With three new board members sitting down to their first meeting Jan. 25, newly elected chairman Gary Harshberger wanted to gauge the fresh dynamic of the Dodge City Community College Board of Trustees right away.

What Harshberger discovered was that although there were new faces, the contentiousness and division that has marked board dynamics in the recent past is still thriving.

The meeting was punctuated with bouts of infighting and dividing lines being drawn among the trustees. The squabbles typically revolved around DCCC president Dr. Harold Nolte, a coalition of dissatisfied faculty, and the potential use of a third-party consultant to examine the ongoing conflict at the school.

Trustee Terry Malone nominated Harshberger to be the new board chair and his nomination passed unanimously. Following appointments to various committees and administrative roles, each trustee was given the opportunity to present their report – generally a short soliloquy thanking voters and other board members and briefly outlining their intentions.

As the final board member to report, Harshberger took his opportunity to try to immediately hash out some of the issues brought up during last fall’s election.

Harshberger gave each member a list of 17 complaints and allegations he had taken from a 2017 campaign advertisement for newly-elected trustees Dan Reichenborn and Mia Schraeder Korbelik. Harshberger said he wanted to establish the dynamics of the board and get answers to important questions on the minds of the public.

The initial complaint was directed at Nolte and a supposed academic and financial scandal involving Nolte at Blinn College in Brenham, Texas.

Once Nolte had completed his explanation, Harshberger asked about four employees from Blinn who had followed Nolte to DCCC. Malone raised an objection as to the timing and appropriateness of the questions. He said that trustee reports were typically bland and the issues Harshberger were raising needed to be formally placed on a board agenda and some likely needed to be discussed in executive session.

“I think this gets into areas that, if anyone wants to question Dr. Nolte about personnel issues, it probably wouldn’t be the appropriate time to do that,” Malone said.

Harshberger insisted that the questions needed to be answered promptly and told Malone to “Indulge me. I’m going to continue on.”

Nolte listed the names of the former Blinn College employees and Harshberger asked, “Is there anything wrong with them?”

“Would you expect us to say so in this meeting if we thought there were,” Malone responded. “I think it’s inappropriate to address that type of question in an open meeting about whether the trustees think there’s anything wrong with the people that are hired.”

Reichenborn mirrored Malone’s position. “This is not the appropriate time to go through 17 items that you’re upset about,” Reichenborn said. “What you’re asking us to do is make a judgement about someone we may not even know. Asking us to go through these name by name in this meeting is inappropriate.

“What you’re really trying to do here is embarrass the people who opposed you during the election.”

Trustee Kathy Ramsour tried to defuse the situation by saying that while she wanted answers as well, the board should evaluate what it could legally discuss openly.

“If the public is going by (the list of 17 complaints), what do they think we’re going to do for this?” Ramsour said. “I think you’re trying to figure this out so we’re all on the same page for the public.”

Eventually the college’s legal counsel, Glenn Kerbs, told the board that discussing issues that may involve employee’s privacy rights would need to be done in executive session. Malone made a motion to put the items on a future agenda but ultimately no action was taken and the board moved on.

The atmosphere was recharged just a short while later when Malone introduced his motion to have the Association of Community College Trustees provide mediation services to address long-standing conflicts between faculty, staff, and the school’s administration.

Malone had raised the suggestion twice last year but the board did not approve his motion.

“We have still not addressed this very serious issue,” Malone said. 
Malone said it is necessary to have mediation and consulting services to improve the atmosphere and morale of the employees and students who have expressed multiple grievances against Nolte and other administrators.

The proposed services from ACCT would carry a fee of $20,000, plus a charge for an independent consultant and travel and shipping expenses. According to Malone, ACCT would provide recommendations and mediation to help restore trust within the community and begin a process of reconciliation between faculty members and the administration.

Reichenborn said that the election revealed a distinct lack of community trust for the administration and the board of trustees. Since board members are not allowed to discuss college matters with faculty, Reichenborn said receiving third-party suggestions from ACCT would allow the board to hear the voices of faculty members without the relying on the filter of administration reports.

“We need to do this to get things aired out and get this behind us and move on,” he said. “I don’t see any other way to do it.”
Ramsour suggested the board was not tasked with adjudicating faculty disputes.

“We don’t do that. That’s not our job to micromanage,” she said. She also said that the issues raised by the faculty had been already investigated by the board last year. Malone refuted that assertion saying three board members had taken it upon themselves to repudiate the faculty’s complaints.

“They basically slapped the faculty in the face and said we won’t even listen to you,” Malone said. "I don’t think the public can understand the reluctance of this board to address a serious problem with the faculty. For the first time ever they voted no-confidence. We don’t need administrators to run the college. They have never taught anyone anything. We do need the most competent faculty we can get and I’m afraid this will send a signal that this isn’t a place you would want to teach.”

Harshberger said Malone was simply bringing up issues that have already been addressed. He said ACCT has stated the process was not its role and would not provide new insight.

“You’re insisting on bringing up something from 2016 that’s been addressed several times,” Harshberger said. “To sit there and just squander the taxpayer money on this issue that has been done a year-and-a-half ago.”

Reichenborn injected that during the campaign he had spoken with a number of faculty who had expressed unhappiness with Nolte, vice president Adam John, and many administration policies. The college has disgruntled employees who the board only hears from through administration reports, according to Reichenborn.

“You’re relying on Dr. Nolte and other vice presidents and they’re coming back with glowing reports,” he said. “The only way we can listen to the faculty is by having a third party come in.”

Trustee Dr. Jeremy Presley questioned spending $20,000 for a service that may or may not provide valuable answers and information. He also doesn’t see how the information could help if there is no plan moving forward.

“Spending dollars to gain information does us no good if we have no implementation strategy,” Presley said. “If we don’t know what we’re going to do to make everybody get along then it was money wasted, and potentially develop more division.”

Ramsour suggested that the vote of no-confidence may have been skewed by low numbers of faculty participating. She said that her experience in public schools led her to believe that conducting wide-spread surveys drew more informative data than using outside consultants.

“You’re so naïve about the surveys,” Reichenborn said. “Surveys came back from the administration and they gave us what they wanted to hear.”

Harshberger tried to bring debate to a close. “There are many ways of going about this but we’re back to the same old stuff,” he said.

“We’re going to spend $20,000 on people who are going to hire somebody else for $5,000 to come in and do it. It’s just another way to blow money like some people here just like to do.”

Reichenborn responded by pointing out the board’s rental of space at the United Wireless Arena for a dinner, rather than using college facilities for free. Harshberger fired back that the board had just underwent expensive training for open meetings at the suggestion of Malone.

"Stop wasting money," he said. "We just had a (Kansas Open Meetings Act) deal here that Mr. Malone cost us over $6,000."

"You needed KOMA training," Reichenborn responded.

The issue was rapidly reduced to verbal volleys across the tables, whereupon Harshberger banged his gavel into the table four times and called for order and a vote.

The ACCT issue was rejected by the board 4-3. Harshberger, Presley, Ramsour and trustee Floris Jean Hampton voted against the motion, with Malone, Reichenborn and Korbelik voting for approval.

In other business, the trustees approved the purchase and financing agreement with Motor Coach Industries for a 2007 bus for $249,735.

A 2 percent salary increase for administrative, program tech, classified, and part-time employees was unanimously approved. The rate of increase matched the raise approved for faculty last year.

To contact the writer email sedger@dodgeglobe.com