The Cowley College Board of Trustees voted Nov. 20 to publish notice of the vacancy on the board caused by Sid Regnier’s March 13 resignation.
The notice of the vacated seat was printed Nov. 22 in the Cowley CourierTraveler — 254 days after the vacancy originally occurred.
The vote to publish the notice was conducted following a 15-minute executive session to “review Kansas law related to legal proceedings, pursuant to the exception for matters subject to the attorney-client privilege.”
While the action that followed this executive session suggests the trustees spoke about the application of K.S.A. 71-201(15), the statute that governs filling a vacated seat on a community college board, there is no sure way to determine if that was the specific topic discussed during the closed session.
“It’s hard to say what they discussed in executive session, but attorney-client privilege is protected,” said Cowley County Attorney Larry Schwartz.
“It is conceivable they wanted to discuss with their attorney what the law is regarding the process of choosing (a) new board member and once they were guided by counsel, they felt they were able to move forward. This is actually what we want them to do. We want them to seek legal advice before moving forward.”
City Attorney Tamara Niles, who taught a class to several trustees following their violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA) last year, says she always advises against going into executive sessions without the topic clearly falling under KOMA.
“K.S.A. 75-4317 holds that meetings for the conduct of government affairs and the transaction of government business shall be open to the public, unless they are otherwise exempted by law,” Niles said in an interview this week.
“Therefore, I recommend that government bodies subject to the Kansas Open Meetings Act open their meetings to the public, unless the meeting squarely falls within an exception provided by K.S.A. 75-4318 or K.S.A. 75-4319 and the governing body has determined it must exclude the public from the proceeding.”
Although the statutes she cited allow elected bodies to recess into executive session to discuss matters of non-elected personnel, matters of elected or appointed officials normally are not covered by that exception.
The attorney-client privilege exception appears to be the only way this could be justified.
Filling Regnier’s vacancy
Regnier’s seat has remained open for more than nine months. The college previously cited a plan to wait until after the 2017 elections to move forward with his replacement.
While K.S.A. 71-201(15) states notice of a vacancy shall be published “when a vacancy occurs,” it is unclear if this is supposed to occur immediately.
Additionally, the law does not specify any deadline for an appointment to be made, whereas city commissions and councils are directed to do so within 10 days of the vacancy occurring.
Elsewhere, K.S.A. 71-1412 requires board members to “serve until their successors are elected or appointed and qualified,” but due to Regnier’s health issues and the delay in filling the vacancy, that did not occur in this particular case.
The Nov. 22 CourierTraveler publication states: “Notice is hereby given pursuant to the provisions of K.S.A. 71-201(15) of a vacancy in the membership of the board of trustees of Cowley County Community College, and that such vacancy will be filled by appointment of the board of trustees not sooner than 15 days following publication of this notice.”
The publication also states the appointed individual will serve for the remainder of the unexpired term, which concludes Jan. 13, 2020.
There have been no announcements as to how the appointee will be chosen, though a precedent was established when the board appointed Jill Long to serve the remainder of former trustee Jim Ramirez’s term.
The process used for that appointment included interviews in front of the board and a public vote of the board of trustees.
“The board is currently reviewing their options, but a decision has not been reached,” said board clerk Tiffany Vollmer.
Applications for this position are to be turned in to Vollmer at either P.O. Box 1147, Arkansas City, KS 67005, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So far, the only candidate known to have applied is Michael Bergagnini, the fifth-highest vote-getter in the election earlier this month with 1,115 votes. Letters to the editor have been written by Bergagnini and others, advocating that he be appointed to the vacant position, but that is not a statutory requirement and the trustees are free to appoint whomever they wish.
Meeting this weekend
Cowley College President Dennis Rittle announced during last week’s meeting that the Kansas Association of Community College Trustees is partnering with the Council of Presidents to meet Dec. 3-4 on the Cowley College campus for meetings, to include new trustee orientations on Dec. 3.
Newly elected trustees Gary Wilson and Glennis Zimmerman, who was elected Nov. 7 to represent Sumner County, have been invited to participate in this statewide training.
State legislators also will be in attendance for a reception and dinner. They will include Sen. Larry Alley, R-Winfield; Rep. Anita Judd-Jenkins, R-Arkansas City; and Rep. Ed Trimmer, D-Winfield.
Schwartz advised that if a majority of the current trustees were to attend and college business is to be discussed, the meetings will be subject to KOMA.
Rittle also congratulated incumbent trustees Ned Graham, Bob Juden and Brian Sanderholm on their recent re-election, and Wilson and Zimmerman on their respective first-time wins.
“The voters felt very strongly in the election of the incumbents,” Rittle said. “It is wonderful how well the college is doing, and the new trustees will contribute and help move the college forward.”
In other business, the trustees:
- decided to table the annual audit review until their Dec. 11 meeting.
- approved fiscal officers of the college to execute payment of all bills and claims as presented, with general operating funds of $1,392,471.25 and federal funds of $3,268,902.27.
- heard a legislative update from government affairs liaison Jessica Lucas, who said the Kansas Legislature recently made a big change to tax policy and has exceeded revenue projections, which is good for Cowley College.
- voted to adopt of the Cowley College Board of Trustees handbook. The board applauded the work of Vollmer in putting the handbook together.
- approved a recommendation to have Juden sign a resolution authorizing the college to continue the interlocal agreement between Cowley College and the City of Winfield for its Neighborhood Revitalization Plan. Gary Mangus, assistant to Winfield city manager, was on hand to answer questions.
- approved a recommendation for the employee Dec. 16 Christmas party to include alcoholic beverages in the McAtee Dining Center. The beverages will be administered and supervised by a licensed bar service.
- held a first reading on the Faculty and Staff Code of Conduct policy.
- approved the following purchase requests:
- a newborn patient simulator from Gaumard;
- an energy management control system for the Mulvane Bloomenshine Building from Dynamic Control;
- an air-conditioning Freon handling machine from O’Reilly Auto Parts;
- an all-industrial robot package from Aidex Corporation.
- heard requests for contracts and a Sumner County campus update from Gloria Walker, vice president of finance and administration. The furniture consultants and vendors have been chosen to provide design and price proposals for the Sumner campus.
- heard from Harold Arnett, vice president of academic affairs, regarding a new library system, Follett Destiny Library Manager, that is now up and running. Kevin Clark played a major role in making the library upgrade possible, Arnett said. The Blackboard course shells for the spring semester were created recently and are ready for faculty development. Arnett also mentioned the recent Outstanding Leadership Award that Eddie Andreo received, as well as successful grant proposals submitted by Jennifer Anderson and Chris Cannon.
- heard a report from Kori Gregg, vice president of institutional advancement, about the Cowley College Foundation banquet held Nov. 9. More than 220 people attended the banquet and more than $7,100 was raised at the event, with donations still coming in. Gregg also mentioned this year’s annual fund, which will hit mailboxes the week after Thanksgiving, and the first of many new alumni association events that was held recently. The foundation has raised $430,000 this year, compared to $89,000 at the same time a year ago.
- heard from Paul Erdmann, vice president of information technology, that about two-thirds of the 540 monitors have arrived as part of the desktop computer replacement. More than 330 monitors have been installed, with Cowley’s Wichita and Mulvane Centers being completely refreshed.
- heard an enrollment update from Gregg, who filled in for Kristi Shaw, executive director of enrollment management. Fall semester headcount is 2,899 and fall full-time equivalent (FTE) enrollment is 1,936.47. Spring semester headcount is 1,007 and spring FTE is 797.53. As of Nov. 8, Cowley has had 68 high school students who have completed a 2017-18 FAFSA application. Of those, 31 have completed their files and accepted Pell Grant awards.
- learned from Chris Hollon, executive director of institutional effectiveness, that as of Nov. 17, Kansas Board of Regents fall reporting is complete and submitted. IPEDS data also are complete and submitted for all fall reports. Also, two strategic planning surveys have been completed, and the data obtained will be compiled and reviewed to help with the direction of the process.
- heard a housing update from Jason O’Toole, executive director of student affairs. The dorms are at 92.2-percent occupancy.
- learned from Deborah Layton, faculty liaison, that performing arts students will take part in an Art and Music Crawl on Nov. 30, and visual and performing arts students will be showcased Dec. 5. She also discussed the successful Arts and Humanities Day on Nov. 10, as well as the Honors in Action Conference she and two officers of the Alpha Gamma Upsilon chapter of Phi Theta Kappa attended.
- heard from Sumner Campus Operations Officer Janet Grace about the Tiger Stripes Work Ethics program that Cowley leadership shared with Sumner and Harper County principals and superintendents, as well as Sumner County Workforce Alliance and Sumner County Economic Development. She also mentioned the Wellington Police Department’s praise of the work done by Cowley’s Criminal Justice Department and Frank Owens.
- heard from Shane Larson, athletic director, regarding the success of the Cowley women’s cross country team, which placed third nationally, and the men’s cross country team, which finished 20th in the nation. The volleyball team also placed fifth recently at the NJCAA Division II National Tournament. He also thanked Todd Ray and his crew, as well as donors, for making the softball dugout enclosure project a reality. Larson also mentioned the home wrestling dual on Dec. 7, will be a joint dual with Arkansas City High School.
- accepted a letter of resignation from Justin Peterson, coordinator of enrollment and bookstore services, effective Nov. 10.
- approved the employment of Bryanna Ramsey as coordinator of enrollment and bookstore services, effective Nov. 21.
- accepted a letter of retirement from Tammy Strange as department secretary for natural sciences and mathematics, effective Feb. 1, 2018. Strange has spent more than 20 years employed in various roles at Cowley College. “I would like to take this opportunity to thank you and Cowley College for all the wonderful years of employment with this great institution,” Strange said in her retirement letter. “The people and the work have made my 20-plus years here an enjoyable time. I look forward to the next phase of my life and spending more time with family.”
Cowley College Director of Institutional Communications and Public Relations Rama Peroo contributed to this story.