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North Idaho College board majority votes to ‘nullify’ president’s contract

North Idaho College President Nick Swayne.
North Idaho College
North Idaho College President Nick Swayne.

Two days before an important visit from its accreditation agency, North Idaho College’s divided board of trustees voted to nullify President Nick Swayne’s contract.

It is the second time in less than six months trustees Greg McKenzie, Todd Banducci and Mike Waggoner have moved to neutralize Swayne. The resolution nullifying Swayne’s employment contract, presented by Banducci, retains Swayne as NIC’s president for the time being.

The vote came toward the end of a chaotic meeting Monday night marked by arguments, multiple recesses, and confusion over the meeting agenda and procedures.

Before the meeting, the college’s supporters worried the three-man board majority would move to fire Swayne. But firing the president would have required four votes. Banducci, McKenzie and Waggoner opted instead to declare Swayne’s 2022 contract “null and void.”

The resolution was predicated on an alleged open meetings law violation Banducci claimed the board made during the presidential search process last summer. The majority trio have hinted the alleged violation cast doubt on the legitimacy of Swayne’s hiring. Waggoner was not on the board at that time, but McKenzie and Banducci opposed hiring Swayne.

After regaining a voting majority in November 2022, Banducci, McKenzie and Waggoner sought to find problems in that hiring-and-contract process. They hired Art Macomber, a donor to each of their trustee election campaigns, to be North Idaho College’s attorney and assigned him to investigate Swayne’s contract. On Macomber’s recommendation, the trio suspended Swayne indefinitely.

Trustees Brad Corkill and Tarie Zimmermann voted against the nullification resolution, citing a March ruling from a Kootenai County District Court judge that found the time to challenge Swayne’s hiring on the basis of open meetings law has passed. That ruling also ordered Swayne restored to the president’s office until his civil suit challenging the suspension is resolved.

It was disclosed at Monday night’s meeting that Macomber’s investigation report is finished. Trustees voted to release the document by late Tuesday afternoon.

The vote to nullify Swayne’s contract came less than two days before a scheduled visit from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU). The agency is the federally-recognized accreditor for higher education institutions in seven states and British Columbia. North Idaho College’s accreditation is in serious jeopardy because of the board majority’s decisions.

NWCCU has been warning the college for nearly two years about the deleterious effects of the board’s dysfunction and harmful actions, including the attempts to oust Swayne. The agency’s warnings have been met with a string of pledges to do better, though those promises appear to be falling on increasingly wary ears.

“The NIC Board of Trustees has not shown sufficient responsiveness to previous Commission action and, thus, fails to sufficiently appreciate the jeopardy it is placing the institution in with respect to the welfare and viability of the institution – much less its membership status with NWCCU,” the commission wrote in a “show cause” letter sent to NIC in February.

NWCCU’s on-site evaluation will take place April 26 and 27. A team will find out whether the board and the school have taken appropriate steps to satisfy the commission’s concerns.

The commission will decide in June what to do next. A revocation of North Idaho College’s accreditation is possible, though the school has asked for a lesser punishment, such as probation. NIC would have the chance to appeal the NWCCU’s decision in July.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for nearly twenty years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.