COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — The North Idaho College board of trustees voted Thursday to place President Nick Swayne on immediate administrative leave and ask Michael Sebaaly, the former interim president, to return as acting president.
The actions were taken when the trustees returned to open session after 10 p.m., following a roughly three-hour executive session, as reported by our news partners, the Coeur d'Alene Press.
The motion to place Swayne on administrative leave was made by Trustee Todd Banducci and recommended by the college's new attorney Art Macomber, who clarified the motion.
Macomber said the motion would allow him to work with Greg McKenzie, the board chair, to “investigate things that have arisen of concern that impeded our accreditation success.”
Trustee Tarie Zimmerman voted against both motions, which passed by a 3-1 vote. Trustee Brad Corkill was not present for the meeting.
Before the board voted to place Swayne on administrative leave, Zimmerman questioned the legality of Macomber’s hiring, which occurred during a meeting Monday night.
Banducci introduced two resolutions in that meeting — one to hire Macomber and one to freeze the hiring process for positions within the president’s cabinet, unless the board approves of potential hires.
The first resolution stated that the NIC “Board of Trustees has identified legal counsel” to replace longtime college attorney Marc Lyons, who recently resigned.
“What meeting occurred where the trustees identified legal counsel?” Zimmerman said. “There was no such legal meeting.”
Zimmerman added that she believes Macomber, who is paid $325 an hour, is unqualified for his new position.
“He wrote his own fee agreement,” she said. “He walked in and was hired on the spot. Who gets to do that?”
Macomber told the board he reached out to Banducci before November’s general election to discuss the college’s legal needs.
“I took it upon myself and I drafted these resolutions,” Macomber said, in contrast to Monday, when he and Banducci said that Banducci penned the resolutions.
After Lyons resigned, Macomber said he decided to write his own fee agreement and bring it to Monday’s meeting.
Macomber said he requested on Tuesday that Lyons provide him with NIC-related files and that Lyons said he had none to give.
“I am now of the opinion that he is working against NIC, that he wants NIC to fail,” Macomber said. “Maybe he just wants me to fail.”
Macomber then pointed to the minutes from the board’s September meeting, which indicate Lyons said he “made an error in the final draft of the president’s contract related to termination clause 12.1.”
Lyons asked the board to approve the correction of the “scrivener’s error” and strike the words “either party” from the section and replace them with the words “the president.”
Trustees voted 3-2 to approve the change, with Banducci and McKenzie opposed.
Macomber contended Thursday that it was a “material change” and not a “scrivener’s error,” which is the correction of an unintentional mistake when drafting a contract.
Comparing the act to a chess move meant to “protect the king,” Macomber proposed placing Swayne on administrative leave for the duration of an investigation into the change to his contract.
“In the meantime, college operations might be stymied,” Macomber said.
Before the vote, Zimmerman said she was dismayed by the actions of her fellow trustees.
“It appears that your sole purpose is to undermine the college and to bring it down,” she said.
Swayne is qualified to lead NIC and has demonstrated a “strong desire” to fulfill the college’s mission, Zimmerman said. She implored her fellow trustees to “quit treating him like an enemy.”
“I feel there is something nefarious going on,” Zimmerman said. “There’s not much I can do.”
Banducci then suggested that Sebaaly return as acting president and that the college reactivate the contract from when he was interim president.
“There’s nobody else I can think of,” Banducci said. “We need to have somebody who knows this college and has experience working with accreditation, someone I think was a very good leader, who hadn’t been given even the slightest chance.”
Sebaaly resigned from NIC in late September, for unclear reasons, after the college placed him on administrative leave for an undetermined period of time.
NIC declined at the time to comment on the reason for his departure, stating it was a personnel matter. Sebaaly did not respond to requests for comment.
Banducci said that it might be possible to have Sebaaly in place as acting president as soon as Monday, though Sebaaly had not been contacted yet and is “working in Nebraska.”
Zimmerman objected strongly to Banducci’s suggestion.
“The process of hiring your best friend is just ridiculous,” she said. “If Sebaaly’s not available, who are you going to go with — your next bestie? He was put into that role in the first place because he was your best friend.”
Banducci, McKenzie and former trustee Michael Barnes voted last October to hire Sebaaly as interim president. They chose him over nine other applicants without an open discussion of his qualifications.
The three trustees also voted to relax the job description, removing a requirement of a minimum of five years in higher education administration/senior leadership.
Former trustees Christie Wood and Ken Howard opposed Sebaaly’s hiring, calling the process a sham.
“I know for a fact that (the three finalists) are personal friends with (Banducci),” Wood said last year. “The relationships are deep and that’s why I call the whole entire thing corruption.”
McKenzie said Thursday that Sebaaly had been badly treated.
“Dr. Sebaaly has endured more slander and more unfair treatment because of his selection that was hashed out in executive session,” he said. “He was painted as merely the wrestling coach.”
The board will likely convene for a special meeting Monday to revisit the matter.
“If (Sebaaly is) not available, we’ll have to name someone else,” Banducci said.
Maureen Dolan contributed to this report.
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