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College proposal denies county board seat

By Kristen Tribe | Published Wednesday, February 8, 2017
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The Weatherford College Board Monday refused Wise County a seat on its board, and instead offered an ex officio position, in which an appointed citizen can attend meetings but not vote on issues.

The board took the action as a result of receiving a letter two weeks ago from Sen. Craig Estes and Sen. Brian Birdwell urging them to give Wise County a board seat.

County Judge J.D. Clark, who’s been pushing for board representation for two years, wasn’t satisfied with the board’s offer.

“They did say they thought we should have some representation, however the proposal to put together a committee to study this and giving us a non-voting ex officio seat doesn’t get us where we need to be,” Clark said. “We deserve a vote on issues that impact Wise County and use Wise County tax dollars. We made progress, but we didn’t get there.”

WC Board President Frank Martin maintains the college can’t give Wise County a board seat due to a 2007 proposal submitted by the college and the local college steering committee to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, requesting approval to hold an election for the branch campus maintenance tax.

The document states that “levying a branch campus maintenance tax does not authorize the county to have representation on the college board of trustees. This would occur only if the county voted to annex itself into the college’s taxing district …”

“I guess I’m kind of curious how the decision to go against that agreement that we had back then occurred up there,” Martin said Monday night, questioning Clark.

The judge noted that while that was the initial thought, the county’s position has since changed.

“Things do change in a decade, and I think we can all agree that there have been things that came up in the relationship and partnership that weren’t always anticipated 10 years ago,” he said. “Dynamics change and things we didn’t think would be conversations became conversations.

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing to re-look at an idea from 10 years ago and see how we might make it better a decade later,” he said.

Martin noted that it was a “fair response.”

In addition to the ex officio seat, the board suggested creating a committee to further study the issue and devise a plan for representation of all counties – Palo Pinto, Jack, Hood and Wise – in the college’s district that “reflects the level of fiscal participation of the respective counties.”

The only counties in the Weatherford College district that currently pay a tax are Parker at 12 cents per $100 valuation and Wise at 4.6148 cents per $100 valuation.

“I don’t think a committee study was what the senators had in mind either,” Clark said. “While I appreciate they’ve made some movement on acknowledging we do need some representation, a study committee is not the representation I think we deserve.

“I think it’s fine they want to get some input from other counties, but those other counties don’t pay a tax,” he said.

The board also addressed in the response letter the county’s concerns about the calculation of the indirect costs, an issue also raised by the senators. The letter noted the college has always calculated these costs according to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, but they suggested in the future using a neutral, third-party accounting firm to develop a formula for the allocation of indirect costs.

Clark said he appreciated them addressing indirect costs, which have been a point of contention in recent years, and he feels that a “mutually agreed upon” firm could be the answer. He said that would better allow the county to voice its questions and concerns about the process, but he noted a board member from Wise County could serve the same purpose.

“If all we’re going to be offered by the board is a study committee with counties that don’t pay taxes and an ex officio seat, then since we’re in session, we’ll consider pursuing legislative paths,” Clark said. “We look forward to continuing conversations with the college and legislators.”

Rep. Phil King, who represents both Wise and Parker counties, said Tuesday afternoon he was encouraged to see the two parties talking.

“It is imperative that there be a strong partnership among all the counties with the community college leadership,” he said. “The legislature has a responsibility in this as well, and I am exploring those options at this time.

“One option is to allow counties which levy the community college branch tax to have a seat on the board of trustees.”

Sen. Craig Estes said he appreciated the college board’s prompt response but due to Senate action Tuesday, he had not yet had time to “closely review and reflect upon their proposal.”

“I look forward to doing so and look forward to working with Rep. Phil King as we work together for the taxpayers of Weatherford College system-wide,” he said.

Monday’s meeting was the board’s third on this issue. They had scheduled two more meetings on the topic for this week – one for Wednesday and one Friday. WC’s Vice President of Institutional Advancement Brent Baker said the Wednesday meeting is canceled. As of press time Tuesday, he was unsure of the status of Friday’s meeting.

COLLEGE TEMPORARILY WITHHOLDS DETAILS OF LETTER

All of the Weatherford College Board’s suggestions, as outlined in the accompanying article, were included in a letter of response to the senators, which despite being approved in Monday night’s public meeting, was not released until Tuesday morning.

Early in the meeting Board President Frank Martin mentioned the possibility of an advisory position for Wise County and a third-party accounting firm to develop a formula to calculate indirect costs, but it was unclear at that time if those suggestions were part of the letter.

After a brief closed session, Martin made a motion to approve “the last version of this letter,” although until this point, no letter had been discussed in open session.

He offered no explanation and did not read it aloud. He instead announced it would be sent first to Sen. Craig Estes and Sen. Brian Birdwell and “upon our notification they’ve received it, we’ll have copies available to email to you or to come by and pick up.”

Attorney Dan Curlee, representing Weatherford College, said after the meeting the move was a courtesy to the senators. He dismissed the fact the letter was public record.

“I could not tell you there is absolutely no problem with it,” Curlee said. “I see it as a (minor) problem that will be resolved as soon as we get the letter out to the senators.”

The college emailed the letter to the Messenger at 8:48 a.m. Tuesday.

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