 48 hours since Tuesday was stunning.
“It reaffirms what I knew to be the case which is North Idaho College is a very important asset to our community,” Hazel said. “We’re at risk of losing our institution over accreditation. I firmly believe it’s time for Todd to step aside in the best interest of the college, knowing what we know now after the peer panel report.”
On the other side are Banducci backers.
Erin Barnard, who runs the Kootenai County Spectator, said she felt it was time to take a stand and show the trustees another viewpoint. In an email to The Press, Barnard said Thursday it was time to show the trustees “we are done with this ‘Banducci is Bad’ narrative.”
“The people elected Todd Banducci to be their voice on the NIC Board because we have had it with the direction that the college has been headed,” Barnard said in the email. “For the past few years we have seen nothing but negative press against Todd Banducci and his conservative values he has brought forth to the Board.”
On her KCS website and Facebook page, Barnard asked people to sign her letter in support of Banducci to show the board some community members stand with him.
She said she will print out each letter and hand deliver it to the board at their next meeting, next Wednesday, so the “board has a physical copy of every person who supports Todd Banducci and his drive to bring North Idaho College back to a conservative local community college,” according to a KCS Facebook post.
The letter of support followed the petition created by Save NIC.
“Todd Banducci on the NIC Board of Trustees is getting hammered by the liberals, trying to force him to resign from the board,” the KCS Facebook post says. “This is our chance to show how many people support Todd Banducci and want to see NIC as a locally-focused, conservative community college.”
Banducci shared the Kootenai County Spectator's letter on his Facebook page, Todd Banducci, NIC trustee, commenting, “I appreciate all the love, prayers, & support!!”
Banducci did not respond to a Press request for comment.
Hazel said that for her organization, saving NIC isn't a political issue.
“This is an issue of concern for lost opportunity,” Hazel said. “From an education opportunities standpoint, and also from an economic standpoint, it would be devastating to our community if we lost the college.”
Last fall, NIC had 4,581 students and 1,020 employees. Hazel said based on research provided by the Coeur d’Alene Economic Development Council, recent economic modeling suggests if NIC were to lose accreditation that could potentially result in 1,300 fewer jobs throughout the community and $60 million less in North Idaho’s economy.
Every four NIC jobs creates one community job, she said.
John Goedde, a former NIC Foundation board member who spent about 18 years on the board, said saving the college is important for a number of reasons, especially because it’s a huge factor in the economic viability of all of North Idaho.
Goedde, former Idaho Senate Education Committee chairman, is a member of Save NIC and signed the petition asking Banducci to resign.
“I don’t think he deserves to be in the position he is in,” Goedde said. “He is a bully and a tyrant.”
In a January 2021 email to the board from Trustee Christie Wood published on the college website, Wood reported the board was dealing with a “clear pattern of abusive and aggressive behavior” by Banducci that had gone on for over eight years.
In her email, Wood said that early in 2020, the board dealt with a Title IX complaint against Banducci for a verbal and physical assault of a female employee. Wood said that through an investigation, they learned of “other conduct toward female employees that consisted of illegal action of sexual harassment.” She said the women declined to come forward out of fear of reprisal from Banducci.
Wood also cited incidents of physical threatening and verbally abusive behavior from Banducci toward herself and former trustee Judy Meyer.
During a December 2020 meeting, Wood said she implored Banducci to be honest with the new trustees and tell them what he had done to the female employees.
“He became enraged and shouted that ‘I am a dog with a bone,’” Wood said in the email.
According to Wood’s email, included through the investigation of the Title IX complaint, the board learned that Banducci abused his position and authority on a regular basis pertaining to NIC Foundation fundraisers. Wood wrote that Banducci habitually called the staff demanding specific alcohol and food for him and his wife to be served at various events.
Former NIC President Rick MacLennan, fired from the college without cause last September by the board majority, described his eyewitness account of Banducci's physical assault of a female college employee at a college-sponsored event on Dec. 10, 2019. That description was included in an email provided to The Press through a public records request.
The NWCCU panel report declares Banducci is not to be involved in NIC Foundation operations or fundraising, based on an agreement between him and the foundation.
In April 2020, the board issued a private censure to Banducci for conduct they believed “falls below the standard expected of an NIC Trustee.”
According to the panel report, the NIC Foundation indicated a loss of approximately $4.1 million in legacy gifts, $343,000 in estimated Major Gifts and another $36,800 in annual donations.
In a meeting with the NIC Foundation, the investigating panel found the Foundation Board had lost a “historically very positive relationship with the NIC board and the administration.”
Hazel said the college can't afford Banducci. She cited the nearly $500,000 paid out to MacLennan for his remaining contract and from a lawsuit; the funds paid for a search firm to assist in filling MacLennan’s position; replacing administrators who left the college after his firing; and donations to the NIC Foundation that will not be realized.
“His agenda is too expensive,” Hazel said. “Community members understand this when they sign our petition, and they’re taking a stand that we’ve lost confidence in the scorched earth leadership that has been brought to us by Todd Banducci.”
The Coeur d'Alene Press is a KREM 2 news partner. For more from our news partner, click here.
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