Sunday, April 19, 2009

Can Northwest Florida College Trustees be Trusted?

One aspect of the Ray Sansom/Bob Richburg scandal that hasn't been getting enough scrutiny is what, if any, role the members of the college's Board of Trustees played. Among other things, college boards of trustees in Florida have responsibility for establishing and enforcing recruiting and hiring policies, advertising their own public trustee meetings, and evaluating "the performance of the community college presidents... ."

It sure looks like, collectively, the "Northwest Florida College" Board of Trustees has a lot to answer for. Among other things:
  • They turned a blind eye, to be charitable about it, toward the obviously fixed hiring of Destin politician Ray Sansom as a "part-time" college vice-president at a salary of $110,000 per year, when he didn't even meet the minimally-advertised job qualifications.
  • In 2007, the trustees accepted college president Bob Richburg's "resignation" so he could collect over half a million dollars in accumulated state pension benefits, and then the board re-hired him in the same job with a three percent raise just one month later -- after what no one could call a bona fide nationwide advertising campaign to fill the post with the best qualified candidate. Even conservative Republicans were outraged at that one.
  • The Northwest Florida College Trustees acquiesced a year ago, when Richburg set up one a March board meeting in a private "members only" Tallahassee club 150 miles away from the campus, then they defended the action afterward when Florida's attorney general called the meeting legally questionable and likely a violation of the Sunshine Law.
  • No minutes of that "legislative update" meeting were taken by or for the trustees -- yet ten months later they approved supposed "minutes" of what took place, just as prosecuting attorneys were about to empanel a grand jury.
So, who are these "Northwest Florida College" Trustees? To all appearances, the board is drawn 100% from the local business community. By contrast, a new nationwide survey of state and local community colleges -- and that's what "Northwest Florida College" really is, hyped-up name to the contrary notwithstanding -- finds that, nationwide, only 32% of trustees on boards "were from the business sector."

None of the present members of the Okaloosa-Walton county college appears to be renown in higher education circles for, or to have demonstrable expertise in, academic administration, management, college teaching, or research. Now, we could be wrong. Maybe the otherwise prosaic-looking composition of the Northwest Florida College board of trustees masks a John Dewey clone, a Warren Buffet heir, or a fund-raising genius.

To find out more about the trustees, however, could it be symptomatic of some deeper malady that the college's web site directs us to call the "Marketing Department?"

All of the trustees, no doubt, volunteer their time because they want to serve the college and the local community. For that, they doubtless deserve the standard round of politely appreciative applause.

But community college trustees have something else, too: fiduciary and legal obligations, as described in State Board of Education rules. They are required to establish college policies and hold executives accountable for following them.

When two of the top administrators "hired" by the college trustees are indicted by a grand jury for college-connected activities, and the legality of the board's own conduct is called into question by the state's attorney general, it's well past time for someone on the state Board of Education to be asking, "Who are these trustees and what on earth have they been doing?"
Elizabeth S. Campbell (business owner)
McCaskill & Co.
P.O. Box 369
Destin, FL 32540

Joseph W. Henderson (CPA)
O'Sullivan Creel
P.O. Box 1600
Fort Walton Beach FL 32549

Brian S. Pennington
Tybrin Corporation
1030 Titan Court
Fort Walton Beach FL 32547

Dale E. Rice, Jr. (CEO/President)
First National Bank of Crestview
1301 Industrial Drive
Crestview FL 32539

Sandy Sims
Gulf Power Company
1 Energy Place
Pensacola FL 32520

Vercell Vance, CEO
(Business Owner)
Alpha Data Corporation
1326 Lewis Turner Blvd.
Fort Walton Beach FL 32547

Esteena K. (Teena) Wells (Self Employed)
92 Hillcrest Way
DeFuniak Springs FL 32433

Wesley Wilkerson (Business Owner)
54 Seashore Circle
Santa Rosa Beach FL 32549


Anonymous said...

You make some excellent points, especially concerning the non-academic make-up of the board. The board members are simply Richburg's willing shills. They should make his "leave" permanent as he apparently is emotionally incapable of leaving the college.

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