OPINION COLUMNS

College board antics only reinforce the need for Wise representation

By Kristen Tribe | Published Saturday, February 18, 2017
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The shenanigans at Weatherford College headquarters the last few weeks are perfect examples of why Wise County needs a voting seat on its board of directors.

Kristen Tribe

Kristen Tribe

Although they’ve held a string of meetings, their talks have been secret – and their action minimal – leaving Wise County citizens to wonder what is going on and how this will be resolved.

The advisory, non-voting, position they’ve offered is not adequate representation for a group of citizens who pay a branch campus maintenance tax of 4.6148 cents per $100 valuation, and the meeting on Feb. 6 is a perfect example of why Wise County needs someone to stand up for them and their tax dollars.

Despite having promised at the previous meeting to openly discuss the issue of board representation, they did not.

Board President Frank Martin made a rather vague statement about 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 things were part of an actual plan or simply a stream of consciousness monologue.

The board then retreated into a short secret session, emerging five minutes later, and Martin made a motion to approve “the last version of this letter.” Keep in mind: until this point, a letter had never been mentioned. No one knew what he was talking about.

And to further complicate matters, apparently there were multiple versions of this letter, none of which had been discussed publicly.

At this point I expected Martin to read the letter, but he didn’t. He offered no explanation, and there was no discussion.

He instead announced it would be sent first to Sen. Craig Estes and Sen. Brian Birdwell since it was a response to their Jan. 23 letter regarding Wise County board representation, and “upon our notification they’ve received it, we’ll have copies available to email to you or to come by and pick up.”

I was dumbfounded. The letter on which they voted was public information yet they refused to read it aloud or release it.

As I sat pondering what had just happened, college administrators approached grinning and looking to congratulate each other on progress being made, yet most of us in the room had no idea what was just decided.

When questioned about how they could legally do that, administrators looked stunned and immediately referred me to their attorney, Dan Curlee.

He too had little to say.

I reminded him: “A decision was just made at a public meeting that impacts Wise County citizens, but I’m leaving here with no idea what happened. I have nothing to tell them.”

His response: “I understand.” What I also read into that was “and I don’t care.”

When he was asked to explain how any of this was legal, he said, “I could not tell you there is absolutely no problem with it. I see it as a (minor) problem that will be resolved as soon as we get the letter out to the senators.”

In other words, he knew it was wrong but advised the board this was the best course of action. This is not acceptable.

Weatherford College emailed the letter to the Messenger at 8:48 a.m. the next day. Although Curlee considered it a minor infraction, it was the most egregious disregard for public information I had ever witnessed. I have covered more public meetings than I care to recall, and I have never run into this, even among Wise County’s most shady entities.

The episode reinforces the fact that Wise County needs a voting seat because the Weatherford College board seems determined to bend rules and share information sparingly.

The advisory position is a hollow offering because that seat does not have a vote and is not allowed into closed session, which seems to be the board’s favored mode of operation. Therefore, an advisory position will do the county no good. We still won’t know what’s going on.

Even when they approved the immediate advisory position this week, they offered little information about the post. I had to call the next day and raise questions about how this would work.

Who would make the appointment? What meetings do they attend? Is there a deadline by which to make the appointment? How long will this person serve? None of this was discussed in the public meeting.

Board member Mac Smith seemed to acknowledge Wise County’s need for a voting seat with his motion this week of an advisory position that could evolve into something more pending possible legislation, but Martin shot it down, refusing to endorse a potential future bill.

The votes this week indicated the board is split, and they still seem to be fighting among themselves.

It’s growing tiresome, and they’ve made no meaningful effort to resolve the issue, at least that I know of. I might have a better idea if more had been discussed openly.

The way I see it: they’ve simply thrown Wise County a bone and hoped it would make everyone happy.

They were wrong.

Kristen Tribe is Editor for the Messenger.

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